Einkorn wheat (along with emmer) was our first form of cultivated wheat that looks entirely different than the wheat we have today. Europe’s oldest mummy – Otzi the Iceman – had an einkorn bread, ibex meat and unidentified herbs as his last meal in 3,300 BC! Perhaps the Earl of Sandwich was not the true inventor of the sandwich.
According to the New York Times, “an experiment done more than 25 years ago by Dr. Jack Harlan, an agronomist at the University of Illinois, demonstrated the likely importance of wild einkorn in the diets of post-ice age hunter-gatherers in the region and what might have encouraged them to domesticate it. Harvesting wild einkorn by hand in southeastern Turkey, Dr. Harlan showed that in only three weeks, a small family group could have gathered enough grain to sustain them for a full year.” It does make one have to ask, just how long were the hunter-gatherers consuming einkorn bread and other grains, and does this change what we consider to be Paleo?”
It has been suggested that wild einkorn grain was harvested in the late Paleolithic and early Mesolithic Ages, 16,000-15,000 BC, and thousands of fully mature small-grained wild grasses were retrieved at Ohalo II, a submerged 23,000 year old site at the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. There is also evidence of sorghum grain residues found on stone tools and African potato consumption at a site in Mozambique, Africa dating back to 103,000 B.C., and residues of 10 grass seed grains of triticeae – the family of wheat, rye and barley – and legumes in the teeth of Neanderthals in Belgium and Iraq who are believed to have lived 36,000-46,000 years ago.
But Doesn’t Einkorn Bread Contain Gluten?
While einkorn sourdough bread does contain gluten, einkorn is structured differently than modern wheat. It contains the highest protein content of any wheat species, also potassium, vitamin B6, essential amino acids and is 3-8 times higher in carotenoids. It has also been found to be higher in selenium along with emmer, a very important antioxidant lacking in seafood deficient diets. It survived due to being able to thrive in dry, desolate conditions where nothing else would grow. Its revival is in the infant stage thanks to small farms in Italy and Turkey among others as we begin a different approach to gluten intolerance. It is my belief that using this grain with proper fermentation is a step forward towards reducing gluten intolerance and enjoying real, healthy nutritious bread again.
According to einkorn.com (iceman picture credit), einkorn differs from modern wheat in 3 important ways, all of which may contribute to gluten intolerance:
- Most modern wheat is a hybrid of many different grains and grasses.
- Einkorn has 14 chromosomes, whereas modern wheat has 42 chromosomes which change the gluten structure.
- Einkorn is considered more nutritious than modern wheat, based on the higher level of protein, essential fatty acids, phosphorous, B6, potassium, pyridoxine, and beta-carotene.
Is the Preparation of Einkorn Bread the Answer to Gluten Sensitivity?
I have been experimenting lately with sourdough rye bread to make Russian bread kvass, and while it works well for that purpose, it makes a very dense loaf. It’s very hard to beat wheat’s softness and consistency for bread.
I came across a study that described how the gluten could be broken down to gluten-free levels in wheat bread after a 48-hour fermentation window. Once again, I came across another study from the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology that found evidence that the gliadin protein in einkorn may not be as toxic to those suffering from celiac. I thought, “what if you made a 48-hour einkorn sourdough bread with einkorn wheat?” That seems like it would be the ultimate combination. Thanks to some wonderful companies like Jovial Foods, einkorn flour is available.
How to Make Einkorn Sourdough Bread
I first attempted making sourdough einkorn bread in 2013 when I first posted this article. Since then, I have learned a lot about making sourdough bread. While this attempt (recipe below) made decent bread, I have purchased better equipment to make a lighter loaf and better crust that stays soft and delicious.
The recipe below can be used with very basic equipment in a warmer environment with some humidity. If you live in a dry or cold environment, you will save yourself a lot of frustration if you purchase the necessary equipment linked and follow the instructions in the book Sourdough on the Rise by my old culinary teacher, Cynthia Lair. Trust me, it is well worth the investment. Either way, taking the time to make homemade sourdough will give you nourishing bread to feed your family, unlike 99% of the bread available.
Sourdough on the Rise by Cynthia Lair
*Swap out einkorn for wheat in the book.
Here is an example of sourdough bread I made after reading this book, with my own modifications and longer fermentation time, and using the equipment above:
Easy Einkorn Sourdough Bread Recipe
2 cups sourdough starter (you will need to either buy the San Francisco Style Sourdough Bread Starter or make a sourdough starter in your environment.
1 tsp. sea salt
1 32 oz. bag Jovial Organic Einkorn Flour (purchase a second one to keep on hand for the starter)
1 1/2 cups water
1. First, add two tablespoons of your sourdough starter to a glass quart jar. Add enough einkorn flour and water to fill it to about an inch from the top. Mix it well, and cover it with cheesecloth and let it sit in a warm spot for 24 hours. It should be bubbly and frothy and ready to go. The consistency shouldn’t be too thin or too thick.
2. Pour half of the quart (2 cups) into a bowl, add the salt and mix well. Add the flour and water slowly and mix it with a wooden spoon. Eventually, you can begin mixing with your hands and begin kneading it as you add more flour and water.
Add enough flour to where there is about 1/4 cup of flour left over for dusting the bowl and to add to your starter. Knead for about 20 minutes, folding, flapping and massaging with your knuckles.
*Feed your sourdough starter once every 24-48 hours. Some recipes call for more feedings, but I’ve done this for 6 months and it has worked fine. Daily is better. I usually add about 1 tablespoon of flour and a little water each time and make bread once a week.
3. Place the mound into a bowl dusted with flour and cover with a dish towel in a warm spot for 12 hours. The sourdough ball should not be too wet or too dry. Somewhat sticky without sticking to your hands.
4. After 12 hours it should have risen. Take it out of the bowl and form a loaf. If it’s sticky, put some olive oil on your hands. Place in an oiled bread pan, and let it rise for another 12 hours in a warm spot and cover with a dishtowel. *Note: Make sure it’s not too warm of a spot. I learned on a third attempt that it was rising too fast and started pouring over the side of the pan.
5. Here it is after 8-12 hours. Now, preheat your oven to 425. Cut one slice vertically across the top instead of three slits as I did above. When it’s ready, place the bread in the oven for 40 minutes, turning it around after 20 minutes. Take it out of the bread pan after 40 minutes and let it cool for an hour (or more) before slicing. It will probably feel like the longest hour of your life. I have found that baking it at night and letting it cool overnight before slicing turned out the best.
When it’s done, it will look something like this: