Category Archives: Flour & grain

Bread malfunction!

In my last post about bread-making, I mentioned that the previous two loaves I’d made had started out seeming fine but after a few days they went bad. The crumb, which had previously been firm and at that sweet-spot between dry and moist, started to collapse, becoming dense and damp in the centre. It wasn’t a problem I’d had before so I started wondering what was causing it: under-proving,  over-baking, some dodgy flour?

Or the heat.

Surely it was something to do with the heat? Although I baked with decent results last summer, when July and August similiarly peaked at around 40C  (100-plus in ye olde Fahrenheit), this year my bread seems to be suffering.

Even the nice durum wheat-strong bread flour loaf I baked last Thursday. Although it was great on Thursday and Friday, by Saturday morning, when we headed out of town for a night, it was suffering from the same problems. We got back last night, and the crust that was left was in a very sorry state.

So this is how it looked after it had cooled on the day of bake:

CU

And this is how it looked after three and a half days.

bread gone wrong

Sure it was a few days old, and getting stale (particularly around the edges, near the crust), but the core has gone all damp and dank, fizzy and yeasty. Not pleasant.

This yeastiness got me thinking: has it started fermenting again? The yeasts used in the dough were killed by the oven of course – the bread was baked at around 230C, and yeasts die at around 60C.  So are there wild yeasts in my bread bin for example? I mooted this question with my friend Michele. He’s not a baker, though he is a master brewer (at Mastri Birrai Umbri, whose wares we were enjoying Saturday night), so he knows his yeasts.

2013-07-27 20.29.52

He asked if I had fruit near where I stored the bread. Yes, I said, there’s a fruit bowl near the bread bin. It’s a great time of the year for seasonal fruit here in Roma – the region is cranking out apricots, plums, peaches, Coscia pears, figs, etc etc etc. Even someone like me who doesn’t much like fruit is enjoying this bounty.

But maybe it’s messing up my bread. Fruit, even when rinsed, has abundant wild yeast cultures on its skin.  Just think of advice you might have read about starting a natural leaven/sourdough: use some grapes, or raisins, or a some rhubarb (not strictly fruit, but close enough). These wild yeasts will be thriving at the moment, as the weather is humid and hot, as Rome heads for high summer. Even now, without the oven cranking at 240C, the kitchen is 30C. A pretty nice temperature for yeasts, moulds and bacteria.

So maybe the wild yeasts are finding my bread and starting to feed on it.  Which might indicate that I’ve not proved long enough, not leaving the yeast I’ve used in the bake long enough to cosume all the natural sugars in the flour. I’m not sure.

Fellow bakers – any thoughts?

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Italian flour: types and terminology

A selection of flours

Today’s bread is being made with farina di farro biologica from the Coop supermarket’s own brand, farina integrale di segale di agricoltura biologica from the Il Frantoio brand, and “Setaccio” farina semi-integrale di grano tenero from Mulino Marino. There really is no shortage of types of flour (farina) to experiment with here in Italy, if you’re into baking and bread-making. In fact, there so many flour varieties and variables it can be boggling.

Over the 20 months or so I’ve lived in Italy I’ve used many of them, but I still get confused. Previously, for example, I wrote about the various types of grain (and flour) known as farro to try and clarify what they were – as they’re often, erroneously, just translated into English as “spelt”. Here I hope to clarify a little more the other types of grain and flour you might encounter in Italy, or be able to buy as imports in other parts of the world.

Anyway.

Italian words for grains and more

A caveat – these are standard Italian words. There are doubtless a gazillion local dialect words as well, but let’s stay on target.

The wheat family:

The word grano (plural grani) means grain, though it’s frequently used as a synonym for wheat.
Frumento is the more specific word for wheat. In the modern world, wheat generally means bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), which accounts for 95% of global production.
Farro is name given to three, older members of the wheat family, “heritage grains”. Briefly it can refer to:
Farro piccolo (“small”) or farro monococco (Triticum monococcum) – that is, domesticated einkorn wheat, also known as enkir.
Farro medio (“medium”) or farro dicocco (Triticum dicoccum, aka Triticum turgidum var. dicoccon) – that is, emmer.
Farro grande (“large”) or farro spelta (Triticum spelta, aka Triticum aestivum var. spelta ) – that is, spelt. (Also known as dinkel.)

Grano turanicum – a name for Khorosan wheat (Triticum turanicum), another ancient grain type.
Kamut – the trade name for Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum).
Manitoba – the Italian name for bread flours with a higher percentage of protein, like what we’d call strong bread flour in the UK. It may or may not be from Manitoba province in Canada. Indeed, according to a blurb on a pack of Ecor brand flour, Manitoba flour is also known as farina americana.
Saragolla – another one I’ve encountered, which is proving tricky to identify with any real certainty. One Italian source says it’s similar Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum, but refers to it as Triticum polonicum, Polish wheat.

I’ve also seen things labelled with grano antico, which isn’t very helpful, as it could refer to any one of these ancient wheat species.

two old grains

Non-wheat cereals:
Avena is oats. Fiocchi di avena are oatflakes, or porridge oats.
Orzo is barley.
Miglio is millet.
Riso is rice.
Segale is rye.

Wholegrain rye flour

And not forgetting the that poster boy of industrialised, ecosystem-destroying, logical-economics-manipulating monocrop agriculture: maize (Zea mays), or corn: mais in Italian, also granone (“big grain”), granturco, granoturco and various other dialect names.

Polenta is, of course, made from maize, which arrived in Europe from the Americas in the 15th century, replacing earlier gruels made of orzo or emmer. Polenta (cornmeal) comes in various degrees of coarseness, some quite gritty, some more floury. You can also buy amido di mais, which what we’d call cornflour in the UK, or (more descriptively) corn starch in the US.

Other non-cereal flours you may encounter could be made from:
Amaranto – amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus).
Castagna – chestnut (used for Pane di San Martino).
Saraceno – buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). Buckwheat isn’t a member of the grass family like the above grains. Instead, it’s a member of the Polygonaceae family and related to things like rhubarb.

There are see flours made from legumes such as:
Ceci – chickpea (Cicer arietinum).
Lenticchia – lentil (Lens culinaris).
Soia – soya, soybean (Glycine max).

Marino closer

Other useful terms:
amido – starch.
biga – type of low hydration, firm preferment, which can made with a sourdough starter or commercial yeast.
biologico – organic, organically farmed or produced.
chicco – grain (also bean, pellet, bead), eg chicco di grano, grain of wheat
crusca – bran.
germe – germ, eg germe di grano.
glutine – gluten.
integrale – wholegrain, eg farina di segale integrale.
lievito – yeast, raising agent.
lievito madre – “mother yeast”, meaning a natural leaven or sourdough culture.
lievitare – to rise, to raise, to grow (with a raising agent).
lievito naturale – natural leaven or sourdough.
macinata a pietra – stoneground. Always good, as it doesn’t damage the grain as much as modern milling with massive steel rollers, as such maintaining more nutrients and more flavour.
macinare – to mill (flour).
mulino – mill, eg uno mulino a vento is a windmill.
pagnotta – loaf.
pane – bread.
semi-integrale – semi-wholegrain. I’m not entirely sure what the preparation of such a flour involves – more sieving? Or blending?

Hard and soft

You’ll often see farina di grano duro and farina di grano tenero on packets of Italian flours. These translate as “hard wheat flour” and “soft wheat flour” (or, more literally, as “hard grain flour” and “tender grain flour”), but shouldn’t be confused with what we consider “hard” wheat in English, which is generally a higher protein bread flour.

Farina di grano duro is flour milled from the wheat species Triticum durum (aka Triticum turgidum var. durum), with durum and duro meaning “hard” in Latin and standard Italian respectively. Triticum durum is most commonly used for making pasta. It is the second most significant type of wheat grown globally, accounting for about 5% of production. It is ground into products of varying coarseness:
Farina di grano duro – the finest, most floury
Farina di semola – a slightly coarser flour
Semolina – the coarser middlings and yes, the stuff used for old-fashioned British puddings, (though the term is also used generically to refer to other wheat middlings).

Farina di grano tenero is flour milled from a subspecies of the wheat species Triticum aestivum, the most commonly cultivated strain of this useful grass. Also known as bread wheat. In Italy, it generally has a medium protein percentage, around 12%, though it can vary greatly. As with farina di grano duro, it is milled into products of varying degrees of coarseness, which is where the whole “00” thing comes into play. Read on…

Mulino Marino 00

Licensed to bake: the “00” system

When you see a flour graded as 00, it’s not a reference to a particular type of grain or species of wheat, it’s simply a reference to how finely the flour has been milled, and how much bran and germ has sieved out, and what sort of colour the flour is as a result.

The various types are: 00 (doppio zero, the finest grade), 0, 1, 2 (the coarsest grade, more akin to a meal). The coarsest grain is effectively integrale, that is, wholegrain.

Although 0 and 00 are commonly used for bread-baking, both are loosely interchangeable with British plain flour or US all-purpose flour. Indeed, if you look at the dark blue packet in the photo at the top of this page, the Barilla brand flour is labelled per tutte le preparazioni, which could be translated as “all-purpose”, and it’s a grano tenero 00.

The blurb on the side of a pack of ‘Ecor’ flour I mentioned above, also explains that il grado di raffinazione indica la quantità di farina ottenuta macinando 100kg di chicchi. Tanto più alto è questo indice tanto più grezza è la farina: the grade of refining indicates the quantity of flour obtained from grinding 100kg of grain. The higher the grade, the coarser the flour.”

Also, as the first table on this rather technical page indicates, the higher the grade, the higher the ash content and protein of the flour. Though these Italian flours are all still fairly low protein, between 9% and 12%, and different grains would give different results – that is, this table’s data has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

And the rest

I’ve probably missed all sorts of pertinent things, but can add them as and when I encounter them. For specific types of Italian bread and baked goods, I may mention them elsewhere on the site. In the meantime, if, like me, you’re into baking and an English-speaking learning Italian (there must be a few of us in that demographic out there), I hope this has been useful.

Pandi Sempre

Love this spiel “This flour recounts the (his)story of cereal crops. It’s composed of the most ancient grain, Enkir, of farro, and of a careful selection of soft wheats, all naturally stone-ground without the addition of additives or ‘improvers’. Thanks to its varied composition, it’s ideal for every use.”

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Spelt experiments, or When bread goes wrong, and the dilemma of blogging the failures

So I was feeling experimental this week. I’d been both looking at old photos of breads I’ve made the past few years and browsing my favourite baking book, looking for inspiration. One of the breads I liked but haven’t tried too often is a 100 percent sourdough with some potato in the mix. I’d had great results once – a bread with a great, irregular crumb, which is something of a holy grail for bakers like me. It requires a high hydration dough and, generally, a natural leaven. It’s not something I’ve had much luck with lately, but I had done back in Blighty with a better kitchen and more familiar ingredients. I can’t find a photo of the bread in question, but here’s one with the kind of crumb I mean.

Okay, thought I, I’ll try that again – but with farro flour. Indeed, I’m going through a bit of a phase trying to use farro bianco all over the place, where, if I was still living in the UK, I’d use strong white or even plain flour.

I revived my leaven over a few days, then got stuck in. Feeling optimistic, taking photos to record the process, thinking I could proudly blog the results, imagining cutting open a loaf with a crunchy crust and finding that wonderful irregular crumb structure again.

Except it didn’t go well. The bread is borderline terrible. Dense, heavy, and clearly lacking in life, with no oven spring. It tastes strangely like a teabread.

This left me with a dilemma. It’s one that’s probably faced by anyone who likes to make food and blog about it. If you make something, and it’s crap, should you blog about it? You of course want you food to look marvellous when you shove it out here on the interweb. But then I thought, Hang-on, this isn’t a glossy magazine or a recipe book, it’s a blog. It’s record of my endeavours, and not just the successes. So why shouldn’t I blog the failures? Or at least talk about the agonies of deciding whether to go public with the failures. And if by some miracle this is read by experts, perhaps that can give advice. (Yeah, right. Ed.)

So anyway, this is the recipe I used, a variation on Dan Lepard’s Crusty potato bread
250g leaven (mine was fed with farro, 80% hydration)
280g water
25g honey
75g unpeeled potato, scrubbed and grated
500g farro bianco flour
10g fine sea salt

1 Combine the leaven, water, honey and potato.
2 Add the flour and salt and blend to create a wet, sticky dough.
3 Rest for 10-15 minutes.
4 Turn out onto a lightly oiled work surface and give it a brief knead.
5 Return to a lightly oiled bowl and rest for around 10-15 minutes.
6 Repeat this process (it’s Dan L’s process, developed while he worked in a busy kitchen. In some ways it’s irritating – kneading, cleaning up, waiting, kneading, cleaning up, waiting – but in others it’s great. It seems particularly good for handling wetter doughs).
7 Repeat again 2-3 more times, then leave the dough covered for half an hour. Give the dough a fold if you like.
8 Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape each into a ball.
9 Rest the balls, again covered, for about 10-15 minutes.
10 Shape batons, then place then in proving baskets lined with floured clothes, or if you ain’t gone none, place side my side on floured clothes, covered.
11 Leave again until doubled in size. This will vary according to the temperature of your room, but if it’s warm (around 20C) it’ll be around 4-5 hours.
12 Heat oven to 220C.
13 Turn out the loaves onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and dusted with semolina.
14 Bake for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200C and bake for another 20 minutes.

So anyway, after all that, mine didn’t work. But if you use strong white flour instead, there’s a chance yours could. And if they do, it’s a lovely lovely bread.

Now for some diagnosis, some thoughts about why my bread didn’t work
1 The recipe really doesn’t like spelt flour. Although spelt has a not dissimilar proportion of protein to a strong white bread flour (around 14-15%), it has different proteins, which some sources refer to as “extremely fragile”. Compared to modern wheat varieties, it has less gluten, particularly gliadin, the protein that is integral to making easy stretchy white doughs. I’ve made plenty of decent loaves with spelt in the mix recently (like this one), but I think this is my first 100 percent spelt, 100 percent naturally leavened.
Which leads me to…
2 The leaven wasn’t sufficiently active. I perhaps should have fed and refreshed it over a few more days. Or maybe its current residents just aren’t happy with their conditions. It is Rome after all – so maybe it’s some kind of yeasty sciopero.
3 Or if I didn’t refresh it enough, I should have at least left the dough fermenting longer. It’s the winter, and our kitchen isn’t that warm, probably only around 15C (until I put the oven on). So yes, if it’s cold, it’ll take longer to ferment.
4 Except I also worry that if I left it fermenting too long, the yeasts would finish gorging themselves and any rise achieved would collapse back in on itself.
5 Some sources also talk about how you have to adjust the water. Well, I reduced it slightly from Dan L’s original recipe, and the dough did feel pretty good while I was working it. I dunno though , this place says “Too much [water], and the dough is sticky and weak and will not be able to hold the gasses that are produced during the fermentation process.”
6 Some other random factor. Like some unprecedented chemical reaction between the spud and the spelt. I know not.

Anyway, if you are a baker, and have any thoughts about what might have gone wrong here, please share!

In the meantime, I have to decide whether to continue my spelt experiments (I also used them in some brownies yesterday) or retreat to the comfort of strong white bread flour, or Manitoba as it’s known here in Italy, with its reliable if dietarily dubious gliadin and glutenin content.

Addendum

Here’s the recipe as baker’s percentages. I’m doing this partly because I’m getting out of practice and partly in response to talking to Jeremy.

250/500 = 0.5 x 100 = 50% leaven
280/500 = 0.56 x 100 = 56% water
25/500 = 0.05 x 100= 5% honey
75/500 = 0.15 x 100= 15% potato
500/500 = 1 x 100 = 100% flour
10/500 = 0.02 x 100 = 2% salt

Or if we’re getting serious (and it looks like we are), and factoring in the leaven… 250g leaven at 80% hydration = 112g water + 138g flour (rounded), so the total water is actually
392g, and the total flour is 638g.

392/638 = 0.61 x 100 = 61% water
25/638 = 0.039 x 100 = 3.9% honey
75/638 = 0.118 x 100 = 11.8% potato
638/638 = 1 x 100 = 100% flour
10/638 = 0.015 x 100 = 1.6% salt

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The natural leaven, or sourdough starter

What is a leaven?
A leaven is simply the agent that causes a bread or other baked item to rise. It can be a chemical agent like baking powder, or it can be a type of yeast, which is encouraged to fart out carbon dioxide to fill your dough with pockets of gas – the holes in the crumb.

The yeasts (products, not species) most commonly used in bread-making are the powdered, instant or easy-blend yeast; the granular active dried yeast (ADY) aka dried active yeast; and fresh yeast, compressed bakers’ yeast, which is known as lievito di birra (beer yeast) here in Italy, a reminder of the relationship between baking and brewing. On this blog, however, I also talk a lot about natural leavens, which I often just refer to as leavens.

Healthy leaven

Yeast, bacteria and a long, strange symbiosis
A natural leaven is also known as sourdough, or lievito naturale or madre (mother) here in Italy (where it’s generally a much lower hydration), or a levain (if you prefer to use a French term to sound extra sophisticated).

The natural leaven is a culture containing both yeast and bacteria strains. So while bakers’ yeast is the strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a natural leaven will contain a colony of various strains of wild yeasts and lactobacilli. The latter is a remarkable genus of bacteria that humanity has had a relationship with for millennia. Lactobacilli play a part in the production of many fundamental consumable delights, such as beer, wine, cheese, yogurt, cocoa and, of course, bread.

It’s a fascinating symbiotic relationship, and one I enjoyed exploring while living on a smallholding in New Zealand years ago, making some crazy cheeses. And who’d have thunk chocolate involved fermentation? Well, it does: the pulp and seeds of the harvested cocoa pods are fermented before drying. Gotta love Theobroma cacao – that is “Cocoa: food of the gods” in Greek.

Anyway, I digress. (As usual.)

When humanity first started making leavened bread, it was thanks to lactobacilli and wild yeasts. In a bread natural leaven, the lactobacilli and yeasts live alongside one another in a sludgy slurry of flour and water, the starter. This was the chief way of making leavened bread from around 1500BC (or earlier) until the Middle Ages, when bakers starting using beer barm, the froth on the fermenting brew.

In the 19th century, when the likes of Louis Pasteur were not only overhauling our understanding of disease but also revolutionising the production of fermented foods, Saccharomyces cerevisiae was finally identified and became, effectively, a crop: brewers’ yeast.

When you mix yeasts with flour, the sugars in the cereal grains (notably maltose) provide them with food. The result of this feeding is lactic and other acids; the by-product is the carbon dioxide. These acids are what can give sourdoughs a pronounced, even tart flavour. Rye flour gives an especially sharp flavoured bread, but some wheat-based sourdoughs can be as mild as breads made with bakers’ yeast.

Healthy leaven

How to create a leaven culture
The easiest way to start a leaven may well be to buy a good book, like Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf. This gives a great account of how it’s done with plenty of lovely pics. Or you could read on, for a somewhat less professional lesson.

If you’re using a good quality flour, one where the character of the grain hasn’t been brutalised too much by industrial processing, it may well contain have suitable wild yeast strains already. The yeasts are also on and in your body, and even in the atmosphere. Some people collect them by leaving a jar of flour and water outside but if you live in a polluted city you might want to control the process a little more carefully.

You can do this by putting a handful of raisins and a few teaspoons of live yogurt in a mixture of equal proportions of water and flour. Another baker here recommends rhubard. While Sandor Ellix Katz says “organic plums, grapes, or berries.”1 The fruit will (hopefully) have just the right yeasts on their skin, the yogurt will introduce the lactobacilli. Put the jar, covered with a cloth or with the lid on loosely, in a warm place.

Over the following few days, feed more flour and water to the leaven, stirring it well. To keep things at a reasonable domestic scale, I tend to feed mine around 20g each of flour and water, morning and night. Equal proportions of water and flour mean you have a “100 per cent hydration” leaven2. Lepard suggests increasing the proportion of flour slightly to slow down the fermentation.

It should start to bubble – not like a fizzy drink of course, but you’ll see gas in the sludge and perhaps some foaminess. The smell will become slightly alcoholic too. If your leaven is nice and active and bubbly, it’s happy – so strain out the raisins, their work is done. You can now use some for baking. (Instead of straining out the raisins at this point, you can just soak them overnight at the start and use the liquid. Watch the video here on Viva La Foccacia. It’s in Italian, but even if you don’t understand, the process is clear.)

If you just keep feeding the leaven, without removing any to use, it can become unhealthy, with too much ethanol (another yeast by-product) in the mix. If this happens, simply take a small amount, and, in a fresh jar, start feeding it again.

Feeding the leaven

Your pet slurry
When you have a natural leaven, you have to think of it almost like a pet: it’s a living thing that needs care, needs feeding. But that doesn’t mean it’s hard to maintain. If I’m not baking much, or not making sourdoughs, I leave my jar of the leaven in the fridge for weeks, even months occasionally. This retards the fermentation process, as the culture prefers a temperature of 25-35C, not the 4C or so of a fridge.

After a while, the leaven will divide into a grey, putty-like goop, with a watery liquid on top. It’s not dead though, just a bit unhappy. To revive it, you can take a spoonful of the goop, put it in a clean jar and start feeding it again, as described above.

If you change the flour, the yeast strains may well change, and your bread may well taste different, but to me that’s all part of the fun. My leaven is about four years old now, had moved house three times and even moved from Britain to Italy. During this time, it’s been fed on white wheat flour, wholewheat flour, durum wheat flour, emmer flour, spelt flour and rye flour.

For a while I had two parallel cultures, one white wheat, one rye, but it didn’t really seem necessary. If you plan ahead, you can simply take some leaven and feed it with a different flour, creating another strain. This may take around a week of regular feeding.

Be nice to your pet slurry and it could last you a lifetime. Or several lifetimes. There are stories of prospectors in the American gold rush who carried their sourdoughs, which may well have originated in Europe, across North America. I can well believe this as, years ago, I knew an Austrian guy in New Zealand who’d transported his culture around the world in the form of dried flakes, which he rehydrated when he wanted to bake. (He was basically smuggling. Introducing food, vegetable matter and organisms to the Antipodes is a serious no-no these days as they have major problems with foreign species. Don’t do it kids!)

Anyway, some of the US immigrant natural leaven cultures may well still be used today in the thriving sourdough bakery scene of the West Coast US. Certainly some cultures still in use date to the mid-19th century. Gotta love that symbiosis.

Footnotes
1 Katz is a respected US fermentation expert. Something of a guru in fact, who treats his HIV with fermented foods. His book Wild Fermentation includes a recipe for Basic Sourdough Starter (page 95), which says this about the inclusion of fruit: “One effective technique for speeding up the introduction of wild yeasts into your sourdough is to drop a little unwashed whole fruit into it. Often on grapes, plums, and berries you can actually see the chalky film of the yeast (‘the bloom’) that is drawn to their sweetness. These and other fruits with edible skins… are great for getting sourdoughs bubbling. Use organic fruit for this. Who knows what antimicrobial compounds could lurk on the skins of the fruits of chemical agriculture?”

2 Bakers’ percentages are based on the amount of liquid (usually, but not always, water) as a proportion, a percentate of the flour in the recipe. There’s more info here. Leaven percentages are considered in the same way as dough percentages.

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What is “farro”? Wheat names in English and Italian

100% spelt loaf, sliced

This is my latest loaf. It’s made with 100 per cent farro biano flour. Farro is the Italian word for spelt. Or is it? This is something that’s been nagging me for a while.

Farro is a big part of various Italian regional cuisines. So, for example, there’s the classic Tuscan zuppa di farro e fagioli – spelt grain and bean soup. When I first tried to make zuppa di farro e fagioli, back when my poor Italian was even worse, it inevitably involved trying to work out what specific grain to buy. As well as having to try and work out the difference between farro perlato and farro decorticato (more on which later). This also led me to double-checking the assumption that farro is literally translatable as “spelt”.

I knew spelt was an ancient strain of wheat, that is a member of the Triticum genus of the Poaceae (or Gramineae) family of grasses, but it’s also known as dinkel wheat, and its proper scientific name is Triticum spelta. Okay, “Spelt wheat”, check. But when I checked “farro” on Italian Wikipedia it informed me that Italian uses the word to describe three species of wheat.

These are:
1 farro piccolo or farro monococco
2 farro medio or farro dicocco
3 farro grande or farro spelta

Oh dear. How confusing.

Now, I’m not a scientist, but I am interested in taxonomy and how it aids clarity and accuracy when, for example, discussing the production of a type of bread. When I first encountered these Latin names, I was mildly exasperated that when I buy the packets of farro flour, the packaging blurb doesn’t include the specific species. Normally, I like to buy stoneground organic flours from renowned or local producers. I have, for example, been buying my flour from Mulino Marino (though, yes, they’re in Piedmont, so not exactly local to Roma. I must find a supply of Lazio grains milled in Lazio) and their packets just say Farro bianco etc. Today, however, I noticed the Coop supermarket’s organic farro flour is labelled with “Farro spelta”, so I think it would be fair to assume that is Triticum spelta.

A little more investigation, meanwhile, reveals that farro piccolo, aka small farro, aka farro monococco, aka Triticum monococcum is the ancient wheat species we know in English as einkorn. Though, to add to the confusion, in English Einkorn can also refer to its wild cousin, Triticum boeoticum.

Checking Triticum dicoccum, meanwhile, reveals that Farro medio, aka medium farro, aka farro dicocco, is what we know in English as emmer (the name is related to the Hebrew for “mother”). Oh, and according to the Slow Food book ‘Pane, pizze e focacce’, it’s also known as spelta, just to add to the confusion, while Triticum spelta is also known as spelta maggiore. It’s an awned wheat, that is with most bristles on the ear. Apparently, when Italians refer to farro, it’s most commonly used to mean this grain. So it’s likely that in the abovementioned soup, for example, the grain will be Triticum dicoccum, emmer.

Oh, and while I’m at it with the ancient wheat species, another flour I encounter in Italy is KAMUT. This is a trade name for Khorasan wheat, aka Triticum turanicum. Khorosan is the name of a region in northeast Iran, just to the east of the ancient Fertile Crescent where so many of today’s most common food crops were first cultivated, notably grains.

Just when I think I’m achieving some clarity with this issue though, I have to return to the question of perlato and decorticato. Perlato literally means “pearly” and as such relates to pearl barley, a traditional ingredient in British cuisine, such as the lamb knuckle stews I hated so much as a kid. Pearled grain has in fact not just been hulled, or husked (that is de-hulled, de-husked), it’s also been polished to remove the bran. Farro perlato cooks down to fairly mushy in about 20 minutes. According to the handy glossary in Zuppe, the soup book from the Rome Sustainable Food Project, farro perlato is emmer.

Decortico literally means husked too, and English does have an equivalent word, decorticated. But the difference here is that it’s not been polished, and when farro decorticato is cooked, it takes longer to soften, and indeed retains more bite even after about 45 minutes. In Britain, we’d make the distinction between pearl barley and hulled barley. The other English name for these hulled grains is groats.

Phew.

Meanwhile, as wheat is the third biggest stable crop in the world, after maize and rice, I just want to mention a few more species.

The most commonly cultivated wheat is Triticum aestivum, known, unsurprisingly, as bread wheat or common wheat. It was first cultivated in the prehistoric period, though it’s been bred rapidly since the 1960s to increase the amount of endosperm, the starchy part of the grain, for white flours. Another major wheat species is Triticum durum, durum wheat, a descendent of emmer that is used for dried pasta, semolina and couscous. You can buy both semolina and durum flour here; the latter is what’s known as farina di grano duro: hard grain (wheat) flour. The hard here is not used in the same sense as in English: when we describe a flour as hard, we mean it’s high protein, high in gluten.

Right. That’s quite enough of all that. I’m not even going to touch the question of hexaploid, tetraploid and duploid wheats, or the matter of seasonable wheats. I’ll save those subjects of another day. Plus, I’ll also save a discussion of why I’m making the transition away from modern baking with modern wheat varieties for another post.

At least now I’m fairly confident that when I buy farro flour, it is indeed spelt: Triticum spelta. Though when I buy farro perlato, it’s quite likely to be emmer: Triticum dicoccum. Maybe.

Just to reiterate:
1 farro piccolo or farro monococco = einkorn (Triticum monococcum)
2 farro medio or farro dicocco or spelta = emmer (Triticum dicoccum, or Triticum turgidum var dicoccon)
3 farro grande or granfarro or farro spelta or spelta maggiore = spelt (Triticum spelta or Triticum aestivum var spelta)

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