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Ancient grain... spelt soda bread


Susan Jane White

Susan Jane White

Susan Jane White

Our modern diet has bastardised grains, chiefly wheat, into a nutritionally void substance that we unknowingly scoff several times a day.

One-third of the foods found on our supermarket shelves contain some component of nutritionally stripped wheat - for example, gluten, starch or both. Wheat has turned into a bland industrial commodity. It's not the superfood it once was.

The physical distress some people experience with bread, for example, is less to do with "grains" or "gluten" than with the way large commercial bakeries operate. Instead of spending 48 hours making traditional bread by fermenting grains, loaves are belched out on conveyor belts within a few minutes and designed to last weeks on supermarket shelves.

And get this: most commercial white flour is bleached using chemicals like acetone peroxide, chlorine, and benzoyl peroxide. This is not real bread! Is it any wonder our bodies reject the stuff?

So, what about spelt? Spelt is certainly a less processed, unadulterated form of wheat. Wahoo! Not so fast, Watson. The pitfall with "heritage" wheat like spelt, einkorn and 10s of others, is that they do not produce high yield. From an agronomic perspective, it's too risky for farmers to consider growing heirloom wheat varieties (unless they are loaded like Prince Charles, and in the market for a new hobby). There is a promising movement of scientists and adventurous bakers who are trying to resurrect older wheat grains.

Emmer, faro, einkorn, kamut - all examples of gorgeous heritage wheat that taste far superior to the nutritionally stripped 'wheat' you and I are accustomed to. Let's hope we see more of them on our supermarket shelves.

Here is one such recipe to knock the crusts off that toast 'n' jam habit.

Spelt Soda Bread

This is a traditional wholemeal loaf for nursing mamas. Aside from its avowed lactating abilities (I almost wish I hadn't written that), the spices are crazy delicious when socialised with wholewheat. You'll wonder why you've never used them before.

You will need:

450g (1lb) wholemeal spelt flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

400ml (14fl oz) buttermilk

1 teaspoon unrefined, good-quality salt

½ teaspoon ground fenugreek

½ teaspoon caraway seeds

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

½ teaspoon aniseed

Preheat the oven to 250°C, 475°F, gas 9.

Sift the spelt flour and the bicarbonate of soda into a wide bowl. The fibre might catch in the sieve - just tumble it in. Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk, the salt and the ground fenugreek, the caraway seeds, the fennel seeds, and the aniseed. Use your fingers to mix the batter. Stretch your fingers out like a stiff claw, and stir from the centre to the edge in a circular motion.

When it all comes together, drop the dough onto a well-floured work surface.

Wash and dry your hands thoroughly. Pat the dough into a tidy shape, and flip over gently. Then pat it into a round shape of about 6cm (2in) thick. Transfer slowly onto a floured baking tray, and cut a deep cross through the bread.

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 200°C, 400°F, gas 6 and bake for another 30 minutes.

Remove from your oven and tap the bottom of the loaf. When bread is cooked, it will sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack.


Sunday Indo Life Magazine