Spelt bread is any bread in which spelt, an ancient type of wheat, acts as a major ingredient. This bread is rich in protein, magnesium, and B vitamins, as well as fiber. Spelt bread tends to be nuttier-tasting and less bitter than conventional whole wheat bread. Working with spelt can be more difficult than working with refined or whole grain flour from regular wheat, as spelt contains less gluten. Without special care, this grain tends to produce a dense, heavy loaf.
A staple grain in Europe between the Bronze Age and Medieval period, spelt is now grown in only a few areas. It is a hybrid of a domesticated wheat variety and wild goat grass, and first appeared about 8,000 years ago. Sometimes confused with emmer wheat, this grain is currently produced only as a specialty and health food crop.
Whole grain spelt contains about 60% carbohydrates, 17% protein, 9% fiber, and 3% fat. Conventional wheat flour contains between 5% and 15% protein, with bread and pasta flours being highest in this nutrient. As of 2011, 100 grams (3.75 ounces) of uncooked spelt contains 32% of the US daily recommended intake of thiamin, 46% of the niacin, and 38% of magnesium. Spelt flour is almost always sold unrefined.
Spelt grains taste similar to other species of wheat, but their seed coatings contain less tannin than conventional red wheat. This produces a less bitter, less earthy flavor, similar to that of white whole wheat. Spelt is also notable for its nut-like taste, which combines well with that of other whole grains, including rye and conventional wheat.
Making spelt bread successfully requires practice and some basic knowledge of gluten. While this grain is high in protein, only a small percentage of that protein takes the form of gluten. Gluten normally acts as the strengthening agent in bread, allowing it to hold gas and rise effectively. Spelt bread's reduced gluten levels result in stickier doughs and a denser end result.
Some special techniques allow bakers to produce spelt loaves with a similar texture to that of conventional wheat bread. These include mixing the spelt flour with an equal amount of conventional wheat flour, closely monitoring hydration levels, and using a reduced kneading time. A long rise, like the ones usually used for sourdough, can also improve gluten levels, producing a softer, lighter bread with a slightly tart flavor.