Khorasan/Kamut: An Ancient Wheat Source That May Be Easier On The Gut
Photo Credit: The Squash
Wheat (or a lack of) seems to be the rage in the medical and lay literature. People with all sorts of ailments are dropping wheat from their diet and claiming that they just plain feel better. The literature supports this with positive results supporting the removal of wheat products and their offending component gluten from the diet of those with a multitude of issues. It's worth a try for those with no alternatives.
The understanding of why wheat and the immune systems of a multitude of modern humans is not compatible focusses on the grain's genetic manipulation over the years. Changes in wheat to increase production have perhaps done something that has the potential to be offensive to the gut by creating an immune response.
Enter Khorasan.... or re-enter after centuries off the grid of mass production and manipulation. Legend surrounds how this grain came onto the scene after centuries of isolation. The more exotic and alluring stories are that it's seeds were found in an ancient Egyptian tomb or that it was saved aboard Noah's ark. Regardless, it has evaded modern manipulation and exists as it did genetically long before man contemplated the ills of gluten.
The question at hand is, does this ancient grain, Khorasan, offer the health and nutrition for those with modern wheat-related ailments?
On paper modern wheat and Khorasan look much the same. They are both high in feber content and their nutrients are virtually the same with some minor variation. Khorasan is a bit higher in potassium and magnesium, but on the surface, it's difficult to see how these two grains would be different. Still, claims that the Khorasan is better tolerated by the body are being proven in studies.
Khorasan and IBS Studies
The most common chronic gastrointestinal ailment, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), involves cramping and abnormality in bowel motility (too fast or too slow) which results in discomfort and irregularities. Often IBS symptoms are triggered by stress, certain foods or other environmental factors.
A recent study out of Italy randomized IBS patients into modern wheat vs. Khorasan diets for several weeks and then crossed them over. The Khorasan group had statistically significant improvements in abdominal pain, bloating, cramping and overall quality of life. These factors flip-flopped as the groups were switched over. (1) Interestingly, these reports correlated with prior findings that Khorasan grain yielded relative reductions circulating substances called inflammatory cytokines. (2) These chemicals are kicked up in the body as a response to irregularities in the body such as infection, illness or exposure. They are instrumental in the body process that causes fever.
Khorasan and Celiac Sprue (Gluten Sensitivity)
Celiac sprue is a hypersensitivity to gluten, a nutrient found in wheat. Exposure to gluten in the gut causes a severe inflammatory reaction and can lead to bowel irregularities, anemia, cramping/bloating and malaise. Celiac sprue is commonly a hereditary illness. While all wheat products contain gluten, there are some unproven claims that Khorasan wheat contains less gluten and that modern wheat has been bred and engineered for high gluten content. A small study published last year looked at those inflammatory mediators in patient with celiac disease when fed Khorasan and did find a strong response in increases upon exposure. (3) Based on these findings, it is a reasonable assumption that Khorasan and other ancient wheat grains would not be helpful in celiac sprue.
In the Khorasan vs. modern wheat studies various nutritional markers were measured. Of note, cholesterol had some modest declines in the Khorasan group. Also in this group, potassium and magnesium levels showed mild elevations.
Another large section for potential benefit are those persons without bona fide celiac sprue who feel better removing wheat from their diet. These ailments include bowel problems, chronic muscle pain and fatigue. While there is only speculation as to whether this is gluten or modern wheat in general to blame, scientific analysis has shown benefit in blinded studies. The reduced inflammatory mediators seen with Khorasan offers hope that this grain may yield nutrition without ailment.
While these studies open a door for some exciting speculation, it should be noted that they had their limitations. They were small studies, only containing a handful of people. Further, the Khorasan was grown in a specific region, in a specific time frame and processed into flour and not entirely whole grains. As a living entity, wheat is subject to its environment and other conditions in which it is grown.
Khorasan (aka Kamut) Recipes
Khorasan, an ancient wheat is relatively new on the scene, offering an alternative to modern wheat forms which have been subject to years of engineering and mass production. Some small, introductory studies offer encouragement that this grain may help persons with irritable bowel disease and other non-celiac sprue gastrointestinal illnesses.
Peanut Butter Khorasan Treats
"It ended up being a really happy experiment because I love the texture of the puffed kamut. Seems softer and chewier. It also has a stronger “grain” flavor than rice. I could see myself making this again with raisins (PB + J, anyone?) or molasses. Peanut butter and molasses is a heavenly combination, if you’ve never tried it." Recipe HERE!
Wilted Spinach Salad with Khorasan
"The result was a delightfully fresh, nutritionally rich, and satisfying lunch with a Tuscan leaning. We really enjoyed it as a vegetarian meal, but it would work well if complimented with grilled meat. At a glance, it may appear to be a lot of work. However, aside from boiling the kamut, it all happens sequentially in a single pan." Recipe HERE!
Khorasan Salad with Curry Vinaigrette
"Kamut looks similar to brown rice but has a slightly nutty and sweet flavor, which makes it perfect to toss into salads with other sweet and savory ingredients—for example, blueberries and grapefruit in this delicious kamut salad recipe!" Recipe HERE!
2. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013; 67(2): 190-95.