Spelt, wheat and gluten

First things first — spelt is not gluten-free.

But is spelt wheat-free?
I see this question asked a lot, but it doesn’t really make sense.

Perhaps an analogy is the best way to demonstrate why.

But first, let’s look at some of the many types of wheat. There are three main ones:

* Triticum aestivum. Common wheat or bread wheat — what is typically just called ‘wheat’, and is the wheat used in most bakery.
* Triticum durum. Pasta wheat — whose flour is used in pastas.
* Triticum spelta. Spelt wheat — what is typically just called ‘spelt’.

Here’s the analogy: asking whether spelt is wheat-free is like asking whether Golden Delicious is apple-free. Golden Delicious IS an apple. And spelt IS a wheat.  

Unless of course you mean ‘Is spelt common-wheat-free?’ Well of course it is. It’s like asking whether Golden Delicious is Granny Smith-free.

GDs and GSs are types of apples. Common wheat and spelt wheat are types of wheat.

It’s that simple.

Why is there confusion?
I think for several reasons:

1. Some people still make the ‘spelt is gluten-free’ error, and misinformation spreads easily.

2. Some spelt producers and food manufacturers who use spelt have tended to avoid mentioning that it’s a type of wheat in their marketing material (I suspect, because wheat remains a dietary baddie in many people’s eyes, and, not unreasonably, it’s in their interests to highlight the grain’s distinctiveness).

3. Some nutritional therapists have in the past recommended spelt wheat over common wheat to those with digestive complaints, IBS etc, on the supposed basis that it is lower in gluten. It isn’t, necessarily: in fact, it can contain more. However, some spelt wheat products appear lower in FODMAPs than common wheat products, which may be the reason many with digestive sensitivities seem able to tolerate spelt better — for instance, 100% sourdough spelt bread is low FODMAP.

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