Zea, the emmer wheat

A life giving cereal!

Zea is probably the oldest cereal of this world and stood for a key component in the diet of Ancient Greeks. It features an undeniable nutritional value and it is no coincidence that the etymology of the ancient Greek word “ζείδωρος” (zeidoros) meaning “life giving” comes from this particular cereal.

Zea’s scientific name is “Triticum dicoccum” and although it externally looks similar to wheat, it has a different nutritional composition. It is largely referred to as Zeia, Spelt and Emmer, but it shouldn’t however be confused with the German Dinkel or rye.

Zea is highly nutritious and contains important nutrients, which make it superior to other cereals. Zea is two times richer in dietary fiber, in comparison with other wheat, a fact that makes it a good choice for people suffering from diabetes. In addition, Zea is two times richer in protein and features a high content of the amino acid lysine and vitamins A, B, C and E. Lysine is that particular component of proteins that increases their digestibility, boosts the immune system and it’s a key element for the brain’s biochemical functioning. Another key advantage of Zea is its high content in magnesium, up to 40% higher in comparison with other cereals. Zea is also very low in gluten, a fact that makes it highly digestible.

The cultivation of Zea seems to go back for more than 12,000 years, as revealed by excavations in prehistoric settlements throughout Greece, and according to historical texts, Alexander the Great’s soldiers would eat Zea, in order to remain strong and healthy. It seems that Zea’s production was so widespread in antiquity that it is possible that the Port of Zea in Pireus took its name from this cereal because of the related increased trafficking and transactions that took place there.

Until about a century ago, Zea was one of the most popular wheat in Greece, but over the years it seems that more economically profitable cereal crops such as rice or wheat prevailed.  The most common forms in which Zea is marketed today is in paddy flour or pasta made of Zea flour, such as orzo, couscous, penne, tagliatelle and other. It is very tasty, highly nutritious and suitable for every Greek dish, while it’s easy to cook.

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