Emmer

Julius Caesar's favourite grain

 

10,000 years ago, emmer was to be found in the Middle East in almost every settlement during the Neolithic period. Together with barley, it was the undisputed main grain and is said to have been favoured by the Roman general Julius Caesar. After his victory over the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, Caesar brought emmer from the Orient to Rome on a large scale and established it as an important cultural asset of the Roman Empire.

In Central Europe, emmer spread along with barley and einkorn – from Greece and on, via Bulgaria and Hungary, to Western Europe. Starting from the Bronze Age, the importance of emmer decreased continuously. Emmer, along with other grains, has only recently been experiencing a revival. Participants in organic agriculture in particular value the importance of emmer in promoting biodiversity, and even its taste benefits are becoming increasingly important.

Characteristics

What emmer represents

 

•    an important plant crop in Babylon, ancient Greece and ancient Egypt
•    well suited to growing on dry, poor soils
•    natural resistance to harmful environmental influences
•    gives bread a characteristic dark colour and a pleasantly spicy flavour
•    found by researchers in 2017 in a millennia-old food container in the Swiss Alps

Thomas Miedaner and Friedrich Longin

Einkorn and emmer have earned a permanent place on the shelf. (...) Emmer represents an interesting new grain in the bread and pasta industry, which also provides new flavours and interesting nutritional values.

Thomas Miedaner and Friedrich Longin

„Unterschätzte Getreidearten – Einkorn, Emmer, Dinkel & Co.“ (Agrimedia Verlag 2012)

 

On the ear of emmer, two grains grow out of each stage of the rachis, unlike its relative, einkorn, which has a single grain. Humans were making bread and porridge from emmer at an early stage. Today, emmer enriches many dishes such as breads and other baked goods, pasta, soups and waffles. In these recipes, the grains ensure a varied and balanced diet with pleasantly spicy taste. 

Cultivation

How emmer thrives

 

The fact that it manages well with a more limited supply of nutrients makes emmer ideal for cultivation on poor, dry soil. This protects the soils and contributes to ecological diversity in the fields. The emmer stalks are very long, which affects the stability of the crop. An increased nutrient supply would lead to a further deterioration in stability.

Emmer must not be harvested too early, since it is essential to wait for the correct degree of maturity for grain threshing. However, any rain at a later stage causes the grains to swell, thereby reducing baking quality. Intuition and sensitivity are required when harvesting between early and mid-August. 

The expected yield of emmer is 2 to 4 t/ha. For comparison: 8 t/ha is expected for common wheat.
 

Processing

How to handle emmer

 

Emmer is a nutritional grain, meaning that its grains grains are enclosed by a solid husk. This protects the valuable grain from harmful environmental influences while ensuring a longer grain storage life. The spelt makes processing emmer more complex, since the grain must be released from its husk in an additional step in special mills. When milled, emmer gives a rather coarse, grainy, high-gluten flour.

Emmer is also particularly suitable for bread and baked goods. It gives these products a characteristic dark colour and a unique, delicately spicy flavour. Ancient grains are already used for new bread creations in many craft bakeries. 

For baking, it must be noted that the baking properties of ancient grains are not nearly as good as those of modern wheat, since they have comparatively weak gluten properties. The exclusive use of ancient grains in pastry recipes can therefore lead to difficulties in manufacturing and unsatisfactory baking results. Emmer has very firm gluten and low elasticity. The limited baking properties result in lower volumes of baked goods.

To meet these challenges successfully, it is important to use specially developed recipes and appropriate dough processing methods. Ancient grains can then be used to produce enjoyable, high-quality baked goods, which meet the needs of modern consumers. Meanwhile, several suppliers are supporting interested bakers with proven solutions to produce exclusive ancient grain specialties.