Einkorn is the oldest wheat known to scientists, and is considered man’s first wheat. The term einkorn is derived from the German language and interpreted to mean “single grain”. Einkorn wheat is known in taxonomy as either Triticum boeoticum (wild wheat), or Triticum monococcum (domesticated species). Domesticated and wild forms of wheat may be considered either as separate species, or as Triticum monococcum’s subspecies.
Einkorn is the most primitive form of wheat on Earth. It contains only 14 chromosomes, whereas modern wheat contains 42. Einkorn does not have the D chromosome, which seems to be connected with wheat intolerance in many humans.
Einkorn is easier to digest and contains more protein and anti-oxidants than modern wheat.
Einkorn is among hulled wheat’s diploid species, with its grains being tightly enclosed with tough husks, also called the hull. Apart from the larger seeds and the intact nature of the ear when ripe, cultivated forms of einkorn wheat are similar to its wild counterparts. Although einkorn wheat was found in abundance millennia ago, it is limited to only a few regions today. The crop is not often planted, and has become popular as a super food in recent times.
Origins of Einkorn Wheat
Along with Triticum dicoccum (emmer wheat), einkorn wheat is recognised among the forms of wheat that were first cultivated by humans. Grains of the wild form were traced back to tens of thousands of years ago, and the first domestication of wild einkorn was recorded approximately around 7500 BC. It is believed to originate from the fertile areas of the Tigris-Euphrates regions. The origination of the wheat is believed to be a result of crossing the Triticum speltoides (wheat grass) and Triticum monococcum (domesticated wheat) naturally.
DNA finger-printing has shown evidence to suggest the domestication of einkorn wheat was carried out close to the mountains of Kacara Dag, located in the south-eastern parts of Turkey. However, the Bronze Age saw a decrease in the cultivation of the grain.
The crop can be found in mountainous regions of Morocco, France, Turkey, and parts of the former Soviet Union. It survives and thrives on soils where most other forms of wheat do not flourish. Einkorn was among the first cereals that were cultivated, following its wide distribution around Transcaucasia, the Middle East, south-western Europe, the Balkans and the Mediterranean areas.
Taxonomy of Einkorn Wheat
Einkorn wheat differs from varieties of modern wheat. Similar to other ancient forms of the crop (spelt and emmer), einkorn is classified as “covered wheat”. If un-branched, the inflorescence or head of cereal crops such as einkorn wheat is referred to as a spike. Spikelets or flowers make up these spikes and they are arranged on the stem’s extension also known as rachis. The flowers arise from rachilla – the nodes found on the rachis. The flowers are enclosed by the glumes, bracts, or chaff.
The cultivated and wild forms of einkorn wheat can be differentiated by the rachis’ brittleness. While wild einkorn has brittle rachis and is known for quick disarticulation of the flowers when mature, cultivated einkorn wheat has rachis, which is not as fragile, and is known to remain intact until it is thrashed.