Einkorn Wheat: Lessons in Three Recipes

As a longtime baker of bread, I like to experiment with new grains and flours. I’m very focused on whole grains these days and wanted to branch out from the whole wheat flour sold in the grocery store as the base for the breads I bake.

I remembered seeing einkorn flour the last time I visited the Arva Flour Mill and thought that might be a good one to try. I consulted the mill’s website to read up on this variety and learned that it is “the original wheat.” To be more specific, einkorn is actually the “oldest wheat known to scientists” and one of the first forms of wheat cultivated by humans, along with emmer and spelt. It is thought to have been domesticated around 7,500 BC. (einkorn.com)

That was enough of a cool factor for me, so I decided to make a stop at the Arva mill on a recent visit to the area to pick up some einkorn flour and, because I love a grain salad, some wheat berries too.

What’s So Special About Einkorn?

You might be wondering how different einkorn could be. Wheat is wheat, right? That’s a reasonable assumption but, in reality, einkorn and modern wheat differ greatly in both structure and nutrition:

  • Modern wheat has been hybridized to increase gluten and deliver higher yields. It contains 42 chromosomes compared to 14 for einkorn. As the “purest form of wheat,” einkorn is naturally lower in gluten and higher in nutrients.
  • With its lower levels of gluten, einkorn is easier to digest and a possible option for individuals with gluten sensitivity. (To be technical, it actually contains a different kind of gluten that lacks the D genome thought to be responsible for wheat intolerance.)
  • Unlike modern wheat, einkorn is–to my great surprise–very high in antioxidants, specifically carotenoids, like those found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. It is especially high in lutein. (einkorn.com)
  • Einkorn is also higher in protein, fibre and many B vitamins than modern wheat. You can read more on that here and here

As for the taste, I really didn’t know what to expect. Many websites say that einkorn has a deeper and nuttier flavour than traditional wheat. I like farro, which is related to einkorn, and love a strong whole grain flavour in bread, so I figured I’d enjoy einkorn. With my purchases in hand, I was ready to find out, via the following three recipes. 

Recipe #1: Einkorn Bread

For my first einkorn baking experience, I went with a basic bread baked in a standard loaf pan. I usually make freestanding loaves so I don’t know why I made this choice. I guess I wanted to go  all in on the “new” aspects of this little venture. 

The recipe was very straightforward. It also included this warning in its notes: “Don’t over-knead: the kneading time is always shorter with ancient grain breads due to the lower gluten content. Over-kneading will result in a cake-like crumb.”

The recipe itself suggested kneading the dough for “about” six minutes. My instincts told me the dough was kneaded enough after about four minutes but I carried on, believing that because this was my first time using this recipe I had better follow the directions closely. End result: a cake-like crumb, just like the warning foretold.   

The bread is not bad at all, just more dense than I would have liked with a texture closer to a quick loaf than bread. But it was my error, not the recipe so I would try this one again. (Recipe from Occasionally Eggs.) 

What I Learned
  • I quite enjoy the flavour of einkorn wheat. It is hard to describe but I would say it tastes wheatier, like you would expect in an unadulterated wheat; it’s as though you baked with freshly milled wheat and not bland, powdery flour. Imagine your favourite 100% whole wheat loaf, but super concentrated. 
  • Einkorn behaves very differently from other bread dough and the “do-not-over-knead” rule must be followed. I read on a page of einkorn baking tips that all einkorn bread is basically no-knead because it is low in gluten to begin with and kneading does nothing to develop the gluten, as it does with other bread. So take that to heart if you decide to bake with einkorn.  
Einkorn sandwich bread, sliced.

Recipe #2: Crusty No-Knead Einkorn Bread (Dutch Oven)

Yet another new baking method. (I was really embracing the novelty factor here.) I have never made a no-knead bread nor put dough in a Dutch oven to bake, but I have always been curious about how such breads turn out. 

Again, the recipe was super-easy and, again, I did not follow my instincts. This recipe uses einkorn all-purpose flour. My bag of einkorn flour does not specify the type, but I’m pretty sure it’s more akin to whole wheat than all-purpose. 

Having read that einkorn absorbs liquid more slowly than modern wheat and that one may need to reduce the liquid in a recipe by 15-20%, I probably should have reconsidered the amount I added here. Even though this was an einkorn recipe, my flour didn’t work like the one the author used. My dough was was very wet and sticky when I finished mixing and much darker than the one in the recipe, indicating more of the whole grain was present. But it was done, so all I could do was hope that some of the liquid would be absorbed during its overnight rise. (I also wondered about using active dry yeast without blooming it first or whether I should have switched to instant yeast to ensure a better rise from my denser flour.) 

Upon seeing it in the morning, I had serious doubts that I would get anything edible out of this attempt at no-knead bread. The dough had risen a bit but was still very wet. After my normally bright red Dutch oven came out its preheat phase in the oven smoking and scalded to a very dark red, I had more doubts. And when I had difficulty scraping my very wet dough into the smoking hot pot, only to see it land with a splat into an oddly shaped blob instead of a nice round loaf as shown in the recipe, well let’s just say I was not feeling optimistic about what would emerge from the oven. My fears were allayed about 15 minutes later as the oven emitted the scent of freshly baked bread–this loaf may have looked all wrong but it smelled absolutely right. 

To my great shock, that sticky wet mass ended up baking very evenly and slid right out of the Dutch oven. I was very pleased. When I cut it open I saw a much better texture than the first loaf–more airy and open, as the picture below shows–but there was a bit of a gummy line along the bottom of the loaf. (The hosts of the Great British Baking Show might have used the dreaded “stodgy” to describe it.) I think the yeast and water content were both a bit of a problem, since the recipe was written for a lighter flour than the one I was using. As with the first bread, the recipe was sound but I needed to tweak things based on the flour I had on hand. I would try this one again though. (Recipe from Fit Mama Real Food)

What I Learned 
  • Bread bakes well in a Dutch oven. 
  • Until you are accustomed to baking with einkorn, it’s probably best to cut the liquid back to start with and then add a little at a time, as needed, judging by feel as to whether there is enough. And be aware that einkorn bread dough is generally wetter overall than regular bread dough.  
Einkorn no-knead bread, sliced.

Recipe #3: Mediterranean Wheat Berry Salad

I often make grain salads and wanted to try it with my einkorn berries; I just wasn’t sure how to cook them. 

I found some recipes that said to just throw them in a pot of boiling, salted water and let them simmer for 30 minutes and others that recommended the wheat berries soak overnight. I went with the latter, following the general cooking method in this recipe for an einkorn breakfast bowl, minus the breakfast ingredients, although this bowl does sound really good.  

The wheat berries were fabulous–chewy, held their shape well–and would work in virtually any grain salad. For my Mediterranean salad, I used a homemade Greek dressing from this recipe, although bottled would be fine too, along with tomates, cucumbers and feta. You could also add olives, red pepper (roasted or fresh), jarred artichoke hearts or any other vegetables you might like. 

What I Learned
  • Wheat berries are very filling. Honestly, that wheat berry salad is a meal in and of itself. They are also very versatile, as the breakfast bowl recipe shows. 
Einkorn wheat berry Mediterraean salad with tomatoes, cucumber and feta cheese.

One Caveat

Einkorn flour can be very expensive. It is a specialty wheat that is often grown using organic methods. It is fun to experiment with but may not be a realistic option for everyday use. I will use einkorn flour as a once-in-a-while whole grain treat, once I have perfected the act of baking with it. 

As for the wheat berries, they are priced in the same range as organic farro, and considerably less expensive than organic quinoa which, for the record, has less protein.  On balance, I think wheat berries might be the easiest and most cost-effective way to add einkorn to my diet.

Wheat sheaf image: 234689793 © Sabelskaya | Dreamstime.com

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