Spelt, wheat, gluten, etc.

I’ve written about spelt before, but that one was well over a thousand words, and we need a quickie.

It’s not gluten-free, but I’m sure you know that now, although this blog has only come about following some Twitter chat concerning this review on Emerald Street of a café serving what have been mistakenly described as gluten-free spelt croissants.

Is spelt wheat-free?

I see this question asked a lot, but it doesn’t really make sense, so I’d like to try to clear it up simply and briefly. Perhaps an analogy is the best way to demonstrate.

There are lots of types of wheat. Here are three key types:

* Triticum aestivum. Common wheat or bread wheat – what is typically just called ‘wheat’, and is the wheat used in most bakery.
* Triticum durum. Pasta wheat – whose flour is used in pastas.
* Triticum spelta. Spelt wheat – what is typically just called ‘spelt’.

Asking whether spelt is wheat-free is like asking whether Golden Delicious is apple-free. Golden Delicious IS an apple. And
spelt IS a wheat.  

(Unless of course you mean ‘Is spelt common-wheat-free?’ – in which case it’s like asking whether Golden Delicious is Granny Smith-free.)

It’s really that simple.

I think there’s ongoing confusion about the subject for several reasons:

1. Some people still make the ‘spelt is gluten-free’ error, and misinformation spreads easily.

2. Some spelt producers and food manufacturers who use spelt have tended to avoid mentioning that it’s a type of wheat in their marketing material (I suspect, because wheat remains a dietary baddie in many people’s eyes, and, not unreasonably, it’s in their interests to highlight the grain’s distinctiveness).

3. Some therapists and nutritionists have in the past recommended spelt wheat over common wheat to those with digestive complaints, IBS etc, on the supposed basis that it is lower in gluten. It isn’t, necessarily: in fact, it can contain more. However, some spelt wheat products are lower in FODMAPs than common wheat products, which may be the reason many with digestive sensitivities seem able to tolerate spelt better. It seems this applies to spelt bakery, not spelt pasta, and I covered it briefly in my report on Gut Health and Allergies from last year’s NHLive.