Emmer wheat

For other uses, see Emmer (disambiguation).
Emmer wheat
Spikes (ears) of cultivated emmer wheat
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Triticum
Species: T. dicoccum
Binomial name
Triticum dicoccum

T. dicoccon
T. turgidum subsp. dicoccum

Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum), also known as farro especially in Italy, or hulled wheat,[1] is a type of awned wheat. It was one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. It was widely cultivated in the ancient world, but is now a relict crop in mountainous regions of Europe and Asia.


Strong similarities in morphology and genetics show that wild emmer (Triticum dicoccoides Koern.) is the wild ancestor and a crop wild relative of domesticated emmer (Triticum dicoccum). Because wild and domesticated emmer are interfertile with other tetraploid wheats, some taxonomists consider all tetraploid wheats to belong to one species, T. turgidum. Under this scheme, the two forms are recognized at subspecies level, thus T. turgidum subsp. dicoccoides and T. turgidum subsp. dicoccom. Either naming system is equally valid; the latter lays more emphasis on genetic similarities.

For a wider discussion, see Wheat#Genetics & Breeding and Wheat taxonomy

Wild emmer

Wild emmer (Triticum dicoccoides) grows wild in the fertile crescent of the Near East. It is a tetraploid wheat formed by the hybridization of two diploid wild grasses, Triticum urartu (closely related to wild einkorn (T. boeoticum), and an as yet unidentified Aegilops species related to A. searsii or A. speltoides.


Like einkorn and spelt wheats, emmer is a hulled wheat. In other words, it has strong glumes (husks) that enclose the grains, and a semi-brittle rachis. On threshing, a hulled wheat spike breaks up into spikelets. These require milling or pounding to release the grains from the glumes.

Wild emmer wheat spikelets effectively self-cultivate by propelling themselves mechanically into soils with their awns. During a period of increased humidity during the night, the awns of the spikelet become erect and draw together, and in the process push the grain into the soil. During the daytime the humidity drops and the awns slacken back again; however, fine silica hairs on the awns act as hooks in the soil and prevent the spikelets from reversing back out again. During the course of alternating stages of daytime and nighttime humidity, the awns' pumping movements, which resemble a swimming frog kick, will drill the spikelet as much as an inch or more into the soil.[2]


In 1906, Aaron Aaronsohn's discovery of wild emmer wheat growing in Rosh Pinna (now in Israel) created a stir in the botanical world.[3] Emmer wheat has been found in archaeological excavations and ancient tombs. Grains of wild emmer discovered at Ohalo II had a radiocarbon dating of 17,000 BC,[4] and at the Pre Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) site of Netiv Hagdud are 10,000-9,400 years old.

DNA studies on emmer wheat have shown its place of domestication to be near Şanlıurfa, in southeast Turkey.[4] Domesticated emmer first appears at Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites in the Fertile Crescent, either in the PPNA period (9800-8800 cal BC) or the early-mid PPNB (8800-7500 cal BC). Small quantities of emmer are present during Period 1 at Mehrgharh on the Indian subcontinent, showing that emmer was already cultivated there by 7000-5000 BC.[5]

In the Near East, in southern Mesopotamia in particular, cultivation of emmer wheat began to decline in the Early Bronze Age, from about 3000 BC, and barley became the standard cereal crop. This has been related to increased salinization of irrigated alluvial soils, of which barley is more tolerant,[6] although this study has been challenged.[7] Emmer had a special place in ancient Egypt, where it was the main wheat cultivated in Pharaonic times, although cultivated einkorn wheat was grown in great abundance during the Third Dynasty, and large quantities of it were found preserved, along with cultivated emmer wheat and barleys, in the subterranean chambers beneath the Step Pyramid at Saqqara.[8] Neighbouring countries also cultivated einkorn, durum and common wheat.[9] In the absence of any obvious functional explanation, the greater prevalence of emmer wheat in the diet of ancient Egypt may simply reflect a marked culinary or cultural preference, or may reflect growing conditions having changed after the Third Dynasty. Emmer and barley were the primary ingredients in ancient Egyptian bread and beer. Emmer recovered from the Phoenician settlement at Volubilis[10] (in present day Morocco) has been dated to the middle of the first millennium BC.

Emmer wheat is mentioned in ancient rabbinic literature as one of the five grains to be used by Jews during Passover as matzah (that is, without leavening agents of any kind). It is often incorrectly translated as spelt in English translations of the rabbinic literature but spelt did not grow in ancient Israel, and emmer was a significant crop until the end of the Iron Age. Likewise, references to emmer in Greek and Latin texts are traditionally translated as "spelt," even though spelt was not common in the Classical world until very late in its history.

In northeastern Europe, emmer (in addition to einkorn and barley) was one of the most important cereal species and this importance can be seen to increase from 3400 BC onwards. Pliny the Elder, notes that although emmer was called far in his time formerly it was called adoreum (or "glory"), providing an etymology explaining that emmer had been held in glory (N.H. 18.3), and later in the same book he describes its role in sacrifices.


Today emmer is primarily a relict crop in mountainous areas. Its value lies in its ability to give good yields on poor soils, and its resistance to fungal diseases such as stem rust that are prevalent in wet areas. Emmer is grown in Armenia, Morocco, Spain (Asturias), the Carpathian mountains on the border of the Czech and Slovak republics, Albania, Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, Greece and Italy. It is also grown in the U.S. as a specialty product. A traditional food plant in Ethiopia, this relatively little-known grain has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.[11]

In Italy, uniquely, emmer cultivation is well established and even expanding. In the mountainous Garfagnana area of Tuscany emmer (known as farro) is grown by farmers as an IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) product, with its geographic identity protected by law. Production is certified by a co-operative body, the Consorzio Produttori Farro della Garfagnana. IGP-certified farro is widely available in health food shops across Europe, and even in some British supermarkets. The demand for Italian farro has led to competition from non-certified farro, grown in lowland areas and often consisting of a different wheat species, spelt (Triticum spelta).

Food uses

Emmer's main use is as a human food, though it is also used for animal feed. Ethnographic evidence from Turkey and other emmer-growing areas suggests that emmer makes good bread (judged by the taste and texture standards of traditional bread), and this is supported by evidence of its widespread consumption as bread in ancient Egypt.[12] Emmer bread is available in Switzerland.[13] In Italy, whole emmer grains can be easily found in most supermarkets and groceries, emmer bread (pane di farro) can be found in bakeries in some areas, and emmer has traditionally been consumed in Tuscany as whole grain in soup. Higher in fiber than common wheat, emmer's use for making pasta is a recent response to the health food market; some consumers, however, judge that emmer pasta has an unattractive texture. Emmer has also been used in beer production - Great Basin Brewing Company produced a limited brew made from emmer, Egyptian Ale, based off a recipe from the New Kingdom-era[14] and the Riedenburger eco-brewery in Bavaria, Germany currently produces Emmerbier.[15] As with most varieties of wheat, however, emmer is probably unsuitable for sufferers from wheat allergies or coeliac disease.[16]


First use: 1908 Origin: species of wheat, from German Emmer, variant of Amelkorn, from amel "starch", from Latin amylum.[17]



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  • Up-to-date reference to cereals in the Biblical world.
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  • [1] Oldest domesticated wheat found at Abu Hureyra.
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