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 changes 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 Sourdough the Answer to Gluten Sensitivity?
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. Another study from the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found evidence that the gliadin protein in einkorn may not be as toxic to those suffering from celiac.
As I have experimented with multiple grains now, I believe I have simplified the formula for a consistent loaf and varying gluten levels based on your own tolerance and preference. I will detail these variables below. Either way, taking the time to make homemade sourdough will give you nourishing bread to feed your family, unlike 99% of the bread available.
A Word on Equipment (Updated for Making Bread During COVID-19)
I first attempted making sourdough einkorn bread in 2013 when I posted this article. Since then, I have learned a lot about making sourdough bread with multiple types of grain. While my first attempt made decent bread, I have purchased better equipment and have a system down that takes very little preparation time. The majority of the work is done by your sourdough starter.
Questions starting pouring in from my friends and family on how to make bread at home during this pandemic, especially since there is a shortage of yeast in grocery stores. Even more reason to keep a sourdough starter on hand.
I stalled on buying a lot of the equipment listed below, and trust me, it makes the process so much more enjoyable. If you are going to put in the time, you want it to come out perfect. If your climate gets very cold and dry, you will save yourself a lot of frustration if you purchase the bread proofer linked below. For baking, your oven is the biggest variable when it comes to temperature, time in the oven and cookware.
People who make sourdough will swear by a dutch oven as the only way to get a professional loaf made. For me, the dutch oven burned the bottom of my bread every time. I tried putting a pizza stone below it, cornmeal at the bottom, messing with the temperatures, everything. A clay pot solved it, while also doing an amazing job of providing a little steam inside and making a better crust.
Let’s Do This! The Recipe for Sourdough Einkorn
This is assuming you already have a sourdough starter, bubbling and ready for action. If you don’t, making your own is easy.
Buy whole rye or wheat flour. Add 1 cup of flour to 1 cup of water and mix in a bowl. Cover with a towel and leave in a warm spot. Every morning and evening, put 1 tablespoon of flour to 1 tablespoon of water to your starter and mix vigorously. Do this for 5 days. Around day 5, you should see bubbles and your starter should smell sour. Your starter gets stronger over time. Keep feeding 1 tablespoon flour and water daily to maintain it and it will live forever. If you leave on a trip, put it in the fridge. You can bring it back to life when you come back.
Le Creuset 5.5 Quart Dutch Oven or La Chamba 6 Quart Black Clay Pot
Brod and Tayler Bread Proofer and Slow Cooker (allows you to increase humidity and control temperature)
9-inch Proofing Basket
Komo Mio Grain Mill or GrainMaker: optional, but major nutrition bonus when grinding fresh flour. I chose the GrainMaker because I wanted to hand grind grain. It is an intense arm workout that often requires both hands for fine flour. I no longer have to work my arms out at the gym.
Razer blade or very sharp knife
20 oz. (scale weight) einkorn flour (you can substitute regular wheat or half rye/half wheat here as well)
2.5 oz. (scale weight) einkorn flour for final proof
1/2 cup sourdough starter (I use a rye starter)
2 cups water (room temp)
1 tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp rosemary (optional)
1 tsp. ghee
Step 1: Grind grain and measure flour
Measure 10 oz. of einkorn flour, place in one bowl. Measure another 10 oz. of einkorn flour, place in another bowl.
Step 2: Add sourdough starter and water
Add 1/2 cup of sourdough starter, 1 cup water, and optional rosemary to your first bowl. Mix.
Add 1 tbsp. salt and 1 cup water to your second bowl. Mix.
Step 3: Wait for 12 hours
Cover both bowls with a towel, and let them ferment for 12 hours in a spot that’s around 65-70 degrees. If it is too warm, it will ferment faster and should only go for 8 hours.
Step 4: Form the dough
Combine both bowls together, then add the 2.5 oz. einkorn flour. Knead the dough, stretching and folding until you have a nice formed ball after about 5 minutes. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour.
Step 5: Add the dough to a proofing basket.
Add the dough to a proofing basket dusted with flour. Cover with a towel and add in a spot that’s around 70-72 degrees or in your bread proofer with the water tray.
This is where you have a choice for lowering gluten and increasing the sour flavor. You can stick it in the fridge for 24-36 hours, or do a shorter fermentation now. Either now or after refrigeration, it is 5-7 hours fermenting at 70-76 degrees until you start seeing some cracks in the dough. If you get a flat loaf when baking, you fermented too long.
Step 6: Bake your bread!
Preheat oven to 500 degrees with your dutch oven or clay pot inside. Once it reaches 500 degrees, take the dutch oven or clay pot out and add a teaspoon of ghee at the bottom of the pan. Swirl around. Now take your proofing basket, and flip the dough into the dutch oven or pot. Slice an X or any design y our want on top with a razor blade or sharp knife to let some air out during baking.
Add your lid and slide it into the oven. Turn down heat to 450 degrees and bake for 25 minutes. At the end of 25 minutes, take the lid off and turn down the heat again to 425 degrees. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Times will vary depending on your oven and altitude. The goal is to get an internal bread temperature of 200-205 degrees.
Take your bread out and measure the temperature. Then let cool for 3-4 hours. Enjoy!
Here is one with rye bread in a dutch oven.
Other Recipes with a Sourdough Starter
If you want to make other sourdough recipes like naan bread, tortillas, and pancakes, this is the book for you.