In search of wheat: Emmer

While einkorn is a 14-chromosome ancient wheat (containing the so-called "A" genome), emmer is a 28-chromosome wheat (containing the "A" and "B" genomes, the "B" likely contributed by goat grass 9000 years ago).

Both einkorn and emmer originally grew wild in the Fertile Crescent, allowing Neolithic Natufians to harvest the wild grasses with stone sickles and grind the seeds into porridge.

Having tested einkorn with only a modest rise in blood sugar but without the gastrointestinal or neurological effects I experienced with conventional whole wheat bread, I next tested bread made with emmer grain.

The emmer grain was ground just like the other two grains, cardiac dietitian Margaret Pfeiffer doing all the work of grinding and baking. Margaret added nothing but water, yeast, and a little salt. The emmer rose a little more than einkorn, but not to the degree of conventional whole wheat.

I tested my blood sugar beforehand: 89 mg/dl. I then ate 4 oz of the emmer bread. It tasted very similar to conventional whole wheat, but not as nutty as einkorn. Also not as heavy as einkorn, only slightly heavier than conventional whole wheat.

One hour later, blood sugar: 147 mg/dl. I felt slightly queasy for about 2-3 hours, but that was the end of it. No abdominal cramps, no sleep disturbance or crazy dreams, no nausea, no change in ability to concentrate.

I asked four other wheat-sensitive people to try the emmer bread. Likewise, nobody reacted negatively (though nobody tested blood sugar).

So it seems to me, based on this small, unscientific experience, that ancient einkorn (A) and emmer (AB) wheat seem to act like carbohydrates, similar to, say, rice or quinoa, but lack many of the other adverse effects induced by conventional wheat.

Modern wheat , Triticum aestivum, contains variations on the "A," "B," and "D" genomes, the "D" contributed by hybridization with Triticum tauschii at about the same time that emmer wheat hybridization occurred. It is likely that proteins coded by the "D" genome are the source of most of the problems with wheat products: immune, neurologic, gastrointestinal destruction, airway inflammation (asthma), increase in appetite, etc. This is consistent with observations made in studies that attempt to pinpoint the gliadin proteins that trigger celiac, the area in which much of this research originates.

If I ever would like an indulgence of cookies or cupcakes, I think that I will order some more einkorn grain from Eli Rogosa.

Comments (13) -

  • Stephan

    6/23/2010 5:24:11 PM |

    Thanks for subjecting yourself to these experiments!  Very interesting.  I have a friend who reacts poorly to wheat but tolerates spelt.

  • Anonymous

    6/23/2010 5:35:44 PM |

    Wheat is eaten everywhere in the world. I'd hope GM crop scientists design a variety which can solve this problem.

  • k

    6/24/2010 2:40:27 AM |

    If I am not mistaken, corn is also the result of the domestication of wild grasses existing some 8,000 years ago. Fooling with mother nature put us on a collision course with consequences.

  • Anne

    6/25/2010 2:25:31 AM |

    My concern is that the body could be reacting without symptoms. Could  these ancient grains cause inflammation even though there is no obvious reaction? I have lived 7 years without gluten and have no desire to add it back to my diet. Before I eliminated gluten I was very ill. It is not worth the risk to me.

  • Anonymous

    6/25/2010 4:11:10 AM |

    Dr. Davis,

    In your experience, in terms of small LDL and the like, what's better: a high peak of 150 that's brought down relatively quickly or a lower peak, but extended over a longer duration?


  • Dr. William Davis

    6/25/2010 3:25:38 PM |


    Please don't interpret these casual observations to mean that we should eat einkorn.

    My goal with this little experience is to gain an understanding of where along the way of wheat's 10,000+ year human consumption history did things go wrong.

    It seems to me that humans could have gotten away with eating einkorn much more freely, with fewer health problems than with modern wheat. I still would like to know where the extreme adverse effects were acquired, however. I suspect this occured in the 1960s and 1970s with the hybridization experiments conducted in Mexico. more on that later.

  • Dr. William Davis

    6/25/2010 3:26:15 PM |


    No data. I suspect that the high peak is worse, but that is based on no formal data.

  • Anonymous

    6/26/2010 9:48:57 AM |

    FODMAPs comprise a monosaccharide (fructose), a disaccharide (lactose), oligosaccharides (fructans and galactans), and polyols.

    In one study, as obese people lose weight, the balance between the Firmicutes and the Bacteroidetes changes - the latter increasing in abundance as an overweight person gets slimmer.

    Fructans, found in wheat, are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine into short chain fatty acids.

    Besides human metabolism, the digestion of wheat is also affected by how it is metabolized by the particular intestinal flora inhabiting a person.


    Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach

    An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest

    Food tables: fructose

    Fructose in the diet appears to be even more dangerous in the presence of trans-fats.


    High Levels of Fructose, Trans Fats Lead to Significant Liver Disease, Says Study

    "The investigators found that mice fed the normal calorie chow diet remained lean and did not have fatty liver disease. Mice fed high calorie diets (trans-fat alone or a combination of trans-fat and high fructose) became obese and had fatty liver disease.

    "Interestingly, it was only the group fed the combination of trans-fat and high fructose which developed the advanced fatty liver disease which had fibrosis," says Dr. Kohli. "This same group also had increased oxidative stress in the liver, increased inflammatory cells, and increased levels of plasma oxidative stress markers.""

  • Tom Moertel

    6/26/2010 7:47:08 PM |

    Your experience with einkorn and emmer is interesting. They do not seem to cause you the problems that wheat does, and that evidence supports the theory that they are less harmful than wheat.  But the same evidence makes another theory equally plausible: that foods such as wheat harm you through pathways that form only through repeated exposure.  Under this theory, einkorn and emmer could be just as harmful as wheat but, being novel to your diet, haven't had enough time for their pathways to form.

    It would be interesting, then, to learn what happens if you were to incorporate einkorn or emmer into your diet more regularly.

  • carrmh37

    6/27/2010 1:48:06 AM |

    This abstract would seem to support your view that it may be a modern phenomenon.

    Journal of Medicinal Food
    Effects of Short-Term Consumption of Bread Obtained by an Old Italian Grain Variety on Lipid, Inflammatory, and Hemorheological Variables: An Intervention Study


  • Anya

    9/9/2010 11:45:05 AM |

    Naturopath David Getoff recently did a podcast on this subject, it is worth listening to:

  • lindaharper

    9/11/2010 8:47:02 PM |

    Just wondering if you have experimented with fermenting the wheat or sprouting wheat and then drying it to make bread. I've read  that making bread through this method helps celiac problems and wondered if there is a connection  since soaking and/or sprouting neutralizes the phytic acid and supposedly aids in digestion and keeps blood sugars from rising as much.

  • Janet Creamer

    11/30/2012 3:07:09 AM |

    Wondering if there is a difference in European wheat types verses American. I have illness, vomiting and nausea when I consume wheat here in the US. But when I tried it in France, Germany and Switzerland, I did not have any problems. I thought it might be the way US wheat is processed, but it might be the wheat type, as well.

    Thank you,
    Janet Creamer