Jo Fairley is co-owner of Judges organic bakery and grocery shop in Hastings and co-founder of Green & Black’s chocolate firm with hubby Craig Sams
Is success spelt s-p-e-l-t? When we first opened Judges Bakery in Hastings, spelt loaves were a Saturday-only item - but by popular demand, we’re now baking them on the 362 days a year that we’re open. It’s simple: demand for spelt is booming.
There’s a widespread perception among the public that spelt’s easier on the tummy. Roger Saul, the ex-Mulberry dynamo, who has an organic farm near Glastonbury, is even building an empire on the back of it, offering not just spelt flour but pearlised spelt, which is also great for risotto, as well as spelt cookies and spelt loaves. His wife Monty’s experience was similar to thousands of other individuals: that spelt seemed, to her, more digestible compared to many other flours and breads.
Spelt grain - triticum spelta - is said to be much older than most wheats, eaten in the Bronze age, medieval times and by the Romans. Some archaeologists date spelt’s history as far back as the fifth millennium BC and remains have been found north of the Black Sea. But can its history explain why it appears to be better tolerated by fragile digestive systems than more modern forms of the grain? Personally, I have a theory that it’s another factor entirely that makes spelt more digestible - namely, that many of the spelt loaves available are baked not in giant, industrial-scale bread units but in artisan bakeries like Judges, which showcase niche products.
Certainly, the vast majority of our customers who buy our spelt bread tell us that it’s because they simply cannot tolerate ’normal’ flour. (Spelt’s certainly not suitable for coeliacs, although other people with a history of tummy troubles seem to get on with it fine.) But anecdotally, from my time behind the bakery counter, I’ve found that many formerly bread-wary customers find they can tolerate all our slow-dough breads, without triggering bloat, wind and other discomforts. It’s true of our spelt loaves - but equally of our other sourdoughs, in which the gluten chains are broken down by natural enzymes as the loaves slowly rise.
Yes, the small, artisan bakeries which are once again flourishing in the UK often use spelt flour. But equally important may be the fact that these bakeries are not baking on an industrial scale - adding lots of yeast, enzymes and improvers to produce thousands of loaves an hour.
Instead, artisan bakeries rely on that most precious commodity of all - time - to allow loaves (spelt and otherwise) to prove and rise. In previous centuries - never mind millennia - bread was always left to rise overnight. Now, in some cases, it’s made in as little as an hour. Go figure.