Emmer, einkorn, and agribusiness

10,000 years ago, Neolithic humans did not obtain wheat products from the bagel shop, grocery store, or Krispy Kreme. They obtained wheat by locating a nearby wild-growing field of wild emmer or einkorn wheat grass, then harvesting it with their stone sickles.

Neolithic humans, such as the Natufians of the Fertile Crescent, carried their freshly-cut wheat home, then ground it by hand using homemade mortar and pestle. As yeast-raised bread was still some 5000 years in the future, emmer and einkorn wheat was not used to bake bread, but was consumed as a porridge in bowls. Einkorn has the simplest genetic code of 14 chromosomes, while emmer has 28 chromosomes.

A third variety of wheat appeared on the scene around 9000 years ago, a natural hybridization between emmer and goat grass, yielding the 42-chromosome Triticum aestivum species. Egyptians learned how to cause wheat to rise around 3000 BC, yielding bread, rather than the unleavened flatbreads of their predecessors.

From the original three basic varieties of wheat available to Neolithic man, over the past 30 years wheat has exploded to over 25,000 varieties. Where did the other 24,997+ strains come from?

In the 1980s, thousands of new wheat strains arose from hybridization experiments, many of them conducted in Mexico. Then, in the late 1980s, genetic engineering quietly got underway in which geneticists inserted or deleted single genes, mostly designed to generate specific characteristics, such as height, yield per acre, drought resistance, but especially resistance to various pesticides and weed killers. The fruits of these efforts were introduced into the market in 1994. Most of the genetically modified foods were thought to be only minor modifications of the unmodified original and thus no safety testing in animals or humans was conducted.

We now have many thousands of wheat strains that are different in important ways from original emmer, einkorn, and Triticum aestivum wheat. Interestingly, it has been suggested that einkorn wheat fails to provoke the same immune response characteristic of celiac disease provoked by modern wheat gluten, suggesting a different amino acid structure in gluten proteins. Another difference: Emmer wheat is up to 40% protein, compared to around 12% protein for modern wheat.

In other words, the wheat of earlier agricultural humans, including the wheat of Biblical times, is NOT the wheat of 2010. Modern wheat is quite a different thing with differing numbers of chromosomes, different genes due to human manipulation, varying gluten protein composition, perhaps other differences.

Somewhere in the shuffle and genetic sleight-of-hand that has occurred over the last 30 years, wheat changed. What might have been the "staff of life" has now become the cause of an incredible array of diseases of "wheat" intolerance.

Comments (32) -

  • Anonymous

    5/21/2010 8:38:44 AM |

    I guess the scientists can once again manipulate wheat sorts to a form that may benefit us folks who love toast at breakfast.

  • Anne

    5/21/2010 11:24:05 AM |

    "Emmer wheat is 40% protein, compared to around 12% protein for modern wheat."

    Is that supposed to be 12% for emmer wheat and 40% for modern wheat?

    In Italy Emmer wheat is called faro. Is the ancient emmer wheat the same thing as what is grown today or have we "improved" it?

    There are some ancient grains unrelated to wheat that are used by people with celiac disease. Amaranth and teff are two examples. Indian rice grass used by native Americans is sold under the name Montina.

    All grains raise my blood glucose.

  • arnoud

    5/21/2010 11:47:28 AM |

    Very interesting post. Even when buying supposedly 'unprocessed' foods at the grocery store, we need to keep in mind that there may be little 'natural' about some/many of those foods.   The processing may be in the modified genetics...

    Are the original emmer and einkorn still available somewhere?

  • Meredith

    5/21/2010 12:31:50 PM |

    An absolutely fascinating history!  Is it possible to obtain ungenetically modified Einkorn wheat today?

  • Ned Kock

    5/21/2010 2:56:57 PM |

    Fascinating analysis. This may explain why many people whose ancestors consumed wheat in great quantities do not tolerate wheat well. This happens even though it may not take that long for a food-related trait to evolve (as little as 396 years may be enough):


  • Kathryn

    5/21/2010 3:55:52 PM |

    I love this info.

    But on occasion i wish you would quote your source.  I belong to a health forum where we use stuff like this, but without an original source i can't do much with it.  

    Not to be critical.  I so appreciate all that you take time to share here.

  • shel

    5/21/2010 10:20:28 PM |

    brilliant. thanks for this.

  • shel

    5/21/2010 10:24:15 PM |

    ...incidentally, can you put a search box on this blog?

  • Dr. William Davis

    5/22/2010 12:46:08 AM |

    Hi, Anne--

    No, the emmer is unusually rich in protein.

    Makes you wonder if there is a lesson in that observation. The protein--gluten--differs in structure, also.

  • Dr. William Davis

    5/22/2010 12:47:13 AM |


    I am looking!

    It would be an interesting experiment to consume emmer alongside modern wheat and see what happens. Some people claim that einkorn can be consumed by celiacs safely.

  • Anonymous

    5/22/2010 12:59:17 AM |

    Interesting and thought provoking post. As another commenter said, I do really wish you would quote the source of your information.

  • Kurt N.

    5/22/2010 2:06:28 AM |

    Do you have a reference for the protein content of emmer?  I've heard it was pretty high, but 40% seems off the scale.

  • Anne

    5/22/2010 3:50:13 AM |

    Oops, the high percentage I was thinking of was the percentage of the protein that is gluten.

  • Dr. William Davis

    5/22/2010 12:57:41 PM |

    Source for emmer wheat protein composition:

    Avivi L. High grain protein content in wild tetraploid wheat, Triticum dicoccoides. In Fifth International Wheat Genetics Symposium, New Delhi, India 1978, Feb 23-28;372-80.

    Dr. Shewry of the UK is a great resource:

    Wheat. J Exp Botany 2009; 60(6):1537-53.

  • billye

    5/22/2010 5:05:31 PM |

    Hi Dr. Davis,

    More confusing information for the evolutionary life style advocate to deal with.  This is my simple clarifying statement.  Since wheat in any form, regardless of chromosome content, is not a health supporting evolutionary food, due to the fact that we did not evolved to eat it, should we not avoid it like the plague?  After all, it along with high fructose, and high starch vegetables and fruits are the main cause of most if not all of the diseases of the metabolic syndrome.

    Billy E

  • Anonymous

    5/22/2010 9:35:37 PM |

    Source for organically grown emmer:  http://www.bluebirdgrainfarms.com/

  • Santiago

    5/23/2010 12:40:46 AM |

    Something similar most happen with the corn we eat here (Colombia), as it causes very little blood sugar raise no where close to what you describe when you talk about corn bread

  • Stan Ness

    5/23/2010 8:05:20 AM |

    Great post on einkorn and emmer you have provided here. Thanks for sharing.  I've been following the research on einkorn for some time now.  More and more, I see that einkorn has many health benefits that our modern wheat lacks.  You are right on when you call it a "genetic slight-of-hand".  Well said!  I found some research about antioxidants in einkorn grain and thought you may also find it interesting.  There's a lot too this stuff!

  • Dr. William Davis

    5/23/2010 2:10:40 PM |

    Thanks for the lead anonymous.

  • Dr. William Davis

    5/23/2010 2:11:16 PM |


    I've perused your Einkorn Blog. Great stuff!

  • billye

    5/23/2010 3:43:47 PM |

    I perused Bluebird farms.com as a commenter recommended.  Emmer, einkorn etc, a grain by any other name is still a grain.  One of Bluebird farms offerings says it all. "we offer a variety of gift baskets and boxes filled with fresh milled whole grains and local artisanal honey and syrup."  This is great for those of you that wish to raise your blood sugar and prompt diabetes type 2 along with any number of metabolic syndrome diseases, including Celiac disease.

    Billy E

  • Miki

    5/23/2010 5:26:38 PM |

    It does seems the diploid and tetraploid varieties of wheat are less potent as far as gluten poisoning is concerned: "Mapping of gluten T-cell epitopes in the bread wheat ancestors: implications for celiac disease." (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15685550?dopt=AbstractPlus&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn). A quote from the conclusions: "we found that the fragments identical or equivalent to the immunodominant 33mer fragment are encoded by alpha-gliadin genes on the wheat chromosome 6D and thus absent from gluten of diploid einkorn (AA) and even certain cultivars of the tetraploid (AABB) pasta wheat".

  • Anonymous

    5/24/2010 1:35:10 AM |

    I have some kind of sensitivity to wheat. After reading this post I've been looking arround and found in wikipedia some info saying Durum wheat doesn't cause alergui reaction either.
    Maybe this is why I have so strong reactions to beer, bread and pizza, but I seem to be able to eat pasta with out any problems.
    Maybe this explains a bit of the italian heart health thing, probably most of the wheat they eat is of a healthier kind.

  • Cherry

    5/24/2010 8:20:21 AM |

    Love your blog, not only for your thorough much needed nutritional correlates to CAD, but also your gutsy willingness to expose the truth around big pharma, and greed influencing the practice of medicine.  
    Here in France, Einhorn( Triticum monococcum) has been cultivated since the 9 th millennium BC in a small area of Haute Provence. It is called petit epeautre and it is truly delicious!  It has very little gluten.
    There is much regulation in the cultivation in order to protect the genetic purity of this ancient grain.  Like wines it has a AOC (appelation d'origine controlee)  Petitepeautre.com has wonderful information also in english. Each September there is a petit epeautre festival.  It is one grain I allow myself to enjoy occasionally.

  • Dr. William Davis

    5/24/2010 10:39:46 PM |

    Great find, Miki!

    Thanks for the lead.

  • Dr. William Davis

    5/24/2010 10:53:49 PM |

    Hi, Cherry--

    Thank you for pointing me towards the French source.

    While I knew that there was some einkorn or emmer grown in Italy, some in the Middle East, and very little in the U.S., I had difficulty locating it in France.

    It would be interesting to compare the various sources.

  • Anonymous

    7/21/2010 7:29:47 AM |

    As someone (a celiac) who is EXTREMELY interested in introducing ancient and potentially benign wheat ancestors into my diet, I am very curious as to how someone like myself might be expected to react to emmer.  (And by the way, I'm pending reception of some einkorn I've already ordered to see if I can tolerate it.)

    In any case, success stories will be warmly welcomed.  Failure stories not so much, but I would appreciate you please tell them, nevertheless.  The pain is necessary, and it is for all of us to share for our common edification.

  • David Isaak

    8/1/2010 11:16:22 PM |

    Well, I expect a whole host of bricks to come hurtling my way when I say this, but I'm  a low-carber...and one of the things I eat quite frequently is seitan. That's essentially pure wheat gluten (which has long been a staple in Asian cuisines).

    I avoid most grains (other than flaxseed), but I don't avoid grain proteins. I sometimes wonder if all the wheat problems people report are really from the gluten proteins. Funny those problems weren't reported in China over all those centuries...

  • Fredo

    8/3/2010 9:41:19 AM |

    i`m not sure if this was posted here before, but i guess it fits good into the context:


  • Principal Quattrano

    10/3/2010 4:58:07 AM |

    I used to eat a lot of seitan myself, before I had to give up wheat.

    I have heard a great many suggestions as to what celiacs can or ought to be able to eat, but very little evidence that such things are truly safe for one who reacts to gluten. A lot of common knowledge is based on nothing but oft-repeated rumors.

    Before giving up gluten, I purchased some farro in an Italian grocery. It was regular wheat. Emmer was not available. Perhaps it is in Italy.

  • Anonymous

    12/22/2010 4:58:51 AM |

    Dr Davis,
    I would like to know your thoughts on Ezekiel bread.  I thought it was better since it's a pure protein and sprouted.  

    I would really appreciate your feedback.


  • Henry North London 2.0

    2/25/2011 12:12:39 AM |

    I've just come across Kamut flour


    This is a tetraploid wheat high in selenium.  Ive bought a couple of lbs of flour to try it out.

    Im hoping that this will restore bread to my diet as I find modern pappy breads made by the CBP really awful,on my digestion and this wheat has higher protein.

    Its much like emmer in that its tetraploid and has been called everything from King Tut wheat to Noahs Flood wheat.