Home Eating & DrinkingFood & RecipesStyle & Ingredients Saragolla – Abruzzo’s Blonde Egyptian Queen

Saragolla – Abruzzo’s Blonde Egyptian Queen

by Sam Dunham
Saragolla wheat

Ingredients… time-old cheerleaders for free passage, trade and export

This particular tale is of a small ancient Egyptian grain: hard and glassy like amber with the nickname ‘Pharaoh’s Wheat’ that found itself in Abruzzo after trade, migration and a mass genocide.

Saragolla began its journey in Egypt where it was known as ‘soul of the earth’. Tall and lanky this dependable ancestor of modern wheat tolerated arid lands, rust and pests; it became a crop on the move through the trade routes of Mesopotamia, Iran and up to the Anatolia peninsula, helping mothers to feed their children and fathers to trade.

There are claims of saragolla making its way across the in 400 AD but its ‘official’ arrival came with Alcek’s Bulgars in 632 AD. The previous winter he and 7000 of his people had journeyed to Bavaria at the invite of the Frankish King who had ruthlessly planned their mass execution over the winter by his troops.

Alcek and 700 men, women and children managed to escape, approaching the Lombards with a request for help. In return for their labour, the Lombards allowed them to settle in The Abruzzi, in what is now Isernia in Molise. Their lore and language entwined itself in local and the dialect included their word Saragolla (sarga-yellow and golyo-seed) for the ancient grain.

This ‘foreign’ wheat cast its spell over Italy’s regional states aided by the Lombards and monastic elements of the Church. Each state cherished  its fragrance, so tasty when used as cracked wheat or ground to produce a ‘nutritious’ flour that makes superb and pasta, heartening the greyest of lives with its glorious golden colour.

At a time when cucina povera was to get by rather than a fashionable trend in cooking, the benefits of eating saragolla were considerable. It’s quicker to cook thus requiring less fuel and contains 18% protein compared to the 12% standard of today’s modified Croesus durum wheat. What would be the advice of Italy’s contadini and subsistence farmers to the growing numbers of wheat-intolerant in Italy and across the world? Perhaps they would suggest a return to a simpler low gluten wheat, like saragolla – just 10% compared to the 17% of northern American Manitoba wheat which means it is slower to digest, making bellies feel fuller for longer.

Saragolla’s heydey lasted until the nineteenth century when cropping systems began to change and a pre-occupation with yields and easy milling were paramount. Abruzzo’s unique topography and winding roads meant that Saragolla continued to be grown by communities in the hilly Apennine terrain of the province of . Their ongoing cultivation, selecting the best seeds each year, meant that a premium heritage stock of Saragolla was ready and waiting for a resurgence.

Saragolla fettuccineThe revival of the Pharaoh’s Wheat has been fast, brought about those looking not just for a tasty pasta that won’t cause bloating but also from farmers seeking a wheat with high yields that doesn’t require pesticides and chemical fertilisers in a time of increasing droughts. Today the ‘Pharaoh’s Wheat’ is back at the top of the table, the fettuccine of choice at the London Embassy in London, organically grown and made by Imperiale d’Abruzzo and proudly being served by its head chef, Abruzzese Danilo Cortellini. More than impressive when considering the choice of pasta an Italian Embassy can draw upon.


Helen Free 28/04/2016 - 19:26

How does it taste?

Life in Abruzzo 28/04/2016 - 19:59

Lovely, a hint of nuttiness that worked even really well with seafood on the tasting. At home I tried it with a carbonara (I know!) but it gave the dish a bit more depth. I’ve tried a wholemeal version from the Botanical Gardens in Teramo which was fantastic

Sue Firth 28/04/2016 - 16:34

Is this grain also called Kamut? Also used by the Ancient Egyptions and brought to Abruzzo. I have used Kamut flour in baking and Kamut pasta is very enjoyable.

Life in Abruzzo 28/04/2016 - 16:42

No it’s a slightly different and Kamut is the trademark name of the grain by the American Montana company, there is a question mark why Italy buys seed from the US when it has its own Triticum Polonicum that is similar

Imperiale d'Abruzzo 28/04/2016 - 19:53

Exact Life in Abruzzo 😉 You studied… 🙂

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All about Abruzzo in a slow travel & food blog
All about Abruzzo in a slow travel & food blog