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Spelt vs All-Purpose Flour - What is the Difference?

Updated: Jan 28



One year ago if you had asked me about Spelt flour I would have had no clue what you were talking about. Being a self-taught baker everything I was used to baking with was made up using all-purpose flour, there would be the occasional cookie or bread that would call for whole wheat, rice, or rye flour but those were few and far between. It wasn't until I started to read about the history of wheat, and how it has changed over the years to improve yields and be disease-resistance that I began to understand what I was eating.


This is not a doomsday post, but rather an educational post to bring light to the topic of wheat and why we have made the switch to Spelt flour. In this post, I will outline the following:





The Evolution of Wheat


Wheat is a staple grain in most Western diets and is cultivated globally for its nutritional value. Over the past century, the production and processing of wheat into all-purpose flour have undergone significant changes. Initially, stone milling methods prevailed, which retained more nutrients but lacked consistency. The flour being produced was coarse in texture but preserved the wheat germ and bran, two very important parts contributing to a higher nutritional content but also giving a slightly nuttier flavour.


In the mid-20th century advances in technology led to the adoption of roller mills. This allowed for more efficient and uniform grinding of wheat but led to the removal of the germ and bran, reducing the nutritional profile but extending the shelf life. Not long after this (late 20th century) there became concerns about nutrient loss from the germ and bran no longer being in the flour and that the fortification of all-purpose flour with vitamins and minerals, such as iron and folic acid was now being added into the flour. During this time there was also a lot of emphasis on convenience and shelf stability that modern milling techniques evolved further resulting in highly refined processes. This resulted in a finer texture of flour but sacrificed more nutritional value.


More recently there has been additional concerns with modern wheat that involve the use of glyphosate and how it is now being found in all- purpose lour and good baked from that flour. This and the rise of gluten intolerance and celiac disease has led to the growing market for specialty flours, like whole wheat, rice, almond or other non-wheat options, and ancient grain varieties like Spelt or Einkorn. Ancient grain varieties often retain more nutrients and provide alternative options for those seeking healthier alternatives that are also not being sprayed with glyphosate. In summary, the evolution of all-purpose flour has been driven by technological advancements to produce a fine, whiter, flour that has a longer shelf life but there’s a concurrent interest in returning to more nutrient-dense options.


How is Spelt different than All-purpose flour?


Let’s start at the beginning, All-purpose flour is typically made from a hard or soft wheat varieties that are harvested, milled and blended using modern technologies. There are often additives, vitamins, and preservatives added to it. It is designed to be as white as possible, versatile and offer a long shelf life. Whereas Spelt is an ancient wheat that is milled using more traditional methods where the germ and bran are left in giving it distinct nutritional properties and a slightly nutty flavor. There are no additives and it should be 100% whole-grain spelt (organic is better).



Spelt flour vs all purpose flour


Appearance, Flavour and Texture


Just looking at the two flours, you can see their differences – the spelt is slightly off-white with flecks of gram and bran whereas the all-purpose flour is snow-white and very fine. Most of us are aware of the flavour of all-purpose flour as its neutral taste makes it the most versatile and well-known wheat. Spelt flour has a slightly sweet and nutty flavour that gives it a distinctive taste to baked goods. Spelt will also give your baked goods a nice golden color.


Nutritional Composition


One of the biggest differences between the two for me is the nutritional content. All-purpose flour if usually enriched with vitamins and minerals during processing but Spelt flour it naturally contains more nutrients and has a lower gluten content and higher protein and fibre. I knew right away this was something I wanted to learn more about. With kids bread and butter is a staple in their diet so if there was a way for me to increase their protein and fibre with something they already love it was a no-brainer for me.

Spelt flour and all-purpose flour nutritional facts

Per ¼ cup serving

Spelt flour 

All-purpose flour 

Calories

110

120

Carbs (g)

23

24 

Fiber (g)

4

Fat (g)

0

0.5 

Protein (g)

Glycemic index score

55-67

85

 

Suitability for Baking


All-purpose flour is versatile and suitable for all types of baking. The higher percentage of gluten in all-purpose flour than spelt means it can absorb more water and is better suited for recipes that require a strong structure, like bread. Since spelt has a lower gluten content, it is easier to digest and less absorbent making it delicate to work with and needing less mixing, resulting in a lighter and fluffier texture in baked goods. In most recipes, you can swap all-purpose for spelt 1:1 but I suggest you start to explore baking with spelt by starting with recipes that require spelt flour.  This will give you a chance to learn how to work with spelt and understand it before you start swapping and changing recipes from all-purpose to spelt. When done right, spelt flour produces similar bakes to all-purpose flour, but it adds more body and complexity to baked goods.

 

In summary, while both flours can be used in baking, spelt flour offers a different flavour profile and nutritional benefits that all-purpose flour lacks. Personally, I prefer spelt flour for adding delicious whole-grain goodness to everyday things that we love to eat. If you are seeking an alternative with lower gluten content Spelt might be the right flour for you too.



If you are looking for a fabulous book on Spelt flour and recipes check out this one from Amazon.


Chat soon,


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