What is Emmer?
Emmer (Triticum dicoccon) is an ancient wheat and an ancestor of modern durum.1 Similar to einkorn (Triticum monococcum) and spelt (Triticum spelta), emmer is known as a ‘hulled’ grain because it retains its hull during harvest. Emmer is also a tetraploid species, containing 2n=28 chromosomes.
Emmer wheat is a potentially valuable genetic resource for providing economically important traits in wheat breeding programs such as resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses in modern wheats.2
Cultivation of emmer began in the Fertile Crescent in the Near East, mainly Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey about 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic period. It then spread to other parts of the world, mainly Europe, North Africa and India where, along with barley, was the main source of nutrition.
The introduction of high yield wheats such as bread and durum wheats in the 1960’s reduced the cultivation of emmer wheat to only few thousand square meters in the following decade.3
Recent revival of the cultivation and consumption of emmer and other ancient grains due to increased consumer demand for natural and organic products. Currently, around 2500 ha of emmer crop are cultivated in Italy alone with a yield of 3.5 tonne/ha ). Other emmer wheat producing countries include Spain, Turkey, Morocco, East Europe and Switzerland.4
In the United States, landraces of emmer were introduced by East-European immigrants in the late 19th century. It’s currently grown in the Northern plains.
Functional performance of wheat flours is essentially a reflection of the quantity and quality of their protein components.
Functional proteins in emmer, albumins and globulins, are found in the aluerone layer which explains the inverse correlation between protein yield and concentration of albumins and globulins. Therefore, in this wheat, globulins and albumin amount to 30-39% of total proteins compared to 15-25% in durum and soft wheat.5
As for the storage proteins gliadin and glutenins, their concentrations in emmer wheat are 37% (range from 33-39%) and 29% (range from 27-33%) of total protein, respectively.5
Despite the adequacy in gluten proteins content in emmer wheat, their quality is considered poor as judged by their low gluten index value and Zeleny tests.5,6
Emmer’s poor storage protein composition is due to the high concentration of the intermediate molecular weight glutenins (78-50 KDa) and poor synthesis of the low molecular weight glutenin subunits (45-30 KDa) and absence of the gamma-42 and gamma-45 gliadin fractions.5,7
The composition of emmer is distinguished from other wheat varieties by its high content of resistant starch (RS), carotenoids and other antioxidant components. A unique aspect is its high lysine content (3.1 %) and which may reach 3.65% in the Rudico cultivar.5,8
Below is a summary of typical nutrient composition of emmer compared to durum, hard- and soft-common wheats.
Comparison of whole grain flour composition of Emmer (Triticum turgidum, spp. dicoccon), durum (Triticum turgidum, spp. durum) and hard and soft common (Triticum aestivum) wheats:*
|Emmer||Durum||Hard Common||Soft Common|
|Total carbohydrates, g (including fiber)||71||69.5||69.7||70.7|
*All values are expressed per 100 g of whole grain flour. Source: Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Repository
Earliest anecdotal mention of using emmer in bread was in Sumeria (S. Mespotania) where the grains were hand-crushed, mixed with water, spread over a heated stone and covered with hot ash.
With the recent consumers’ interest in organic and high fiber grains, emmer has been reintroduced into diet via soups (whole or broken grains)9, soft porridge (grain blended with water or milk), hard porridge (cracked grain boiled in water and butter), home-made pasta,10 bread (Switzerland) or pane di farro (Italy) and a high-end replacement for rice pilaf.
Despite its mild flavor compared to rye or other grains, baked products and pasta made exclusively with emmer have dense and heavy textures.11 Blends of emmer and bread wheat may be the best way to reinvigorate its consumption.
The USDA classifies emmer as species wheat more commonly known as farro.12
The FDA provides specific guidelines for labeling major food allergens. Since emmer is in the same species (Triticum) it is listed in regulation F11. Section 201(qq) of the FD&C Act to be listed as a major food allergen.13
- Desheva, G. et al. “Grain physical characteristics and bread-making quality of alternative cereals towards common and durum wheat.” Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture 26.5 (2014). pp. 418-424. doi: 10.9755/ejfa.v26i5.17960.
- Marconi, M. and Cubbada, R. Emmer wheat. In Abdel-Aal E-SM, Wood, P. (eds.): Specialty Grains for Food and Feed. Minnesota, American Association of Cereal Chemists Inc., 2005, pp. 63-108.
- Di Napoli, R. and Marino, D. Biodiversita e Sviluppo Rurale. Quaderno informativo no 11 di Programa d’Iniziativa Communitaria LEADER II. Rome, Italy: INEA, Italy (Instituto Nazionale di Economia Agraria). 2001.
- “Emmer History and Origin.” Ancient grains, 20 Mar. 2015, www.ancientgrains.com/emmer-history-and-origin/
- Galterio, G., Cappeloni, M., Desiderio, E., and Pogana, N.F. genetic, technological and nutritional characteristics of three Italian populations of “farrum” (Triticum turgidum subsp. dicoccum). J. Genetics and Breeding, 1994, 48: 391-398.
- Cubbada, R. and Marconi, E. Technological and nutritional aspects in emmer and spelt. In: Hulled wheats promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops.4. Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Hulled Wheats (Padulosi, S., Hammer, K. and Heller, J. (eds.). Castelvecchio-Pascoli, Lucca, Italy 21-22 July 1995. IPGRI, Rome, Italy. 1996, pp: 203-211.
- Galterio, G., Hartings, H., Nardi, S. and Motto, M. Biochemical and phylogenetic analysis of the major T. turgidum ssp. Dicoccum Schrank populations cultivated in Italy. J. Plant Breeding Genet. 2000, 54: 303-309.
- Stehno, Z. Emmer wheat rudico can extend the spectra of cultivated plants. Czchech. J. Genet. Plant Breed. 2007, 43, 3: 113-115.
- De Vita, P., Riefolo, C., Codianni, P., Cattivelli, I. and fares, C. Agronomic and qualitative traits of T. turgidum ssp. Dicoccum genotypes cultivated in Italy. Euphytica, 2006, 150: 195-205.
- Galterio, G., Codianni, P., Giusti, A.M., Pezzarossa, B. and Cannella, C. Assessment of the agronomical and technological characteristics of Triticum turgidum ssp. Dicoccum Schrank and T. spelta L. Nahrung/Food, 2003, 47: 54-59.
- Kissing Kucek, L., et al. “Evaluation of wheat and emmer varieties for artisanal baking, pasta making, and sensory quality.” Journal of Cereal Science 74 (2017): 19-27.
- “United States Department of Agriculture.” Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration, 20 Jan. 2012, https://www.gipsa.usda.gov/fgis/commgallery/gr_emmer.aspx.
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Labeling & Nutrition – Guidance for Industry: Food Labeling Guide.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Jan. 2013, http://www.fda.gov/foodlabelingguide.