The first clever thing we did was to learn how to make tools from stone. This was so early on – about 3.3 million years ago in east Africa – that we made tools before we were people.
The second clever thing people did was to learn how to use fire. The earliest evidence of cooked food is about 1.9 million years ago. Wild einkorn wheat was gathered on the Anatolian plateau as early as 30,000 years ago and the earliest known bread – made with wild-harvested einkorn wheat and other plant materials – is about 14,000 years old.
The agricultural revolution – the third clever thing we did – began about 10,000 years ago when people domesticated plants and grew them deliberately. Einkorn wheat was domesticated between 8650 and 7950 b.c.e. in present day Turkey. The other early wheat, called emmer, was gathered from the wild about 17,000 years ago and domesticated between 8250 and 7550 b.c.e in present day Syria.
All wheat species derive from einkorn and emmer and some occasional wild relative ancestors. The two old wheats differ fundamentally with regard to genetics, which tend to be very complex in the wheats. Einkorn is diploid, like the reader and author of this piece, with two chromosomes. Einkorn, on the other hand, has four chromosomes and so is tetraploid.
Emmer and einkorn are not usually used for bread or pasta these days. A hundred centuries of selection and breeding have resulted in wheats that are much more bread and noodle worthy. But there are some great, and extensively tried and true, ways to prepare and eat these old grains. The first matzos – after all – were made with emmer wheat. Our freshly milled einkorn-emmer cracker bread with black and white sesame seeds is slightly leavened with sourdough. We are also making bulgur wheat with einkorn and emmer, the old way – sprouted and toasted and cracked. Try it in our tabbouleh.