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Definition: spelt 1 from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(bef. 12c) : an ancient wheat (Triticum spelta syn. T. aestivum spelta) with spikelets containing two light red grains; also : the grain of spelt


Summary Article: Spelt
from The Encyclopedia of Seeds: Science, Technology and Uses

Spelt (Triticum aestivum ssp. spelta) (Fig. S.43) is widely recognized as a progenitor of common hexaploid wheat. Spelt most likely occurred as a spontaneous outcross of a cultivated tetraploid emmer wheat with the wild diploid T. tauschii, followed by spontaneous doubling of the chromosome number to produce a hexaploid with 42 chromosomes (AABBDD, see: Wheat, Table W.1 and Einkorn, Fig. E.1). Spelt has a relatively tough rachis, but it disarticulates upon threshing although the rachis segment remains attached to the spikelets. The grain of spelt is not free-threshing as the spikelets remain intact and enclose the grain. The hull must be removed in a postharvesting operation.

Fig. S.43. Ears of spelt wheat.

Spelt has the gluten protein that gives wheat its unique ability to produce a yeast-leavened loaf of bread and it is used for bread today in several parts of the world. Its primary use, however, because the hulls are difficult to remove from the grain, is as a feed grain (undehulled).

It also appears that common wheat arose from spelt relatively early by mutation of the Q locus. Spelt does not seem to have been widely cultivated in the Middle East, but the derived, free-threshing common wheat has been dominant in the region for many thousands of years. Spelt was better adapted to cooler regions and was much more extensively grown in central Europe in higher elevations. Most of the spelt grain produced today is grown organically where it is felt to be more competitive with weeds than common wheat.

There is considerable diversity among the spelts with a range of colours of chaff from black to brown to white, and some which are covered with short, fuzzy hairs. Some are awned and others awnless, most are tall and have weak straw. Most spelt is relatively susceptible to diseases. Both spring and winter types occur and the winter hardiness is similar to that of common wheat. Some types have higher amounts of gluten protein and are more suitable for bread than others. There has been relatively little breeding work done on spelt and most modern varieties are pure line selections from landraces.

  • Leonard, W.H. and Martin, J.H. (1963) Cereal Crops. Macmillan, New York, USA.
  • Simmonds, N.W. (ed.) (1976) Evolution of Crop Plants. Longman, New York, USA.
  • Stallknecht, G.F., Gilbertson, K.M. and Ranney, J.E. (1996) Alternative wheat cereals as food grains: einkorn, emmer, spelt, kamut, and triticale. In: Janick, J. (ed.) Progress in New Crops. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA, USA, pp. 156-170.
  • Falk, Duane E.
    © CAB International 2006.

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