Tuesday, May 01, 2007

How is That Spelt?

While perusing the FDA website as regular readers know I love to do, I came across a warning letter to the Everything Spelt Company, a bakery of spelt products. Many violations were listed, but the most interesting was their failure to properly label their products as containing a major known food allergen, wheat.
These products are misbranded under section 403(a)(1) of the Act [21 U.S.C. 343(a)(1)] in that the labels bear false and misleading statements. For example, your Spelt Challah Medium, Spelt Sandwich Loaf, Original Whole Spelt Bread, and Whole Spelt Challah products claim that these products are a "Wheat Alternative" and are made "in a wheat free environment." Your Pan Crust Pizza label bears the statement "ideal for many who have allergies or intolerances to wheat." These statements are false and misleading because they suggest that the products do not contain wheat, when in fact they are made with spelt, which is a variety of wheat.

How confusing. What other godly reason would one even consider eating anything called Spelt Sandwich Loaf except a wheat allergy? Is that not why people eat breads and pasta made from things like quinoa, rice flour and pencil shavings? I'm feeling a little bad for the alternative bakery and wondering if perhaps the FDA ought be marshaling their resources towards bigger kinds of fish. But more so, I realize I have no idea what spelt actually is--time for some digging.

Germans call it Dinkel and Italians call it Farro, described in various web sites as a grandparent to, cousin of, subspecies of, alternative to and not to be confused with, wheat. This is almost as confusing as trying to figure out whether it's an alligator or a crocodile. How can the FDA be mandating a company label their product as wheat if their product is being sold as a wheat alternative? Wiki to the rescue--spelt can be a good substitute for people with wheat or gluten intolerance, but not suitable for those with allergies. Not sure where that leaves Everything Spelt Company.

More digging yields this blurb on the Purity Foods site, maker of Vita-Spelt products:

New FDA Allergen Law
As of January 1, 2006 the FDA is classifying spelt in the wheat family. To follow this new ruling, all of products are going to have the word "wheat" on the package even though they don't contain any. Every product we carry is made from 100% Pure Spelt. If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 1-800-99-SPELT (77358).

Wow, now you need a disclaimer for the disclaimer. Weirder and weirder. If you are really bored and/or agriculturally inclined you can read this mind numbingly boring response from the FDA of why spelt is, in fact, wheat.

This taxonomy of wheat fails to interest me, but I do wonder what provoked this FDA interest in alternative bakeries. That might be an interesting story.

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