Wheat is an ancient grain that’s still used nearly worldwide to nourish vast numbers of people. Many species and forms of wheat are prepared and eaten by various cultures. Pelted wheat involves removing the outer bran layer of the grain. If you see the label “unpelted wheat” at a grocery store, it means it’s the whole wheat with only the husk removed. Unpelted wheat is highly nutritious and contains lots of dietary fiber.
As people started to transition from hunter-gatherer groups to permanent agricultural communities thousands of years ago, wheat grains -- which are members of the genus Triticum -- were among the first crops they grew. Wheat grains include a germ, endosperm, bran and husk. The germ is the innermost part of the grain that’s living and able to sprout a new wheat plant. The germ is very nutritious and contains protein, vitamins and essential oils. The endosperm makes up most of the grain and provides the germ with energy in the form of starch and gluten protein. The bran coats the endosperm and contains fiber, vitamins and minerals. The husk is the shell surrounding the outer bran layer and is usually removed just prior to packaging.
Pelted or pearled wheat is commonly used in Turkish and various Middle Eastern cuisines. In this form of wheat, the outer bran layer is removed by abrasion and the grain is polished. Pelted wheat still contains the germ, but it’s damaged and not able to grow a new wheat plant. The main advantage to pelted wheat is that it cooks faster than whole-wheat varieties. Pelted wheat is also less flavorful, and it contains less fiber, vitamins and minerals.
The term “unpelted” originated to distinguish whole wheat from pelted wheat. Unpelted wheat is the least processed and most nutritious form of the wheat grain. It contains the germ, endosperm and bran, which gives the wheat a distinctive nutty flavor and high nutritional content. Other terms for unpelted wheat that are likely to be unfamiliar include sabze, wheat berries and farro. Sabze wheat is used for making a recipe called "sabzeh," which is an Iranian New Year’s dish. Wheat berries are used as the main ingredient for "kutya," which is an eastern European Christmas porridge that has a crunchy texture. Wheat berries can be found in some health-food stores, and they have a tan or reddish-brown color. Milled wheat berries produce nutritious whole-wheat flour. Farro is the Italian term given to a variety of unpelted wheat types such as emmer, spelt and einkorn. Unpelted wheat can be stored for long periods of time, up to 25 years, but its vitamin content is typically depleted after five years.
Unpelted wheat is not recommended for people who are gluten intolerant or those who have an allergy to compounds in wheat. It should be avoided if you have celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome. Consult with your doctor or a nutritionist if you have problems digesting wheat products and experience excessive bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence or diarrhea.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.