Einkorn - a fine grain

Einkorn (Triticum monococcum L.) is a specific grain type with extraordinary characters formerly grown mainly in European regions. It got a special interest already at the beginning of bio-dynamic farming when some gardeners searched for cereal forms between wild grasses and modern cereals. Very little attention had been paid to breeding those forms. It was hope the older forms would show original characteristics which have been lost during modern breeding process.

Einkorn - more than one grain!

Einkorn is a modern name developed from a botanical classification. The ear of einkorn is very brittle and it can easily be divided into single spikelets. Typically in every spikelet one single kernel can be found that has developed from one single flower. Sometimes two flowers will produce two seeds on one spikelet. But typically the two-kernel spikelet is known as "emmer" and developed later in the evolution of cereals. Emmer is more useful for pasta and is more closely related to durum wheat. When trying to distinguish between einkorn and emmer one must look at more than just the number of seeds per spikelet.

A very special characteristic of einkorn is its yellowish colour of flour. Even the colour of the hulls varies from white throug brown to black. Also there is a difference in hardness of hulls. The harvest can be hulled or hulless after threshing. With a very simple cleaning process the hulless varieties can be used for further processing. If you notice the filligran form of the shooting plant in its shining green stage, then you know right away that einkorn is not an ordinary grain. It is the most delicate of all cereals grown in Europe.

In places where einkorn was an every day food item, certainly it had a different name. Traditionally it is the word "tiphe" in Greek, "siyez" in Turkish and "sifon" in Hebrew. In France and Italy it is named as small spelt ("Le petit épautre" or " Farro piccolo" 17). But this relates only to the forms, which have to be dehulled after threshing. Until a better word is found for everyday language we will simply use the name - EINKORN !

Origin and Spread

Starting from the area between Eufrat and Tiger, beginning 7600 B.C., cultivated forms of einkorn spread through Asia Minor all over Europe16. Outside Europe and Asia Minor einkorn was unknown. Modern origin theories speculate that the beginning of cultivation of einkorn might be the area of KaracaDag-Mountains where the Eufrat and Tiger rivers have sprung up in Southeast Turkey. Samples of cultivated einkorn collected there were most related to the wild forms (13).


With the beginning of agriculture einkorn soon became a less desired crop than emmer and barley. It survived in different locations until recently as an undemanding crop, to be used for porridge (12). In Yugoslavia einkorn was a bit more important until first World War and still could be found for a long period next to the towns Danilovgrad and Cernogori (18). SCHIEMANN mentioned (in 1948) that fields with einkorn can be seen in the areas of Northern Switzerland, Svabia and Baden. In Italy HAMMER and PERRINO (1984) found einkorn only in the area of Castelfranco in Higher Appenin (700 m above see level), where it was used as feed for pigs. Those pigs were supposed to grow fast, be healthy and have a shiny bristle cover.

The same authors reported eleven years later that increasing areas of einkorn were being grown in that area (10). Sporadic einkorn could also be found in Anatoly/Turkey (14), sometimes in the mountain area of Albania, in Rumania in Transsylvania and in Karpat Mountains, also next to Sault/France (20). A small area of cultivation is mentioned in Anadalusian province of Cordoba/Spain (19). In the meantime einkorn could be found in Switzerland and in eastern province of Lower Saxony, in Saarland and more often in Frankonia, all three in Germany.


Einkorn belongs to the oldest known cereals. Contrary to wide spread considerations einkorn is not a direct ancestor of wheat. They both had a commen forefather about 10.000 years ago, which probably had the closest relation to todays "ancient wild einkorn" (Triticum boeoticum


Einkorn group

diploid wheat
Emmer group

tetraploid wheat
Spelt group

hexaploid wheat
wild form

kernels after harvest covered with hulls, very brittle rachis
(ancient wild einkorn)
(wild einkorn)
T.dicoccoides [AABB]
(wild emmer, developed from T.urartu and T.speltoides)
hexaploid wild forms of Triticum are still unknown!
cultivated form

kernels after harvest covered with hulls, little fragile rachis
einkorn (hulled)
(developed from T.boeoticum)
emmer (hulled) T.dicoccum [AABB]
(developed from wild emmer)
dinkel or spelt T.spelta [AABBDD]
(developed from T.boeoticum, T.speltoides and T.tauschii - or soft bread wheat)
cultivated form
hulless after threshing, tough rachis
(hulless threshing)
durum wheat
T.durum [AABB]
(for pasta)
T.turanicum [AABB]
(f.i. "Kamut")
T.polonicum [AABB] (f.i. "Gommer")
soft bread wheat T.aestivum [AABBDD]
(developed from T.boeoticum, T.speltoides and T.tauschii)

To illustrate relationships:
Already MIGUSHOVA (1975) assumed that it was not Triticum monococcum L. (einkorn) but an ancestor of T.urartu that was one wild parent in the development of wheat. CHELAK (1980) concludes that due to lack of homology between chromosomes, T.monococcum was not involved in evolution of tetraploid wheat. TERACHI and TSUNEWAKI (1992) found in mitochondrial genom distinct differences between einkorn and polyploid durum- and bread-wheat. Because of variations in repeating nukleotid sequencies DVORAK et al. (1993) came to the conclusion that T.urartu is a parent of T.aestivum. Probably only T.zhukovskyi developed from a union between T.monococcum and T.timopheevi and is  representing the only "wheat", which is related to T.monococcum and T.urartu. Based on RFLP-analysis (restriction fragment length polymorphism) TAKUMI et al. (1993) came to the assumption that a close relation between T.monococcum and T.boeoticum exists and that T.urartu is the donor of the A-genom of wheat. Research on genetic markers coding for gliadin (alcohol solubel proteins of wheat) by CIAFFI et al.(1997) leads to the conclusion that T.monococcum (cultivated einkorn) is closely related to T.boeoticum (ancient wild einkorn), but the A-genom of tetra- and hexaploid wheats came from T.urartu. Wheat did not come directly from cultivated einkorn, but both have the same ancestors.

Threshing hulled or hulless

In the higher yielding samples the percentage of hulls can be around 35-45% from total yield. Low yielding samples and those with low thousand-grain-weight could have up to 50% hulls. Related to einkorn spelt has about 30 - 35% hulls under comparable conditions.

The losses during usual dehulling are higher than with spelt; because of narrow and small kernels, which break easily. In addition to this problem we can also expect higher expenses, because of: a preferable location, weed control requirements and harvest procedures. Compared with spelt, an additional 75% of the price of unprocessed yield could be expected.

Tested, frost-tolerant, but still not winterhardy, hulless-threshing samples of einkorn (Triticum monococcum sinskajae) were found to have a very poor yield. So it will take some time of breeding to get hulless einkorn with good field performance.

Background information about hulless threshing forms:

FILATENKO and KURKIEV (1975) described hulless threshing forms of einkorn first as Triticum monococcum L. convar. sinskajae (A.Filat. et Kurk.). Hulless kernels were found during the process of maintaining accessions once collected from ZHUKOVSKIJ 1926 during an expedition in the area Kastamonu/Dadaj/Turkey. This happened at the reserach stations of Vavilov-Institute (VIR) in Taschkent (1963, 1967) and Daghestan (1965). The sample remained hulless in the following generations. Other characteristics for the original hulless forms of einkorn are dwarf, compact ears and relatively short awns. This accession is maintained in the gene bank of VIR in St.Petersburg with the number K48993. Crossing and selection developed another 'sinskajae' by VALLEGA (1996). It is a little bit better in germination, with early ripening and tillering. It was deposited at the gene bank in Aberdeen/Idaho/USA under number PI584654. To reduce losses during harvest and preparation hulless forms of einkorn seem to be of exceptional interest. But it needs more of the breeding work to get better winter-hardiness combined with all other typical characters of einkorn in a hulless threshing form.

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