Kamut is a registered trademark of Kamut International, Ltd., used in marketing products made with a remarkable grain. The new cereal is an ancient relative of modern durum wheat, two to three times the size of common wheat with 20-40% more protein, higher in lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and a "sweet" alternative for all products that now use common wheat (Fig. 1). Nutritionally superior, it can be substituted for common wheat with great success. Kamut brand wheat has a rich, buttery flavor, and is easily digested. A hard amber spring type wheat with a huge humped back kernel, this grain is "untouched" by modern plant breeding programs which appear to have sacrificed flavor and nutrition for higher yields dependent upon large amounts of synthetic agricultural inputs.
Although the Kamut brand wheat is thousands of years old, it is a new addition to North American grain productions. It's origins are intriguing. Following WWII, a US airman claimed to have taken a handful of this grain from a stone box in a tomb near Dashare, Egypt. Thirty-six kernels of the grain were given to a friend who mailed them to his father, a Montana wheat farmer. The farmer planted and harvested a small crop and displayed the grain as a novelty at the local fair. Believing the legend that the giant grain kernels were taken from an Egyptian tomb, the grain was dubbed "King Tut's Wheat." But soon the novelty wore off and this ancient grain was all but forgotten. In 1977, one remaining jar of "King Tut's Wheat" was obtained by T. Mack Quinn, another Montana wheat farmer, who with his son Bob, an agricultural scientist and plant biochemist soon perceived the value of this unique grain. They spent the next decade propagating the humped-backed kernels originally selected from the small jar. Their research revealed that wheats of this type originated in the fertile crescent area which runs from Egypt to the Tigris-Euphrates valley. The Quinns coined the trade name "Kamut" an ancient Egyptian word for wheat. Egyptologists claim the root meaning of Kamut is "Soul of the Earth.".
The real history of the Kamut brand grain has been as elusive as its taxonomic classification. Although not thought to have been in commercial production anywhere in the world in the recent past, most scientists believe it probably survived the years as an obscure grain kept alive by the diversity of crops common to small peasant farmers perhaps in Egypt or Asia Minor*. It is thought to have evolved contemporary with the free-threshing tetraploid wheats. Scientists from the United States, Canada, Italy, Israel, and Russia have all examined the grain and have reached different conclusions regarding its identification. All agree that it is a Triticum turgidum (AABB) which also includes the closely related durum wheat. The correct subspecies is in dispute. It was originally identified as polonicum. Some now believe it is turanicum, while others claim it is durum. One Russian scientist believes it is a durum cultivar called 'Egiptianka' or "the durum of Egypt." Still others believe it is may evolve from a mixture of many types which would be consistent with its supposed descent from an ancient landrace originally gathered by primitive farmers from the wild. The majority now identify the grain as turanicum commonly called Khorasan wheat. Although its true history and taxonomy may be disputed, what is not disputed is its great taste, texture, and nutritional qualities as well as its hypo-allergenic properties.
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