Farro, triticale, emmer, einkorn, kamut, spelt … do you know your alternative gluten grains?

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-17-24-44A tweet by celiac blogger, cook and author Jules Dowler Shepard recently showed a shot of a restaurant menu, and a dish containing farro, which was labelled as gluten-free.

Farro is the Italian word for spelt, but in the US it appears to describe the cooked grain of any one of several ancient or heritage wheat species – among which spelt, but also einkorn and emmer.

Whatever it is – gluten-free it ain’t.

Any diagnosed coeliac will know to look out for wheat, barley and rye in any list of ingredients or menu dish description, but how many are aware of the rarer gluten-containing cereals which turn up increasingly?

Most are merely wheats – or triticum – by another name, and we are all familiar with the first two, but not all of us the others:

Triticum aestivum – common wheat / bread wheat (used in bread)
Triticum durum – durum wheat (used in pasta)
Triticum monococcum / boeoticum – einkorn wheat
Triticum dicoccum – emmer wheat
Triticum spelta – spelt wheat
Triticum turanicum / turgidum – Khorosan wheat / Kamut

Triticale, meanwhile, is a hybrid of rye and wheat; its name a portmanteau of triticum, and rye’s Latin name, secale.

Along with barley (hordeum), these make up the main gluten-containing family grains – known collectively as triticeae.

Disconcertingly, there are plenty of other tritceae waiting in the wings for some imaginative chef to discover or a food manufacturer to market as the next supposed superfood. Check out the list of genera here, and feast your eyes on just one example, Tausch’s Goatgrass.

EU allergen lawmakers – to whom we should be grateful – were well aware of the potential stumbling blocks which the alternative wheats (especially) constituted, and built in a terrific solution, which you can read in their technical guidance document on food allergen labelling based on EU FIC 1169/2011 (Clause 29), and which I’ll reproduce here:


In other words, if you’re using a wheat which many people don’t know is a wheat, you have to say it’s a wheat and highlight the word ‘wheat’.

This is not always happening. I don’t like to pick on one brand, but I hope the fact that I like and buy their products is some small consolation for Biona Organic, who are rightly acknowledging that spelt is an allergen, but wrongly failing to clarify that it is wheat:

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-17-28-43I doubt this would trip up a coeliac (there’s a ‘contains gluten’ warning out of shot), but nevertheless, and as Jules’ example reminds us, you’ve got to always keep your wits about you.

Has it ever been any different?

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: On the labelling of spelt | Allergy Insight

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