By: Amy Grant
Ancient grains have become a modern trend and with good reason. These unprocessed whole grains have a slew of healthful benefits, from reducing the risk for type II diabetes and stroke to helping to maintain healthy weight and blood pressure. One such grain is called khorasan wheat (Triticum turgidum). What is khorasan wheat and where does khorasan wheat grow?
Sure you’ve probably heard of quinoa and maybe even farro, but how about Kamut. Kamut, the ancient Egyptian word for ‘wheat,’ is the registered trademark used in marketing products made with khorasan wheat. An ancient relative of durum wheat (Triticum durum), khorasan wheat nutrition contains 20-40% more protein than ordinary wheat grains. Khorasan wheat nutrition also is significantly higher in lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It has a rich, buttery flavor and a natural sweetness.
No one knows the exact origin of khorasan wheat. It most likely originates from the Fertile Cescent, the crescent-shaped area from the Persian Gulf through modern southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and northern Egypt. It is also said to date back to the ancient Egyptians or to have originated in Anatolia. Legend has it that Noah brought the grain on his ark, so to some folks it is known as “prophet’s wheat.”
The Near East, Central Asia, and Northern Africa were undoubtedly growing khorasan wheat on a small scale, but it has not been commercially produced in modern times. It did reach the United States in 1949, but interest was lackluster so it was never commercially grown.
Still, other khorasan wheat information, whether fact or fiction I can’t say, says that the ancient grain was brought to the United States by a WWII airman. He claims to have found and taken a handful of the grain from a tomb near Dashare, Egypt. He gave 36 kernels of the wheat to a friend who subsequently mailed them to his father, a Montana wheat farmer. The father planted the grains, harvested them and displayed them as a novelty at the local fair where they were christened “King Tut’s Wheat.”
Apparently, the novelty wore off until 1977 when the last jar was obtained by T. Mack Quinn. He and his agricultural scientist and biochemist son researched the grain. They found that this type of grain had indeed originated in the Fertile Crescent area. They decided to begin growing khorasan wheat and coined the trade name “Kamut,” and now we are the beneficiaries of this delightful, crunchy, highly nutrient-rich ancient grain.
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Khorasan wheat is an ancient grain that originated in the fertile crescent. It is an extremely nutritious plant full of minerals and enzymes. It takes 2-3 days to grow for use as sprouts, and as wheatgrass greens, it takes 8-10 days. It is often juiced or added to smoothies. Many people claim it can be used to cure of host of illnesses and diseases, especially to restore one’s poor healthy caused by years of improper eating.
To sprout wheatgrass, soak the seeds for 8-10 hours and then rinse the seeds twice a day. Harvest the wheatgrass in 8-10 days. Sprouts take 2-3 days. For more detailed sprouting information, please read our article: How to Grow Wheatgrass.
Khorasan wheat, like emmer/farro, einkorn, and spelt, is an ancient variety of wheat, meaning that it has been largely unchanged by breeding over the last several hundred years. The kernel of khorasan wheat is unusually large compared to other wheat varieties and it was the size of the grain that ﬁrst caught the eye of 16-year-old Bob Quinn at a Montana county fair in the mid 1960s. Years later, Bob and his father, Mack, decided to track down the seed and start growing it themselves, organically.
It turned out that this grain was unusual in more ways than one. Its sweet, nutty, buttery ﬂavor was attracting interest from pasta makers, bakers, and consumers alike. Some consumers who thought they were sensitive to modern wheat began reporting that this ancient wheat variety seemed easier to digest, causing less gastrointestinal distress or inﬂammation than they typically experienced with wheat products. Recognizing that this ancient wheat variety had numerous culinary beneﬁts, as well as potential health advantages, Bob decided to preserve this strain of wheat under a trademarked brand name, KAMUT®, which would protect it from being hybridized or modiﬁed. Prioritizing sustainable growing practices, Bob made it a condition of the trademark that any grain branded KAMUT® be grown organically, and that products made with KAMUT® grain or ﬂour also be certiﬁed fully organic in order to use the KAMUT® name.
As Bob’s company began to grow, he became more interested in understanding the nutritional characteristics of the grain and began advocating for new research. A few years ago we wrote a blog post about one of the ﬁrst human clinical trials done to test the eﬀects of KAMUT® wheat versus modern wheat on human health. The study indicated that KAMUT® wheat may contribute to lowering cholesterol as well as reducing levels of certain markers of inﬂammation compared with modern wheat. While the study was very small (just 22 subjects), the results were compelling enough that a series of other studies have been launched in the convening years, studying the eﬀect of khorasan and other ancient wheats on cardiovascular health, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Whether because of the unique ﬂavor of KAMUT® wheat, or because of the growing body of research about its nutritional attributes, or perhaps simply because of the posh, trendy position it holds as an ancient grain with a good story, commercial interest in KAMUT® has grown signiﬁcantly in recent years, with companies from Patagonia to Kashi jumping on board. Today our Whole Grain Stamped product database includes more than a hundred KAMUT® brand products – from pastas, to breads, to cereals, to pilafs – sold by 38 diﬀerent brands. And as more food manufacturers have started to incorporate this grain into their products, the community of farmers growing the crop in North America has grown to meet the increasing demand. Many of these farmers gather together each winter at the Kamut International Farmer Appreciation Dinner where awards are given, stories are exchanged and best practices are discussed.
If there’s one thing we love here at the WGC, it’s a room full of grainiacs sharing food and connecting with each other. If you and your graniac buddies haven’t yet added khorasan wheat to your culinary repertoire, the holiday baking season is the perfect time to give it a whirl. Wondering where to start? Check out these tips from King Arthur Flour for baking with KAMUT® wheat, and let us know how it goes! (Caroline)
Is ancient wheat healthier than modern wheat? In some respects, it may be, according to three recent Italian studies that looked at inﬂammation, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
In 2013, scientists at Careggi University Hospital in Florence decided to see if health markers changed when people switched between eating modern wheat and KAMUT® brand khorasan wheat. To do this, they conducted a randomized crossover study including three eight-week periods: one in which subjects with no prior clinical signs of cardiovascular disease ate their normal diet but with all grain products – bread, crackers, pasta and cookies – made with KAMUT® wheat, a washout period of eight weeks, and eight weeks in which all grain products were made with modern durum wheat and soft wheat.
The results? Following the KAMUT® wheat phase of the study, subjects’ total cholesterol decreased on average 4.0%, their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol decreased 7.8%, and certain markers of inﬂammation dropped 23 to 36%. At the same time, blood levels of potassium and magnesium – two key minerals many of us are lacking – rose 4.6% and 2.3% respectively. Following the modern wheat control phase, total cholesterol dropped 2.1% and LDL dropped 2.8%, while potassium and magnesium actually decreased slightly the three inﬂammatory markers were mixed with one almost neutral, another dropping 14% and one increasing 15%.
These compelling results led the same group of researchers to use this study design in subsequent trials. In 2015, they looked at the eﬀects of the same replacement diet on subjects with Acute Coronary Syndrome, a type of cardiovascular disease (CVD). And in 2016, they studied the eﬀect of the replacement diet on the risk proﬁle of subjects with type 2 diabetes.
The KAMUT® wheat phase of the 2015 CVD trial showed similar decreases in total cholesterol (6.8%) and LDL cholesterol (8.1%), and showed blood levels of potassium and magnesium both rising 2.3%. After the modern wheat control phase, the subjects’ total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol actually rose 3.0% and 1.7% respectively, and both potassium and magnesium levels fell slightly.
Similarly, the 2016 study with type 2 diabetes patients, showed reductions in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol following the KAMUT® wheat phase. Additionally, the subjects’ blood insulin levels fell 16.3%, their glucose levels decreased 9.1%. The researchers reported that, “No signiﬁcant eﬀect was noted after the consumption of the control diet.”
Lab analysis of the KAMUT® wheat and control wheat showed that the two products looked fairly similar on paper with similar ﬁber levels and similar resistant starch levels (though with more potassium and magnesium in the KAMUT® wheat). And yet the health impacts were diﬀerent, leading the researchers to conclude that, “Dietary ﬁbre and resistant starch alone were clearly not instrumental in improving these metabolic parameters.” It’s what we’ve been saying all along here at the WGC: ﬁber and resistant starch are both great, but whole grain’s health beneﬁts derive from a lot more than simply ﬁber.
Before we go any further, we should mention some of the limitations of these interesting studies. First of all, they were all very small studies – just 21 or 22 subjects each. Second of all, both the KAMUT® semolina and ﬂour, and the control semolina and ﬂour were semi-whole, not 100% whole. (Italians are new to the whole grain world though KAMUT® wheat is very popular in Italy, researchers thought compliance would be better with foods more like everyday fare.)
It’s also very important to note that wheat — like all grains and in fact all whole foods — is a growing, living thing. The same variety of wheat grown in two diﬀerent locations, or in two diﬀerent years, may have diﬀerent levels of nutrients and diﬀerent impacts on health — before we even begin comparing varieties. Think about it: although you can look up “apple” in a nutrient database and learn how much vitamin C or ﬁber is in “an apple” the values listed will not be the same for all varieties of apples, grown in all weather conditions, in all years. This is one factor that makes nutrition research so challenging.
Beyond these caveats, however, the studies were carefully designed. Both the KAMUT® wheat and the control wheat were ground at the same mill, and all grain products for the study were produced by the same artisan bakery and pasta maker. Subjects were given identical, controlled amounts of all grain products and instructed to eat no other grain products during the intervention and control periods they did not know which grain they were consuming at any time.
We often see wild, unsubstantiated claims about the pros and cons of modern wheat vs. ancient varieties, but these are some of the ﬁrst human clinical trials we’re aware of to explore this issue in a scientiﬁcally valid way. We hope to see even more, larger studies like this in the future.
Hats oﬀ to Kamut Enterprise of Europe, whose grants helped fund the independent research behind all three of these studies, and to WGC Member Kamut International, who provided us the journal articles to review. For more information about the story behind KAMUT® brand khorasan wheat, check out our blog post about the revival and growing popularity of this ancient grain. (Original blog post by Cynthia, updates by Caroline)
Avanti Cafe was wonderful to work with! Thanks for featuring the KAMUT(R) Brand wheat couscous, bulgur, and semi-pearled grain! The couscous and bulgur are available from Sunnyland Mills, while the semi-pearled is available from Timeless Foods.
KAMUT® Brand khorasan is an organic, non-genetically modified, ancient wheat variety similar to durum. In 1990, “KAMUT” was registered as a trademark by the Quinn family in order to support organic farming and preserve the ancient khorasan wheat variety. Under the KAMUT® Brand name, khorasan wheat must always be grown organically, never be hybridized or modified, and contain high levels of purity and nutrition. Today, Kamut International owns and has registered the KAMUT® trademark in over 40 countries, and is responsible for protection and marketing of all KAMUT® Brand khorasan wheat throughout the world.
KAMUT® wheat is grown on dryland certified organic farms primarily in Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The grain is prized by consumers who appreciate the grain for its high energy nutrition, easy digestibility, nutty/buttery taste, and firm texture. KAMUT® khorasan wheat is higher in protein, selenium, amino acids, and Vitamin E than most modern wheat and contains essential minerals such as magnesium and zinc. It is used as whole grain berries, whole grain flour, white flour, flakes, and puffs to make a variety of products. Some specific benefits of using KAMUT® khorasan are receiving more nutrients, protein, and taste than most commonly consumed whole wheat – plus supporting organic agriculture and helping to preserve an ancient grain.
KAMUT® khorasan is a variety of wheat thus has gluten content. A lot of people who are not able to tolerate wheat tell us that they are able to tolerate KAMUT® khorasan wheat. KI has ongoing research to understand why – it is our theory that because KAMUT® khorasan is an ancient grain, it retains the qualities that made it desirable so many years ago.
Please visit the Kamut International website at http://www.kamut.com to learn more.
Jamie Ryan Lockman | Regional Director – North America
Kamut International, Ltd.
You state that this ancient wheat grain called khorasan is okay for those who are gluten intolerant, but how about for those who have been diagnosed as Celiac?
Thanks for the question – to be clear – KAMUT(r) khorasan is a WHEAT variety. If you are diagnosed with Celiac Disease you should NOT eat it.
Thanks so much. I really appreciate that clarification. (Darn it – I was so hoping there would be a new grain for me to try.)
Is Khorasan/Kamut similar to Einkorn?
Oh, that’s a great question Yemaya. Not sure, but maybe our guest chef, Mark, can answer this.
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