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If you’ve been around Live Simply for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that when it comes to baking, I lean towards using one particular flour: einkorn.
I’m often asked, “What exactly is einkorn? Why einkorn? Is einkorn gluten-free?”
I know this flour is fairly new (although it’s very old) to most people (including myself just a few years ago). I thought it would be helpful to dedicate an entire conversation–outside of an actual recipe–to the topic of einkorn.
What is Einkorn?
Einkorn is a variety of wheat. It’s known as the oldest variety of wheat, or the first wheat, making it an ancient grain. This particular species of grass grew wild for thousands of years before it was intentionally planted and harvested.
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The wheat that’s commonly used today isn’t the same as the wheat our ancestors consumed for thousands of years. Modern wheat has been hybridized. Hybridization is the act of crossing two different species of plants with the goal of creating a new variety of plant. This changes the very makeup and structure of the new plant.
Why do this?
There are many reasons, from improving the yield of the crop to making a plant more disease resistant. As Carla Bartolucci explains, in Einkorn: Recipes for Nature’s Original Wheat, “During the Green Revolution from the 1940s to the 1960s, breeders created new high-yielding varieties of wheat with hybrid seeds that would carry better traits for large-scale farming.”
Einkorn and other ancient grains (like emmer and spelt) have a thick husk around the very grain. Modern wheat has a thinner husk that’s easier to remove. Modern wheat may seem like a better choice for production and profitability. But with the increased use of pesticides and fertilizers, is this thinner husk such a good idea? Plus, that thick husk naturally occurs on grains for a reason. Why mess with what nature intended as protection?
While cross-breeding may be a good idea from a large-scale farming standpoint, how does this effect our ability to digest the grains? And what kind of effect does consuming large amounts of this grain have on our overall health?
This is where einkorn really shines, because it still holds to its original properties and nutritional values. In our effort to make modern wheat “better” and more efficient from a production standpoint, nutrients have been lost. Einkorn has a much higher protein content (30% more than modern wheat) and less starch (15% less than modern wheat), along with a higher concentration of minerals and flavor. This makes einkorn distinctly different than modern wheat.
And when we look at the enriched white flour that is widely used today and milled from modern wheat, the nutrients are even further removed, which is why key nutrients (now in isolated forms) must be added back in.
Einkorn is also the only wheat that’s missing certain types of gluten proteins that some people are sensitive to. Einkorn doesn’t have less gluten than modern wheat. It actually has a similar gluten content to modern wheat. The difference is the gluten structure (in einkorn) is weak, making it remarkably different than our modern wheat. (This is a super fascinating video to watch for a visual.)
Is Einkorn Gluten-Free?
Einkorn is NOT a gluten-free grain. This means einkorn is not safe if you have celiac disease (an autoimmune condition). According to celiac.org, about 1 in 100 people have celiac disease. It’s worth repeating, if you have celiac disease einkorn is NOT an option.
Some folks don’t have celiac disease, but experience a sensitivity to gluten. And some folks don’t experience any issues after consuming gluten, but are now questioning their intake of gluten. In these scenarios, I think it’s important for us to consider a question originally asked by Robyn O’Brien…“Are we allergic to food, or are we increasingly allergic to what has been done to it?”
When it comes to the subject of gluten, I believe we need to take a step back and ask more in depth questions about how we consume gluten. We need to look at the fact that our entire diet now revolves around heavily processed and manipulated grains, the type of grain we consume and how that grain is prepared, the lack of variety and seasonality in our modern diet, the fact that we no longer consume fermented foods as our ancestors once did (listen to this podcast for information about this subject), and mega amounts of stress which wreak havoc on the body and gut.
There are a lot of factors to look at when it comes to the gluten issue, but just declaring all gluten as “evil” isn’t the answer (in my opinion).
Personally, I’ve found that I digest einkorn well, along with wheat breads and baked goods that have gone through the sourdough process (which makes grain easier to digest–a practice that has been around for thousands of years). This is why so many of the recipes on the blog feature this grain.
Where Can I Find Einkorn?
Einkorn isn’t the easiest grain to find. Einkorn is slowly gaining popularity, but is still grown in only a few regions in Europe and the US (some local farms in the US are now growing einkorn). Einkorn can be grown in very rustic conditions, making it ideal to grow in many different places. Hopefully this will encourage a “rebirth” of this grain and make it easier to find.
You can find einkorn at some Whole Foods and health food stores, Earth Fare, Vitacost, and Amazon. Definitely shop around as prices can vary based on the retailer.
My favorite brand is Jovial Foods since finding their products is fairly easy, and I’ve come to respect this brand as a leader in the real food movement. Another fantastic source for einkorn (flour and berries) is einkorn.com.
Einkorn isn’t the cheapest option. The food industry has a way of producing food in a way that cheapens our view of the actual cost of growing and raising food, making it hard for us to see the true cost in producing something when corners aren’t cut. When you buy einkorn, you’re supporting smaller farms and high quality food. You can also support smaller famers and high quality food when buying other varieties of wheat.
I’m a big believer in variety, from both a health perspective and budget approach. This means baking with more than just einkorn. In my own kitchen, I also love almond flour (this waffle recipe is incredible), oat flour (just grind up some oats–as seen in this pancake recipe), and spelt (like this spelt chocolate chip cookie recipe).
As Michael Pollan says, “Spend more, eat less. Americans are as addicted to cheap food as we are to cheap oil. We spend only 9.7% of our income on food, a smaller share than any other nation. Is it a coincidence we spend a larger percentage than any other on health care (16%)? All this ‘cheap food’ is making us fat and sick. It’s also bad for the health of the environment. The higher the quality of the food you eat, the more nutritious it is and the less of it you’ll need to feel satisfied.” (source)
How Can I Use Einkorn?
Einkorn, as a whole grain (the actual berry), can be cooked like rice. Enjoy it as-is or tossed with veggies to make a salad. I recommend following this recipe when cooking the berries.
When it comes to baking, you can either grind the berries in a mill, at home, or purchase the flour pre-milled. I go the pre-milled flour route. This mom already has enough on her plate and milling grain isn’t a priority at this point in my real food journey. (progress > perfection)
The flour may be used to make any baked good you would traditionally make with “regular” flour: cakes, muffins, pastries, pie crust, bread, etc.
Einkorn has a sweet and slightly nutty taste. It doesn’t have a gritty or rustic taste like you feel and taste with modern whole wheat flours. Due to the high amount of carotenoids in einkorn, baked goods have a slightly golden color.
Einkorn can be harder to bake with compared to modern wheat since it lacks elasticity (the gluten structure is different). I’ve found that einkorn doesn’t like to be messed with, so over-kneading or over-working einkorn will result in less than desirable results. I actually love einkorn for this reason. Who wants to spend 10 minutes kneading dough anyway? Not this girl.
How Should I Store Einkorn?
It’s best to store the whole grain (berries) or the milled flour in an air-tight container in a cool place. I purchase einkorn flour in bulk amounts (multiple bags at one time) from a local health food store. If you’re planning to buy a large amount, the berries and pre-milled flour are best stored in the fridge or freezer. The berries and flour will keep this way for about 6 months.
I recommend storing any grain, flour, or nut/seed this way to prevent the ingredients from going rancid.
Tips for Baking With Einkorn Flour
Now that you know about einkorn, you may be curious about using einkorn in place of “regular” white flour. Jovial states, “Einkorn may be substituted cup for cup with regular whole wheat flour in some muffin, pancake, cakes and cookie recipes. However, sometimes, the amount of liquid in the recipe needs to be reduced by roughly 15-20%.”
For this reason, until you get used to working with einkorn (it took me lots of personal trial and error in the beginning days), I recommend baking from a recipe that calls specifically for einkorn. The good news is that recipes are being written for einkorn, so it’s easier than ever to incorporate this flour into your lifestyle.
I have a bunch of einkorn recipes here on the blog. Jovial also shares recipes on their site and Carla Bartolucci, the founder of Jovial, wrote a cookbook dedicated to using this grain. In the book, she also dedicates a lot of time to making sourdough with einkorn. <–This is something I have yet to do. Slowly I’m getting there.
Naturally Ella is another great resource for einkorn recipes. Erin, the founder, is a vegetarian and has written several recipes using einkorn berries. Einkorn.com is another source for recipes. The recipe database isn’t the easiest to search through, so you’ll need to do lots of scrolling to find what you want.
If you want to branch out and experiment on your own, Jovial has a fantastic resource on their site for troubleshooting how to do this.
Finally, when it comes to baking, I highly recommend using a scale to weigh your flour. This isn’t something that most Americans are used to hearing. We’ve become accustomed to relying on volume (cups) for baking. But here’s the issue: my cup of flour may not be same as yours. In fact, it’s probably not. There are too many variables involved with volume measurements. This means that my results may be different than your results and vice versa.
When it comes to baking, I recommend weighing the most important ingredients. Plus, weighing ingredients is much easier; just keep adding ingredients to the bowl until the scale essentially tells you to stop. Trust, me it’s easier and way more precise!
If you’ve ever made a (baked good) recipe and it didn’t turn out quite right (and the recipe is solid), it’s probably because there was too much flour added. This is far too easy to do with volume measurements. Of course, in order to weigh your ingredients, a recipe creator has to provide you with such numbers. Not everyone does this. I didn’t weigh ingredients for the first few years of this blog. Don’t stress if you find an einkorn recipe and the grams aren’t provided. But if they are provided, it’s best to use them. Your results will be far more accurate.
I’ve been using this scale, which we originally purchased for making coffee (weighing coffee beans), for a few years now.
What's the Difference Between All-Purpose and Whole Wheat Einkorn Flour?
Whole grain or whole wheat einkorn means that nothing has been removed. All-purpose means that some of the bran has been removed. You’ll immediately notice the difference when looking at the two flours. All-purpose einkorn resembles more of a white flour, while whole grain or whole wheat einkorn looks whole wheat flour.
Both einkorn.com and Jovial sell these options for pre-milled flour.
Does this make all-purpose einkorn bad? No, just different. Both flours have a time and place. And, as Carla from Jovial Foods points out in our podcast chat, all-purpose einkorn is easier to digest for some folks because some of the bran has been removed. I’ve also read that all-purpose einkorn is lower in phytic acid, if that’s a concern for you.
The whole grain or whole wheat einkorn is ideal for most rustic breads (quick breads or yeasted breads), while all-purpose einkorn lends itself nicely to lighter baked goods like muffins and pastries.
Easy Einkorn Recipes
Here are a few of my favorite recipes that are easy to make when you’re just getting started with einkorn. These recipes will help you get used to the feel of einkorn, in both a batter and dough form.
This recipe uses either whole grain einkorn flour or all-purpose flour. The pancakes are one of the easiest ways to experiment with einkorn flour.
Muffins do require a bit more effort than pancakes, but they’re still easy to make. This master recipe will give you a feel for how typical einkorn batter looks and feels. If you’re looking for a savory muffin recipe, try this fun variation on pizza.
Finally, pizza dough is a great way to get a feel for yeasted einkorn dough. This recipe calls for active dry yeast. You could certainly substitute this ingredient for a couple tablespoons of sourdough starter and extra resting time. You’ll notice that this recipe calls for very little kneading, something you don’t generally find with a wheat-based recipe.
Learn More About EinkornPodcast
I recently asked Carla, from Jovial Foods, to come on the podcast to share all about einkorn. In this episode, we talk about the origin of this ancient grain, the importance of variety within a diet, and how to use einkorn. It’s worth listening to if you want to learn more about einkorn.