Is Einkorn Wheat Gluten-Free?

Einkorn wheat kernels close-up

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No, Einkorn wheat is not gluten-free. Neither are other forms of ancient wheat, such as Kamut, khorasan, farro (also known as Emmer), spelt, Graziella Ra or even the heritage Turkey Red wheat brought to the U.S. by Mennonites from Russia back in the 1800s.

None of these is safe if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Even if your favorite health food store places a "gluten-free" label on the bread it bakes with Einkorn wheat, the store is wrong.

However, if you aren't following the gluten-free diet, Einkorn wheat offers a nutritionally rich addition to your daily diet. It contains plenty of fiber, protein, and vitamins, and works well in salads.

What Is Einkorn Wheat?

Einkorn wheat (named from the German word "einkorn," which means single grain) is an ancient form of wheat. It originated in what's called the "Fertile Crescent," the region in the Middle East that gave rise to the first agricultural communities.

Two species of wheat are called Einkorn wheat: Triticum boeoticum, a wild variety, and Triticum monococcum, a closely-related domesticated variety. It's still grown as a local crop in some areas of Europe, and will grow in some places where the soil is poor and other varieties of wheat will not grow.

Einkorn wheat, like spelt, is used in baked goods mainly sold in natural foods stores. As in the case of spelt, some manufacturers erroneously place the term "gluten-free" on products made with Einkorn wheat.

However, foods made with Einkorn wheat still contain wheat (albeit in a slightly different form) and therefore are not gluten-free.

Is Einkorn Wheat Gluten-Free?

You'll find some sources online stating that Einkorn wheat contains a different type of gluten than modern wheat. However, several studies appear to confirm that ancient wheat strains, including Einkorn, Kamut and Graziella Ra, are not truly gluten-free.

For example, a study published in the medical journal Clinical Nutrition tested four types of ancient wheat on small intestine cell samples from people with celiac disease. The study found the wheat strains all elicited immune system responses similar to those found when people with celiac disease consumed modern gluten-containing grains, although some people's cells reacted more vigorously than others.

A second study, this one published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at whether Einkorn wheat affected the immune systems of people with celiac disease in the same way as modern forms of wheat. The researchers found that the gluten in Einkorn is toxic to celiacs, but that it may be less toxic than other forms of wheat.

And finally, another study considered the ancient durum wheats Graziella Ra and Kamut. It also found that the gluten proteins in these forms of wheat caused immune system reactions in people with celiac disease. "In conclusion, we strongly advise celiac patients from consuming ancient wheats, including Graziella Ra or Kamut," the researchers said.

So the bottom line for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is: steer clear of these ancient forms of wheat, even if they're labeled "gluten-free." It's possible that they contain a form of gluten that's less damaging (and perhaps doesn't cause severe symptoms) when compared to modern-day wheat, but much more research is needed.

Einkorn Wheat Nutritional Benefits

When compared to modern wheat, Einkorn wheat offers a more impressive nutritional profile. In fact, researchers writing in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture touted its advantages over modern wheat and the fact that it's a low-impact crop.

Einkorn wheat does not feature much fiber, but it does contain unsaturated fatty acids, plus trace elements such as phosphorus, zinc, and iron. Other trace elements include: potassium, manganese, and selenium.

When it comes to vitamins, Einkorn wheat contains healthy amounts of: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, and even the anti-oxidants alpha- and beta-carotene. Finally, it contains plenty of lutein and zeaxanthin, which some researchers believe may help to fight age-related eye conditions.

Finally, Einkorn wheat is significantly lower in calories than modern wheat flour: it contains 300 calories per cup, compared to 455 calories per cup for modern wheat flour.

How to Use Einkorn Wheat

Einkorn wheat does not look like modern wheat. The berries or kernels (seeds) are smaller, and they don't have that telltale crease down the middle. The flour produced by Einkorn kernels is slightly yellow due to the high lutein content.

As far as taste, Einkorn wheat features a nuttier taste than modern wheat.

You can use the whole Einkorn wheat berries in any recipe that calls for farro or whole wheat berries. This includes wheat berry salads and whole grain cereals. To prepare the whole Einkorn berries, cook them as you would oatmeal, using two parts water to one part berries. Bring them to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer for 30 minutes, or until they're tender.

You can substitute Einkorn flour cup-for-cup for modern wheat to make pancakes, muffins, cakes, or bread, but you may find that the milk or water in your recipe needs to be reduced by up to one-fifth. Be aware that breads and cakes made with Einkorn will seem denser and even gummier than those made with highly-refined modern wheat flour.

A Word from Verywell

Obviously, if you're gluten-free because you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you should avoid Einkorn wheat. There's relatively scant research on it, but the available studies are unanimous in stating that the gluten in Einkorn wheat may have a deleterious effect on you.

But if you can have wheat (or if you avoid modern wheat for other reasons), Einkorn offers some real potential benefits, and can help to add variety, plus some important trace nutrients, to your diet.

If you want to go all-out for the health benefits, companies that sell Einkorn wheat recommend that you grind your own flour from the whole kernels, since doing so will help to preserve the valuable (but delicate) nutrients.

Finally, if you're making bread with Einkorn flour, you won't have to knead it. Kneading helps to activate modern wheat's gluten, giving bread its characteristic stretchy, lighter texture. But Einkorn wheat gluten doesn't behave the same way, and kneading won't help. So skip the kneading.

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