Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mad Science vs Our Daily Bread…Ancient Einkorn to the Rescue

In a film class many years ago, a professor told us that Godzilla was no mere monster movie. He said that the story (told ingeniously and subversively) revealed the unanticipated consequences of the nuclear age as only the Japanese could after the cruel horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  Godzilla was the monster that had been unleashed from the disaster.  Or rather, Godzilla was the monster that nature had unleashed because of the nuclear bomb. 

The more I hear about Frankenfish that have had animal DNA spliced into them to make them grow faster or grains developed to withstand horribly toxic chemicals –– the more I see the shadow of a new Godzilla looming with each new announcement.  Do scientists think 1000 steps ahead like great chess players or do most of them just work blindly on the problem at hand (more, bigger, cheaper, chemically tolerant, needs less water etc.) and say “oops” when there are unintended consequences (like chemicals and mutant plants that are killing all the bees and causing birth defects in animals and humans because other plants and living organisms weren’t sufficiently considered when the mad scientist performed his Franken-science).  The collateral damage could be epic.  Then will “sorry” be enough –– when offspring are no longer viable and those that are born are a mess??? Sorry to be a drama queen, but yeah, I’m a little worried.

This has been on my mind a lot lately with a rather common Frankenfood, wheat.  Lately, a son of a friend and my art director have been diagnosed with gluten intolerance –– my best friend's nutritionist told her to cut wheat from her diet to feel better … it’s everywhere.  I read that 30% of the population has it.  It seems like people are coming down with it like the plague.  You’ve got to wonder why. Well, I’ve got one possible reason.

Beginning in the 19th century, wheat changed, I mean really changed to make for bigger yields. The hexaploid wheat strain mutated in farmer’s fields and then was embraced and refined in the 20th century. And in so doing it wasn’t as easy to digest as it had been (unintended consequence) so that now wheat makes a lot of people sick when they eat it.  If they have celiac disease it makes them very sick. 

From the National Science Foundation, Old vs New Corn

But there’s more–– the reasons we are all getting so fat are legion, but one may be that we don’t digest wheat the way we used to because it’s different stuff (like corn that once looked more like wheat –– most animals can’t properly digest a solid corn diet so that they get sick eating it –– especially grass-eating, born-to-be-ruminant  – heavy on the grass, lighter on the grain cows who live shorter, sicker lives and pass their sickness on to us who drink their milk and eat their flesh).  In fact it’s much different than our very recent ancestor’s wheat –– thing is they have discovered that people with gluten intolerance can often eat the ancient varieties with no problems at all.

Einkorn ––Triticum monococcum 14 chromosomes

This is where the very ancient einkorn wheat comes in.  The name means “single grain” in German but its Latin name is Triticum monococcum and was thought to originate in Turkey. The gliadin protein (which helps form gluten) of einkorn may not be as toxic to sufferers of celiac disease or those who are gluten intolerant as modern wheat seems to be.  Einkorn wheat does contain gluten but is different from most wheats in that it contains only 14 chromosomes as opposed to 28 in emmer (farro) or 42 in modern wheat. This alters the gluten structure.

Einkorn is old –– very, very old.  Archaeobotanist Jack Harlan, suggested that “wild einkorn grain was harvested in the late Paleolithic and early Mesolithic Ages, 16,000-15,000 BC. Confirmed finds of wild grain remains have been dated to the early Neolithic (Stone Age) 10,000 BC. (Helmqvist 1955; Zohary and Hopf 1993). Cultivated einkorn continued to be a popular cultivated crop during the Neolithic and early Bronze Age 10,000-4,000 BC giving way to emmer by the mid-Bronze Age. Einkorn cultivation continued to be popular in isolated regions from the Bronze Age into the early 20th century. Today, einkorn production is limited to small isolated regions within France, India, Italy, Turkey, and Yugoslavia (Harlan 1981; Perrino and Hammer 1982).”

Modern wheat, 42 chromozomes

Wheat varieties break down like this:

Common wheat or Bread wheat (T. aestivum) – A hexaploid species that is the most widely cultivated in the world.
Durum (T. durum) – The only tetraploid form of wheat widely used today, and the second most widely cultivated wheat.
Einkorn (T. monococcum) – A diploid species with wild and cultivated variants. Domesticated at the same time as emmer wheat, but never reached the same importance.
Emmer (T. dicoccum) – A tetraploid species, cultivated in ancient times but no longer in widespread use.
Spelt (T. spelta) – Another hexaploid species cultivated in limited quantities.”

I wanted to see what the oldest variety was like so ordered my einkorn from Jovial Foods.  The first thing you notice on the site is a recommendation from Gluten-free Girl, Shauna Ahern… pretty good recommendation.

I read a great article about the taste of heirloom wheat on Serious Eats that basically said that it’s not about the taste necessarily, because good technique makes any wheat taste good.  For me, it’s always a little about history… I wanted to know what our ancestor’s bread tasted like.  But it’s also about taste and digestibility  Famous baker Jim Lahey said there was no taste difference in the article.  He went on to say he makes his bread from mega-corp (and poster child for the factory farm) ConAgra Foods  flour.   Lahey is the man who invented no-knead bread –– sorry Jim, Con Agra wheat??

The organic Einkorn is not cheap, but not much more than special, small batch flours that I see at the farmer’s market.  One 2 lb. bag makes 1 big loaf using a starter (that takes out most of the cost of an 80¢ packet of yeast at least –– you only use ¼ teaspoon of yeast).

What I got on my first try with a long fridge rise was a very crisp crust and a very dense, lightly spongy, cake-y interior.  Jovial recommends using no salt, but I have forgotten salt in bread a few times and hated it.  They said if you must, use only 1 t of salt.  I used 2 and wished I’d done more.  I think if I made it again I would use more water.  The dough rose well and puffed splendidly in the oven.  The 2 lb loaf took longer than 40 minutes and I was a little worried that I couldn’t get the internal temperature much above 170º (most breads are 180-200º) but I put a piece of foil over the top and added another 15 minutes.  This made the crust very crisp… almost cracker like but the inside was done.  Another idea would have been to make the loaf much flatter and that would have lessened the cooking time.  As it is, the loaf rose very high, I didn’t expect that to happen.

I like the flavor.  It was a white flour so that is a little confusing since I use a white, whole wheat and sometimes rye mix when I make bread.  Because of this I can’t say the taste is earthier because it is just white flour without the germ.  But it has a lot more personality than white bread with a warm smell… it is also slightly yellow as if it were made with egg. The texture is really lovely, dense but very tender and spongy.  Dr. Lostpast said he was one of the best breads I ever made –– a very impressive review.  I would very much like to try it again with whole grain added (Jovial recommended using their wheat berries, ground to make a whole wheat flour).  I tried it on a gluten-free subject and it was a success, no stomach upset.

For myself, I am thrilled to taste bread made with flour that was eaten before the Roman Empire.  Since I have no gluten intolerance I can’t tell if it is more digestible.  I do think if you are gluten-intolerant and have given up bread (perish the thought) this would be nice to have every once in a while.  I froze most of it and it holds up beautifully.  It made awesome French toast.

Next to try, an Emmer wheat… just to see how it does. 

PS Sarah over at All Our Fingers in the Pie wrote about a visit with wheat scientists HERE.  You may get a kick out of what they had to say.

Einkorn Bread, recipe from Jovial Foods

½ tsp active dry yeast
1 cup of Jovial einkorn flour
½ cup + 2 tbsp of warm water
Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water in a glass or ceramic bowl. Stir in the flour and mix with a fork until you get a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let 6-8 hours or overnight.

6 cups of Jovial einkorn flour
1½ cups of warm water
1 tsp. of sea salt

In a large mixing bowl, mix together unsifted flour and salt.
Add warm water to your pre-ferment and use a spatula to stir together and pour in flour.

Mix by hand in the bowl until all of the ingredients are well incorporated and you have formed the dough. You can add more of flour to make the dough stiffer, but it will be a bit wet and sticky. If you are using a standing mixer, use Speed 1 just until the ingredients are mixed. If you continue to mix on Speed 1, unlike common wheat bread, the dough will not dry and pull away from the edges, but get stickier.

I recommend letting your dough rise in a real ceramic bowl covered with a 100% linen dishtowel. If you use linen, not cotton, the dough will not form a crust on the surface. A glass bowl and plastic wrap will work too, just lightly oil the bowl so the dough is easier to get out later. Let rise in the warmest place in your kitchen, away from drafty spots, for 2 hours. [I let it rise till nearly double which took 3 hours,  then I put it in the fridge for 2 days].

Sprinkle the dough with flour to remove from the bowl to your counter. Let relax for a minute and then form a loaf by rolling the dough into a cylinder and tucking the corners under until it is compact.

Transfer to an oiled loaf pan if you want to make a formed loaf. If you are looking for an artisanal bread like the loaf in the picture at the top of the post, place the linen in a basket, sprinkle with flour and flip the loaf nice side down in the basket. Cover with linen and let rise for 1.5 hours. [It took longer than this since the dough was cold… 2 ½ hours]

Heat your oven to 400° for 15 minutes. When the oven is very hot, you can bake your loaf pan for 35-40 minutes, turning after 20 minutes. If you like a real dark crust, you should bake at 425°.

If you are not using a loaf pan, preheat the baking tray or stone in the oven. When the oven is very hot, remove the tray completely from the oven, close the oven door and place on a heatproof surface or counter top. Turn the basket upside down to quickly flip the loaf on the tray. Make a few slashes with a baker’s razor or very sharp knife on the surface to allow for expansion and place in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning after 20 minutes. [this took longer, I would say 55-60 minutes to get it to an internal temp of 170-ish – if you started with a very flat dough and let it rise this timing could be right… mine was very fat!!]

Einkorn bread with grass-fed, very yellow butter.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!

I can't promise that the bread will work for all Gluten Intolerant people... I did a test on a few friends with great results.
This is by no means a scientific statement that it will work for everyone... but certainly something to try!


Diane said...

It really worries me the amount of growth hormones, and other substances that are used in food of all kinds today. When we were in S.Africa we knew a very petite Chinese couple who had two strapping big sons of over 6 foot. They were convinced that the cause of it was all the chemicals put into the food today! Scary. Diane

indieperfumes said...

What a beautiful, thoughtful thorough article (as always) which is getting close to inspiring me (Me?!) to make bread...this news about ancient forms of grains is very important to know it seems to me. What a gorgeous loaf of bread you have there, too, and that buttered piece!

anon said...

i rencently bought some belvedere brocolli from a supermarket of high repute, only to later find out via an online search that it was genetically modifed - scary! your einkorn bread looks lovely. the sliced piece looks a little like challah in colour and texture.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana:
Sadly, the demands of feeding a burgeoning world population and the wish to produce nutritional and wholesome food do not always go happily hand in hand. The cautionary tale you write here is, quite possibly,not the stuff of Science Fiction and could so easily be what the future holds.

The more one knows about food production, the more terrifying it does all seem to be and yet the option to grow one's own is not an option for most of us. Your homemade bread looks absolutely delicious and, one would think, is nutritionally far superior to what is readily available on most supermarket shelves.

Lora said...

Thanks for an interesting and informative post. I bake a lot with spelt flour as it was so easily available in Germany all those years I lived there. This post makes me glad I did. Your bread looks fantastic!

Anonymous said...

A gorgeous looking bread, I bet it tastes fantastic. Thanks for the all the educational info!

Dino said...

Once again you have created a most fascinating compendium linking together many of my favorite topics: history, food, uncontrolled science, corrupt mega-corporations, and politics.

This post again demonstrates why "LostPastRemembered" is, in my humble opinion, the second most interesting blog on the entire internet.

Although I do not agree with some of your observations: (1) the Japanese brought the “cruel horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima” upon themselves -- while killing three members of my family; and (2), “ ... Shauna Ahern… pretty good recommendation.” -- perhaps you need to do some more research.

Otherwise, good job, lady!

Carrion, please.

Barbara said...

There was a movie in the early 50's called Them! Which was about nuclear-grown ants or something. Scared the daylights out of me at the time. We knew nothing of the dangers back then of setting off and testing these bombs. The same applies to our everyday life. Who knows what the long term dangers are of anything we are ingesting? The words long term are key here. You are NOT a drama queen at all. It really is something I think about as well.

Loved the post. Great research and I'm passing this on to my sister, who has a grandson with celiac. So I have listened and watched what she and her daughter have gone through as he's grown up re food and cooking. There are groups out there that keep close watch (I remember once something about the fat McDonalds used to fry french fries. There were certain kinds of fat that he could eat, other he couldn't. These organizations keep track of thing like this for parents.) on ingredient changes in the marketplace.

Kudos on your wheat experiments (I read Sarah's post too) and am looking forward to the next episode. The bread looks wonderful.

Faith said...

I had no idea of the politics involved in Godzilla...makes perfect sense though. I completely agree with your thoughts on why so many people today are finding that they're gluten-intolerant. Such an interesting topic for thought.

The loaf of bread looks wonderful! I'm really impressed at how gorgeously it rose.

Linda said...

This sounds really interesting Deana...I have been plagued with tummy upsets a lot lately and was thinking of going without wheat for a while and see how it goes...I am very interested in trying this grain...
As always whenever I visit you I always leave wiser than when I got here...thanks so much!
Linda xo

Marjie said...

I think that in addition to food engineering - which has its plusses, too, because it has enabled us to grow food in places that weren't terribly fertile, and larger crop yields - but also the fact that kids don't go out to play and get exposed to dirt, pollen and whatnot contributes to the rise in allergies. At least, I think that, and I've had doctors tell me that's their opinion (I do try to have a basis for my daft opinions, after all). Anyway, your bread looks wonderful, with its fine grain. Good for you for experimenting! I've been making a lot of oat bread and oat rolls of late (half oats and half wheat flour). It seems to control spikes in blood sugar much better.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

A very provocative post, Deana! Chemically engineered food is very scary and the other scary thing is how few people know anything about it.

What a wonderful bread experiment! Very impressive comment from your husband. Can't wait to hear about your the next flour experience!

Lazaro Cooks said...

Topical and important post. Well-written and researched. Lovely loaf of bread. I'd be happy with that as as life-long bread-aholic.

Fresh Local and Best said...

This is an intriguing post Deana! I still can't get over the statistic that 30% of the population may be gluten intolerant. I'm impressed that you baked this bread with the heritage wheat. It looks a bit dense which is what I've heard of the breads of the past. This replication is a culinary achievement.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh, the way our food has been toyed around with is frightening. Thank heavens I do not have problems with wheat, but when I was in Europe, I could taste, smell and see the difference in the bread I DEVOURED! Perhaps Europe has also succumbed to the mass production of wheat and other foods, but it was almost a BLESSING to have been able to taste food that has the REAL FLAVOR that nature intended, if only for a short while during my lifetime. Oh Deanna, this was a fabulous post as only YOU can do; combining intelligent information, history and DELICIOUS IMAGES and recipes is your forte. NOW, I must tell you that when I read your comment on my blog post today, I just wept. Very few WRITERS can move me to tears. I cry easily at music, movies and poetry. But a comment on blog? You did it to me today. Your insight and care for WHAT WE ARE MADE OF is exceptional, but more so, TENDER and filled with humanity and divinity, rolled into one.
Peace dear one. Anita

Kitchen Vignettes said...

My boyfriend and I were just pondering this exact topic this morning! Why are so many people gluten-intolerent these days? Your post is thorough and a great read, so happy to have found your blog and look forward to being a regular visitor! I am all about ancient grains and had not heard of einkorn. I am definitely going to try to get my hands on some! I have similar concerns as you around genetically engineered foods and I just wrote a post about corn. Come by and visit :-)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

This was a really fascinating read Deana. We were just discussing why people are more intolerant to things like wheat nowadays and here you have it all! :D

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

Hi Deana:

Love the bread - looks delicious (if not a tiddly dense - but I know that spelt often yields the same sort of bread - so that is not a negative comment on your mad breadmaking skills.) I'm not much of a baker, but it would be something I'd try for the historical value - very cool.

However, I disagree with many of the points made earlier in the article. 1.) GMOs are not really an issue for those of us in the US and Europe. There are few products on the market – triple-stack sweet corn is the only consumer-oriented vegetable on the US market and that is on 250,000 acres (out of 75 million acres used to grow corn in this country). 2.) There is a higher prevalence of CD and non-CD related gluten problems these days because they are diagnosed more frequently (often in asymptomatic people) and the great medical systems in the "first world" stop these diseases from killing the people who have them - and so they survive to pass the genes that predispose these diseases on to their children. 3.) In a related point, the genetics of these diseases have been worked out to some degree - although there is still a great deal more work to do on this and other "spectrum" diseases like autism. Just as autism isn't caused by vaccines, so CD and gluten intolerance isn't caused by the type of wheat consumed. Co-incidence and causality are being confused in both cases.

That said, however, the chemicals: like BST and other growth hormones as well as all of the antibiotics given to farm animals are a problem for people. Consumers should select products without these substances and place pressure on producers to keep them at a minimum.

The spectacular experiment that showed GMO corn pollen harming butterfly reproduction was rigged to prove a point. This was not done under natural field conditions and there was no way to tell if this would ever happen in the real world. However, it was a good warning shot for many people working these issues and indicated the need for lots more testing before products are released. In the US, the USDA, the FDA and the EPA must all concur that a GMO is safe before it can be developed for the human or animal markets. Sorry for the rant – just wanted to present the facts from another point of view.


Caffettiera said...

I enjoy using unusual grains for bread, and yours looks spectacular. Thank you for the detailed description of the different grains, it is quite confusing!

Since you mention that you were worried the inside did not have time to cook properly before the crust was browned, maybe you could try adding a tray of boiling water to your oven - it works pretty well with the bread I make. The crust still turns out crunchy.

Frank said...

I think you may be on to something here. I'm not gluten intolerant but so many are. We all know how many food-related illnesses are on the rise but few people make the obvious connections.

Jawanza Himes said...

It really worries me the amount of growth hormones, and other substances that are used in food of all kinds today. When we were in S.Africa we knew a very petite Chinese couple who had two strapping big sons of over 6 foot. They were convinced that the cause of it was all the chemicals put into the food today! Scary. Diane

alan d said...

really great piece on einkorn here thanks.
we are all in trouble as a species because of are laziness and complex lives.
we have surrendered to the corporations that put horse meat into beef products.
pepsi flavourings containing human baby dna.
some evil people somewhere seem to be getting kicks out of selling us poison.
you would think they wanted us useless feeders dead or something..
what a world spray heavy metals for ge engineering from planes when the crops fail introduce monsanto heavy metal and radiation resistant grain.
the world today is based on problem reaction solution.
the solutions are always funded by us with companies like monsanto winning.
maybe in time we are being genetically altered,if not we are getting increases in cancer rates.
so much for bill gates and his sick vaccines.
grains like einkorn and emmer wheat also called farro perlato need to be supported mega corp wants them gone.

Anonymous said...

The gluten free expert testifying on the einkorn website is raving about their gluten free brown rice products. She is not advocating that celiacs eat einkorn wheat. People with gluten sensitivities, not with celiac maybe able to eat einkorn wheat without a problem. No one is saying it's safe for celiacs to consume it.

Deana Sidney said...

ANonymous, neither was I. All I can say is that friends who are gluten intolerant eat it without a problem. Celiac disease is more serious and probably best to avoid anything that could cause harm. I have read that some people with celiac can eat it...