Ancient Wheat Packed With Goodness
On the island of Sicily, forgotten varieties of wheat, prized for their nutritional value and exquisite taste, are being brought back from obscurity.
Grains are a crop of which millions of tons are circulated through international markets, an amount that will only increase along with world population. In order to meet demand, grain needed to be produced on a massive scale, which caused the number of grain and wheat varieties to rapidly diminish. Grain varieties became regulated by industry, where varieties best suited to mass production were singled out and genetically modified for maximum yield. In Italy in 1927, there were around three hundred different varieties of wheat recorded in production, but in a mere fifty years, they have mostly disappeared. In Sicily, the “Register of Protected Species” and “Network for the Preservation and Protection of Indigenous Genetic Resources” are undertaking the revival of these older wheat strains, through which they aim to continue the revival of forgotten crops.
Owing to research into the nutritional benefits of natural crops, we are seeing success in the revival efforts of wheat that has not been modified at the hands of man. The older varieties of wheat grow tall with deep roots, and they sprout over a wide area which allows them to easily absorb water and nutrients from the soil. In Italy, Sicily was ideal for producing wheat, and in the 40s as many as forty different varieties were recorded. These days the most widely grown older varieties are: Timilia which is used for the dough of a black bread local to Castelvetrano (Trapani) and Russelo which is used in the Hyblean Mountain range to make a hard bread. These grains are milled in traditional stone mills which, while costing more than modern milling methods, preserve both the natural flavours of the wheat as well as its natural nutritional value. This is because stone milling does not kill the natural germ of wheat, nor does it break down any inherent vitamin or mineral content.
The production of these older wheat varieties is somewhat of a risk. From an entire hectare, usually only around a mere twenty tonnes can be produced, making it unfit for mass-production. They also lack in the viscosity or ‘stickiness’ of the gluten compared to modern wheat, which can affect the quality of the dough it’s made into. However, compared to mass-produced varieties it is advantageous in its high nutritional value. These traditional wheat strains are also more easily digestible, contain 7% more dietary fibre on average, and contain molecules known as lignans which are known to help prevent cancer.