Dinkel is the German word for Spelt, a type of cereal grain that belongs to the wheat family
Dinkel is often referred to as an ‘ancient grain’, a term that lacks an official meaning and commonly indicates grains that were cultivated by ancient civilizations and are largely unchanged by human intervention over the last hundreds of years. Based on this definition, common wheat (bread wheat) is a modern grain because it is constantly bred and changed while Dinkel, Emmer, Einkorn, and Khorasan are ancient grains.
There is a general belief that ancient grains are “healthier” or more nutritious than modern ones. Many of us, driven by this belief, are willing to spend more money to buy them (their production is much lower and their cost substantially higher), thinking that they can nourish us better. Looking at the science front we find not enough comparative studies and not enough independent confirmations of the results to reach a clear conclusion (1). Concerning the macronutrients, ancient wheat contains indeed more proteins. However, from a nutritional point of view, we eat grains to obtain mainly fibers, vitamins and other phytochemicals. On this matter, ancient wheat superiority is not sufficiently corroborated by scientific research. A comprehensive analysis of bioactive compounds, mainly dietary fiber and an array of phytochemicals, in several grains, showed no particular nutritional benefit from consuming ancient varieties. The only notable difference was the high content of carotenoids in ancient wheat. On the other side though, ancient grains were found to contain less dietary fiber than modern ones (2).
Here, it is important to note that a whole grain (no matter if ancient or not) is by far more nutritious compared to white flour, which has lost many nutrients during industrial processing and nowadays it is a major component of the western diet. Therefore, enriching our diet with whole grain products, as suggested by the major health organisations, it can only be beneficial to our health and well-being.
From a culinary point of view, it is for sure a blessing to have so many grains to use in different food preparations, separately or in combinations. Each grain, either whole or through a type of flour, contributes unique flavours and characters and gives us room for experimentation and creativity when we cook food.
Dinkel and bread making
Dinkel is particularly rich in proteins, with a content of up to 17% (modern wheat usually contains 10-12%). Among them, the gluten-forming proteins gliadin and glutenin represent a major part of the pool. Therefore, dinkel has good gluten potential and it can substitute common wheat pretty well to produce breads with good organoleptic properties (texture, crust structure, volume). This notion is generally correct and we can simply replace common wheat flour with dinkel flour in any bread recipe.
However, the organoleptic properties of the dough and the final bread are not determined solely from the total amount of gluten proteins but also from the relative ratio between the two classes. Gliadins are the ones that make the dough extensible, while glutenins contribute to dough elasticity. The gliadin/glutenin ratio is significantly higher in dinkel than in common wheat (3.5 vs 2) and this affects the strength of the dough (3).
Practically speaking, a dinkel bread dough is still cohesive and easy to stretch but it tends to spread over the surface when left to rest due to the lack of adequate strength. Thus, breads made solely with dinkel flour come out better when proofed and baked inside bread tins, which help the dough to keep its shape and the resulted bread to stand tall, rather than being flat.
Dinkel Whole Grain Bread
500 gr dinkel whole-grain flour
100 gr active sourdough (biga)
350 gr water
10 gr salt
- The night before take out the sourdough starter from the fridge, feed it with whole-grain dinkel flour and water and let it grow overnight at room temperature. In the morning, the active sourdough (biga) is ready to be used in the final dough.
(You can always make more biga than you need for the final dough and use the rest to make sourdough pancakes).
- (Optional) If you have time, perform an autolyse step by mixing the dinkel flour and the water in a bowl. When flour is fully hydrated, cover the bowl and let it autolyse for 1-2 hours.
(If you have no time for this, proceed directly to the next step and mix all ingredients at once).
- Add the active sourdough and the salt. Knead the dough for few minutes until a cohesive and extensible dough is formed.
- Return the dough in the bowl, cover it and let it ferment and grow in size for 4-6 hours at room temperature.
(Doughs made with whole-grain flours tend to ferment and grow faster. Be aware of that and avoid over-fermentation that will result in dough collapse and difficulties in handling. Signs of over-fermentation are small bubbles popping out onto the dough surface).
- Scrape out the dough on a well-floured work surface. Shape it simply with your hands by stretching and folding from all sides and place it into a bread baking tin.
(You can line the tin with baking paper as to take out the bread easier after baking and keep also your tin clean).
- Cover it and let it proof for 2 more hours.
- Preheat the oven at 220°C and bake it for ca. 45-60 min.
(The last ten minutes remove the bread from the tin and finish baking it uncovered).
- When out from the oven, let the bread stand for 1-2 hours before slicing it.
(1) Shewry PR. Do ancient types of wheat have health benefits compared with modern bread wheat? Journal of Cereal Science (2018);79:469-476
(2) Shewry PR, Hey S. Do ‘ancient’ wheat species differ from modern bread wheat in their contents of bioactive components? Journal of Cereal Science(2015);65:236-243
(3) Escarnot E, Jacquemin JM, Agneessens R, Paquot M. Comparative study of the content and profiles of macronutrients in spelt and wheat, a review. Biotechnol. Agron. Soc. Environ. (2012);16:243-256