Change in Wheat and Consequences

Why did the incidence of celiac disease in the United States increase four-fold in the last few decades? [1] As with the recent spike in the incidence of food allergies discussed here, we might wonder what caused this major and rapid change. Dr. William Davis, MD thinks it happened because wheat ceased being the tall, flexible "amber waves of grain" we sing about and was replaced with high-yielding dwarf wheat during those decades. [2] This is not a GMO strain: it was developed between 1948 and 1980 by intensive hybridization. The yield from this wheat may be ten-fold that of what was common with older varieties of wheat in the mid-20th century, but modern wheat cannot survive and thrive without chemical pest control and high-nitrogen chemical fertilization. It has enormous seed heads and stiff short stalks and is easier than the older strains of wheat to harvest and thresh. [3]

Dr. Davis, who is wheat sensitive, did an experiment using himself as the test subject. He obtained some einkorn, the wild 14-chromosome grain that is the original parent of all wheat, and made bread from it. He also made bread from organic modern 42-chromosome whole wheat. He ground each grain into flour and added only water and yeast to make each grain into a loaf of bread. He ate four ounces of the einkorn bread with no reaction. On another day he ate four ounces of the modern wheat bread and had a reaction that lasted for one and a half days. [4]

Dr. Davis wondered what difference between einkorn and modern wheat could have caused the reaction. Therefore, he searched scientific journals for an answer to this question and learned that the types gluten in modern wheat are about 95% from their parent strains of wheat, but 5% of the gluten is different, unique to modern wheat, and not found in older varieties of wheat. In one hybridization experiment, fourteen unique new gluten proteins were produced. [5] Additionally, he learned that the quantity of genes in modern wheat that code for gluten types associated with celiac disease is higher than in the wheat we ate fifty years ago. [6]

Jovial Foods has made einkorn flour readily available. This company was started by a husband and wife whose daughter is sensitive to gluten. They suspected that the changes in wheat over the last decades could be part of her problem. When they tried einkorn, their daughter tolerated it.

Jovial Foods sells einkorn grain, all purpose flour, whole grain flour and sprouted flour, beans and tomatoes in glass jars, einkorn and gluten-free pasta, and other foods here:

I have been wanting to try baking with einkorn for my family, so I just ordered their book, Einkorn: The Cookbook, and a bag of flour. Since websites are easy to update, hopefully I'll have more to tell you about baking with einkorn soon.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to advise gluten-intolerant individuals to begin eating einkorn. It DOES contain gluten, and you should ask your doctor what you should do.


[1] Davis, William, MD. Wheat Belly. (New York, NY, Rodale, Inc., 2011), 78-79.
[2] Davis, 17-18.
[3] Davis, 22-24; also Shewry, PR. "Wheat." Journal Exp Botany 2009;60(6):1537-53 .
[4] Davis, 26-27.
[5] Davis, 25-26; also Song, X; Ni, Z; Yao, Y et al. "Identification of differentially expressed proteins between hybrid and parents in wheat seedling leaves." Theory Applied Genetics 2009 Jan;118(2):213-25.
[6] Davis, 25-26; also Gao, X; Liu, SW, et al. "High frequency of HMW-GS sequence variation through somatic hybridization between Agropyron elongatum and common wheat." Planta 2010 Jan;23(2)245-50.