Kamut Penne with Pine Nut Basil Pesto, Roast Veggies & Olives

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I have been trying to cut down on eating wheat products for the past few months.  I don’t buy any wheat to use in my own cooking at home, but I do have it when I’m eating out if there are no alternatives.  Replacements are not always easy to find, but avoiding processed wheat will apparently be the new food trend of 2014 in Ireland, with many restaurants, bakeries and cafes beginning to offer substitutes.  I was discussing this with my mother and she was confused as to how the prevalence of wheat intolerance and coeliac disease has sky rocketed in recent years, particularly among the Irish population.  She was questioning whether it was all just ‘a fad’, with me being guilty of it I suppose!  Although I am not coeliac, or even fully wheat intolerant, my digestion just does not feel right eating a lot of processed wheat bread, as nice as it can sometimes be!

I was curious as to why my body has this reaction, and why issues with wheat intolerance seem to be on the rise, or at the least, increasingly to the forefront of public awareness.  After doing further research, I found the results quite fascinating.  It’s not merely indicative of a shift towards more mindful and healthy eating.  There is a real, scientific reason for the spike in wheat intolerance compared to fifty years ago, and like so many negatives on this planet, it’s all down to capitalism, industrialisation, greed and profit!

Grains, including wheat, have been beneficially consumed by humans without problems for thousands of years, however as our societies evolved, so did our relationship with food.  What was once grown by families in their personal plots for their own consumption, is now bought in supermarkets and often flown from all corners of the globe.  While previously bread would be fresh made each day for the families’ own consumption, it is now more often purchased pre-made.  This, in theory, is not the problem.  The problem is that, from the 1950s onwards, the Western world’s relationship with food changed.  As we stopped growing our own and baking our own, food became a mass comodity to be marketed, produced and sold on a mass scale. The very essence of how bread is made has changed at all stages, from the growing of the seeds, the milling of the flour, the cultivation of the wheat, and the method of the baking.

In the 20th century, rather than being stone milled, flour began to be milled in an industrialised steel roller.  This was faster and more efficient.  It enabled the parts of the kernel to be more finely separated, creating low cost white flour.  This flour was cheaper and it stayed fresh almost indefinitely, making it perfect for a long, mass production chain.  There was no longer such an issue with insects and rodents eating the flour as they didn’t want it anymore!  Not surprising considering that it was now refined and stripped of it’s kernel, bran and germ which contain the proteins, vitamins, minerals and good fats.  It seems the non human animals were ahead of the game, if only we had paid attention!  With stone mills in the Western world generally a thing of the past, it became the norm for overly processed bread to be mass produced in industrial factories and distributed far and wide at a very low cost to the manufacturer.

Not only has the way wheat is processed changed, the way it is grown has changed too.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the worlds wheat crop was transformed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlag who was championed as having saved many lives by pioneering changes to cultivation of wheat grain.  He began genetically modifying wheat and hybridising seeds with the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides in order to create high yielding grains.   This new technology was ironically propagated globally by large corporations who heralded it as an end to famine in developing countries as it was resistant to pests, draught and blight as well as being easier to harvest which dramatically increases yield per acre.  No surprises that despite these ‘advances’ we are not yet famine free, as that would not benefit the agendas of the multi national corporations!  While the new methods may have increased crop yield, there was little to no regard to maintaining crop nutrition.  The wheat that was created is now a distant cousin to the wheat which was used a century ago.  It is now far removed from it’s original form by the use of genetic and biochemical modification. It is a mutant seed, grown in synthetic, chemical conditions, mass processed, bleached and milled to create a nutritionally void crop that non human animals no longer want.

Interestingly not everyone believes that this is the reason for our growing wheat intolerance.  The medical world is in agreement that the issue of wheat intolerance is a new and rising phemomenon, but some suggest that this may be due to a number of other reasons than that suggested above.  It has been suggested that coeliac disease and wheat intolerance developing in adulthood may be caused by a range of different factors, from immune system over reaction to gluten due to the modern obsession with sterile, germ free environments; to anti biotic use in early life, and to the timing of wheat being introduced to infant diets. Some also suggest that gluten may not be the suspect ‘bad’ protein in wheat at all, but that by eliminating the gluten by avoiding wheat, you also eliminate another protein in wheat which is actually the real root of the problem. Whatever the reason, it is clearly an issue that is on the rise and listening to all sides of the debate helps us to be informed about this new phenomenon and I look forward to continuing to learn more about the topic.

With so many different points of view on the topic, it can be hard to decide what is right for you.  Many people go so far as to say eliminate all wheat and gluten from the diet.  As someone who does not have coeliac disease, this is not my approach.  For me, gluten is not necessarily the baddy, and the wealth of gluten free alternatives which have recently appeared on the market are no healthier and natural than what we are trying to avoid in wheat.  The ingredients of these are often rice flour, corn, xantham gum, tapioca starch, potato starch and guar gum.  These are gluten free, but they are still massively industrialised and processed, as well as lacking in nutrients.  They are fine for a treat but I never bake in this style myself.  I have instead been using flours made from ancient strains of wheat such as spelt and kamut, which do contain some gluten, but which are closer in structure and nutrient density to the original wheat which was used before we decided to tamper with it.  Similarly, I sometimes buy Sourdough bread, which is made in a slow traditional way by slowly fermenting with proven sourdough cultures over several days instead of being made in a flash using quick rise commercial yeast.  Similar to how spelt and kamut are nothing like the refined processed supermarket flour,  traditionally made sourdough bread is nothing like refined processed supermarket bread.   I see this as a way not only to improve my own wellbeing and eat naturally, but to support local, small scale family bakeries, as well as preserving traditional baking methods.  Hopefully, rather than a rise in the availability of gluten free junk food ironically heralded as a saviour from processed wheat, there will be a return to more traditional, artisan break making using traditional, whole, non industrial flours as well a nutritious, alternative grains.
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 There are times when I miss a nice big bowl of pasta, so lately I have been looking to the pasta alternatives made with different forms of wheat.  If you are used to white, refined pasta, this will be quite a leap for you, but if you have already been used to fully wholemeal brown pasta, as I was, the alternatives are not so different.  I have already tried spelt pasta, which I really enjoyed and could not detect a difference between whole wheat spaghetti.  The recipe for my spelt pasta with spinach, pinenuts and lemon zest is here.  This week I decided to try Kamut Pasta. Kamut is the brand name of khorasan wheat or oriental wheat.   Is is an ancient grain type, with grains twice the size of the modern wheat kernel and containing more protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.  Kamut is a good source of protein, containing much more than wheat and other alternatives.  It is an excellent source of the antioxidants selenium and maganese which are both useful hormone balancers as well as their role in protecting cell membranes from free radical damage.  Kamut also contains plenty of fibre and considerable amounts of bone strengthening magnesium and immune boosting zinc.  It’s high percentage of lipids provides more energy than carbohydrates.
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Kamut has a quite high gluten content so if you are coeliac it is not for you, but I am a big believer in listening to your body and it is interesting that it does not give me digestion issues the way processed white pasta and bread often can.  This is why I feel that it is not necessarily gluten that is the bad guy in all wheat intolerance issues, but rather what we have done to our wheat!  It was mild tasting, and similarly to spelt, I could not detect a taste difference from whole wheat pasta (although it was slathered in all sorts of delicious things!)  The one difference that was significant was that it was more chewy than regular pasta, but not unpleasantly so.  I mixed this pasta with pinenut basil pesto, roasted cherry tomato, red onion, red pepper and garlic, as well as some olives and pine nuts.
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I would love to know your thoughts on the wheat free, gluten free food explosion that has happened in the past few years?  Have you changed your eating habits or do you continue to eat wheat if it suits you?  Have you introduced spelt, kamut and other grains in to your diet alongside wheat?  If you are wheat free or gluten free, do you find it easy to get ‘free from’ treats and bread products, and are you bothered by the high level of processing of most of these alternatives?
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6 thoughts on “Kamut Penne with Pine Nut Basil Pesto, Roast Veggies & Olives

  1. That pasta looks delicious! I love anything with olives in it :)

    This is a well-thought out post and you make some really good points. It worries me how much our food has changed from the food eaten by our grandparents and even our parents. My personal belief is that the huge upswing in food allergies in the past decade is a direct result of our tampering with and modification of food from its pure (or ancient) form.

    I do not have a gluten intolerance (thankfully!) but I have tried recently to introduce some variety to the grains that I include in my diet. At some point I realized that I was eating bread or some sort of gluten-filled product with every meal, so I have tried (with decent success!) to make at least one meal and one snack each day gluten-free. Again, this isn’t to combat a sensitivity or allergy but to diversify and balance my diet.

    • Hi Ashley,

      I am with you on your fears about tampering with our food! It’s worrying as we have so little control over it. I will be doing a post in the future about the declining nutrient levels of our vegetables and fruits. SCAAAAARY stuff, but important to speak about!

      Thanks so much for your feedback! :-)
      Rowena

  2. Excellent article! You’re probably familiar with the book Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD then. I’ve switched to kamut and einkorn wheat. Thanks for sharing :)

    • Hello Abby!

      Thanks so much, glad you liked it! Yup Wheat Belly is an interesting read! I haven’t tried out Einkorn Wheat yet, that can be the next on my list! :-)

      Rowena

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