If modern high-yield semi-dwarf wheat is the source of so many problems, just how bad are the older forms of wheat?
Recall that modern wheat is a 2-foot tall strain bred primarily for exceptional yield. It is the combination of three unique genetic codes, the so-called A, B, and D genomes, with the D genome the recipient of much of the recent genetic manipulations and the source of unique glutens and gliadins that make modern wheat such a nasty creature.
In other words, say you, me, and Sherman accompany Mr. Peabody in the WayBack Machine and we sample the wheat of bygone ages. If we go back in time, we would encounter:
Wheat of the early 20th century–i.e., Triticum aestivum with the ABD genome prior to the extreme breeding and mutation-generating interventions of the latter 20th century, with the D genome relatively untouched.
19th century and previous landraces–These are the strains of wheat that develop unique to specific climates and terrains, similar to wine grapes’ terroir. Strains adapt to a location’s humidity, temperatures, soil, and seasonal changes.
Spelt–Wheat from pre-Biblical times up until the Middle Ages that, like its successors, contained the ABD genomes, but this D genome predates genetic changes introduced by geneticists. Spelt flour is higher in protein content than modern Triticum aestivum flour.
Kamut–Probably a contemporary of emmer wheat, kamut is an AB genome wheat.
Emmer–The ancient cross between einkorn (A) and a wild grass (B), emmer is likely the wheat of the Bible.
Einkorn–The great granddaddy of all wheat, the stuff first harvested wild, and the source of the 14 chromosomes of the A genome.
Obviously, experience with the various forms of wheat, particularly ancient wheats, (each of the above categories, especially Triticum aestivum, contains thousands of subtypes) is extremely limited. But we do know a few things:
Hunter gatherer humans who first began to incorporate wild einkorn into their diet experienced a downtown in health, including more dental caries, bone diseases, and probably atherosclerosis and cancer. Likewise, modern hunter gatherer cultures who do not consume wheat are spared these conditions.
We also know that celiac disease is not unique to modern wheat, but has been described as early as 100 AD and many times since, meaning it likely occurred with consumption of emmer, spelt, kamut, and Triticum aestivum landraces, though the relative frequencies may have varied.
How much better does a wheat strain have to be in order to be acceptable to most people: 50%, 70%, 80% . . . 100%? What level of risk are you willing to accept in order to consume foods made of this grain? If I had a cigarette that posed 80% lower risk for lung cancer than conventional cigarettes, would that be something you’d consider?
There are no right or wrong answers. It will be something to consider in the coming years as information and experience with the older forms of wheat grow. In the meantime, given what we know (and don’t know) about these older forms of wheat, my advice is to steer clear of all forms of wheat, new and old, and be certain you have great health and nutrition.