Spelt wheat

Further Reading

Wheat f4

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Code: f124
Latin name: Triticum spelta
Source material: Untreated planting seeds
Family: Poaceae (Gramineae)
Common names: Spelt, Spelt wheat

Synonym: Triticum aestivum subsp. spelta

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution

Spelt (Triticum spelta) is a hexaploid species of Wheat. Spelt was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times; it now survives as a relict crop in Central Europe and has found a new market as a health food. Spelt has a complex history. It is sometimes considered a subspecies of the closely related species Common wheat (T. aestivum), in which case its botanical name is considered to be Triticum aestivum subsp. spelta (1). From genetic evidence, it appears to have originated as a hybrid of domesticated tetraploid Wheat such as Emmer wheat and the wild goat-grass Aegilops tauschii (2).

"Wheats", as defined by US and Codex standards, can have either 28 chromosomes (e.g., for Durum wheat) or 42 chromosomes (e.g., for Common wheat or Club wheat). Spelt has the same number of chromosomes and the same 3 “genome blocks” as Common wheat and Club wheat (3). Scientific evidence shows that there is a high percentage of homology between the proteins of Spelt and those of Common wheat (4).


Spelt may be ground into flour for Wheat-like products, e.g., Spelt pasta. Spelt products are available mostly from speciality stores, although Spelt flour is becoming more easily available, being recently sold in UK supermarkets.

In Germany, the unripe Spelt grains are dried and eaten as Grünkern, which literally means "green grain".

The Dutch distil Spelt to make a curiosity gin, jenever. Beer brewed from Spelt is sometimes seen in Bavaria (5).

Spelt matza is baked in Israel for Passover and is available in some US grocery stores (1).

Unexpected exposure

Spelt has recently been marketed as safe for Wheat-allergic or Wheat-intolerant individuals. This claim is anecdotal and not scientifically supported.

Wheat-allergic patients can react as readily to Spelt as they do to Common wheat. Furthermore, Spelt is not suitable for people with coeliac disease.


The following allergen has been characterised:

  • Tri s LTP, a 9 kDa lipid transfer protein (6).

Potential cross-reactivity

As Spelt and Common wheat are from the same genus, Triticum, a high percentage of homology between the proteins of Spelt and those of Common wheat is expected. This is supported by laboratory data showing high specificity of real-time Wheat PCR in detecting Spelt and other Triticum species (7). Furthermore, the National Center for Biotechnology Information Entrez data base contains 97 sequences for Spelt proteins, and these sequences are > 95% identical to "Common wheat" protein sequences. In addition, the single sequence for a Spelt protein that is known to be a Wheat allergen, alpha-gliadin (accession ABB17533), is 99% identical to a homologous Wheat protein (accession CAB76957). Therefore, cross-reactivity may be similar to that reported for Wheat. See Wheat f4.

As Spelt contains a lipid transfer protein, cross-reactivity with other plants containing lipid transfer proteins is possible. This is demonstrated by a report of occupational sensitisation to Spelt that was associated with symptoms on ingestion of several lipid transfer protein-containing foods. In particular, the individual was unable to tolerate the cross-reactive foods Peach and Apricot (6).

Clinical Experience

IgE-mediated reactions

Unexpectedly, allergic reactions to Spelt have not been commonly reported. This may be a result of Spelt products not being commonly available. Reported adverse reactions are expected to increase as Spelt and Spelt products become increasingly more accessible. Adverse reactions may be similar to those reported to Wheat. See Wheat f4.

A case report describes an individual with a demonstrated allergy to Common Wheat who had several similar anaphylactic reactions after consuming Spelt (8).

Occupational dermatitis was reported in a 25-year-old woman, following exposure to large amounts of Spelt in her occupational setting. This was followed by generalised reactions to other foods. Within few months after avoiding Spelt and changing her occupation, her food symptoms and sensitisation disappeared, and the patient could reintroduce into the diet all foods that she previously did not tolerate, except for Peach and Apricot. A lipid transfer protein in Spelt was identified as the dominant allergen and responsible for the cross-reactivity (6,9).

Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman, harris@zingsolutions.com


  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Spelt", Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Spelt&oldid=209778316 (accessed May 11, 2008)
  2. Blatter RH, Jacomet S, Schlumbaum A. About the origin of European spelt (Triticum spelta L.): allelic differentiation of the HMW Glutenin B1-1 and A1-2 subunit genes. Theor Appl Genet. 2004 Jan;108(2):360-7
  3. Slageren, M.W. van (1994) Wild wheats: a monograph of Aegilops L. and Amblyopyrum (Jaub. & Spach) Eig (Poaceae). Wageningen Agriculture University Papers 1994-7;82-94
  4. Yunginger JW. Food ingredient labeling: how many ways can wheat be spelt?
    Allergy Proc 1994;15(4):219-20
  5. Dostálek P, Hochel I, Méndez E, Hernando A, Gabrovská D. Immunochemical determination of gluten in malts and beers.
    Food Addit Contam 2006;23(11):1074-8
  6. Pastorello EA, Farioli L, Robino AM, Trambaioli C, Conti A, Pravettoni V. A lipid transfer protein involved in occupational sensitization to spelt. [Letter] J Allergy Clin Immunol 2001;108(1 Pt 1):145-6
  7. Sandberg, M, Lundberg, L, Ferm, M, et al. Real Time PCR for the detection and discrimination of cereal contamination in gluten free foods.
    Eur Food Res Technol 2003;217:344-9
  8. Friedman HM, Tortolani RE, Glick J, Burtis RT. Spelt is wheat.
    Allergy Proc 1994;15(4):217-8
  9. Robino A., Pravettoni V., Farioli L., Trambaioli C., Conti A., Pastorello E.A. Occupational sensitisation caused by spelt: a case report [Poster] 8th International Symposium on Problems of Food Allergy, Venice. 2001, March 11-13


As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.