This ancient grain is making a modern comeback
Einkorn. You’ve probably never heard of it—I hadn’t. And yet it’s been around for quite a while. In fact, when Adam and Eve cooked up a mess of porridge for breakfast, it was undoubtedly einkorn they were stirring over the campfire. Indeed, it’s that old!
Okay yes, the morning habits of Adam and Eve are somewhat speculative, but wild grains of einkorn have been found in archaeological sites dating back 12,000 years or more. Evidence suggests that einkorn was the first grain to be domesticated. DNA fingerprinting points to Turkey around 7500 B.C. as the first cropping of the grain.
But by the end of the Bronze Age, it fell out of favor as other forms of wheat were found to have higher yields. And soon, einkorn was to be found only on small isolated farms here and there in Central Europe. No one wanted this genetically unique wheat any more.
So why the renewed interest in this ancient grain after millennia of neglect? For three simple reasons:
Nutrition: Einkorn has it all over modern wheat when it comes to nutrition. It has a higher protein content than any other wheat, and it offers 3–4 times more beta-carotene, twice the vitamin A, and four times the antioxidants lutein and riboflavin. Plus, it has been shown that einkorn retains more of its nutrients during the baking process than modern wheat does.
Gluten: Because einkorn has only 14 chromosomes (as opposed to modern wheat, which has 42) its gluten structure is radically different. Several studies suggest that the gluten in einkorn is more palatable for those who are allergic to wheat glutens, and that eventually it might be acceptable for use by celiac disease sufferers.
Taste: For those who enjoy robust grains, einkorn is a winner. It has a nutty flavor and rich texture that perfectly lends itself to pasta and dense breads.
So what’s not to love? Increased nutrition, greater gluten acceptance, and delicious flavor—you can’t go wrong. And though it may prove difficult to locate as yet, it’s well worth the effort.
This quick dish (shown above) is perfect for lunch or dinner.
12 oz. Jovial einkorn penne pasta
4 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into small wedges
1 large handful fresh basil leaves, torn into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 8-oz. container “bocconcini” mozzarella balls, drained
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, and pour into large bowl. Add tomato, basil, parsley, and mozzarella balls. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, add salt and pepper, and toss lightly to combine.
PER SERVING: 594 cal; 25g pro; 26g total fat (9g sat fat); 61g carb; 46mg chol; 46mg sod; 8g fiber; 8g sugars
If you want to make a really super indulgent dessert, try adding a dollop of whipped cream over the fruit before you put the top of the shortcakes on.
1 pint fresh strawberries, rinsed, dried, and cut into quarters
4 large ripe peaches, peeled and cut into ½ inch wedges
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. black currant syrup
1 Tbs. Cointreau liqueur (optional)
2 cups Jovial einkorn flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. baking powder
2 Tbs. superfine sugar
4 oz. (1 stick) cold unsalted organic butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
¾ cup + 2 Tbs. 2% buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Combine strawberries, peaches, lemon juice, honey, currant syrup, and liqueur, if using, in large glass bowl. Toss lightly to combine, and refrigerate mixture at least 1 hour.
- Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in food processor, and pulse several times to combine. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 3/4 cup buttermilk, and pulse until dry ingredients are moistened and dough begins to clump around blade.
- Dump dough onto lightly-floured, dry flat surface and, using heel of your hand, quickly press out clumps of dough in a smoothing motion, five or six motions in all. Gather dough together, divide into six portions, and lightly pat each portion into ½-inch-thick round. Place rounds onto parchment-covered baking sheet, brush tops with remaining buttermilk, and bake 10–12 minutes, until lightly browned and set. Let cool on wire rack.
- Cut each shortcake in half. Place bottom half on dessert plate, spoon in generous amount of fruit mixture, and top with other half of shortcake.
PER SERVING: 367 cal; 7g pro; 17g total fat (10g sat fat); 50g carb; 43mg chol; 503mg sod; 5g fiber; 25g sugars
I discovered einkorn thanks to the folks at Jovial Foods. At first, I was skeptical, but I tried some of their products and quickly discovered that I was wrong. I served their spaghetti with my favorite sauce, and it was a big hit. Everyone agreed that the pasta was a perfect blend of texture and flavor—not like the mushy, bland whole-grain pastas we’d all tried before. As for the cookies, well, there wasn’t a whole lot of sharing going on. I demolished an entire box myself!
Neil Zevnik is a private chef based in Los Angeles who’s devoted to the proposition that “healthy” doesn’t have to mean “ho-hum.” He also writes for the Huffington Post and has his own website, neilzevnik.com.