Spelt shortage: High demand and a poor harvest has left mills unable to supply bakeries

Popularity of a non-wheat alternative means rationing – even at Waitrose
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It's this year's must-have loaf: high in fibre, easy to digest, packed with nutrients and low-scoring on the glycaemic index. But being popular spells disaster for the very grain that bakers need to make it: spelt.

Soaring demand and the impact of a poor harvest of this wheat variety in 2012 have left some mills unable to supply bakeries. Shipton Mill in Gloucestershire recently wrote to all customers warning it would start rationing. "For the remaining part of the season we expect to be able to supply approximately half of your usual requirement," wrote Alan Osmond, its sales manager. And it wouldn't be taking on new customers for spelt until after the harvest in August, he added.

Hobbs House Bakery in Chipping Sodbury near Bristol is among those forced to stop baking some loaves. Tom Herbert, who is one half of Channel 4's Fabulous Baker Brothers, works at Hobbs. He said it was the first time in the bakery's 90-year history that it had to pull one of its lines. "It's a real shame, just when spelt bread is growing in popularity."

East Bristol Bakery and Baltic Bakehouse in Liverpool have also had to stop making spelt products. In Cheshire, Davenports Tea Room in Northwich warned it will be using an alternative flour in its spelt scones, until the new crop arrives.

Demand for the grain, which is grown in the UK at Doves Farm and Sharpham Park and in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, has pushed the price of spelt from £500 to £1,600 a tonne. Supplies of organic white spelt flour are hardest to come by, because 40 per cent of the grain is lost during the milling process. Doves Farm has had to stop selling its spelt grain for other people to mill. Michael Marriage, who runs the farm, said: "We are cutting back some lines. We haven't got an endless supply." But he added he was confident the farm's stocks would see them through to the next harvest. "It will be very tight but there's no need to panic."

Roger Saul, the founder of leather-goods label Mulberry, grows organic spelt at Sharpham Park in Somerset. "We have had to turn away new customers and we're now rationing how much we sell to Waitrose," he said.

Coffee, crumpets, crackling – and your votes...

Crowds of food-lovers shrugged off the dreary weather in Bristol yesterday and headed for the second regional heat of the British Street Food Awards. The competition, sponsored by The Independent on Sunday, is for the best dishes served from vans and tables around the country. The line-up included the imaginatively named Pizza Monkey, Strumpets with Crumpets and Vee Double Moo.

There are more heats taking place around the country in coming weeks. To treat yourself to a feast and get involved in choosing the best, visit: britishstreetfood.co.uk/awards/awards-2014