Kavılca Wheat (Emmer)

Cereals and Flours - Turkey

Çatal Siyez, Kabulca, Kablıca, Gernik


Kavılca wheat (Triticum dicoccum) belongs to the Kaplıca wheat group and together with its ancestor Siyez wheat (Triticum monococcum) they are the most ancient wheat varieties found in Anatolia. Kavılca, also known as emmer, farro (especially in Italy) or hulled wheat, is a type of awned wheat. It was one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. It was widely cultivated in the ancient world, but is now a relict crop in the mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. This wheat variety is very strong against rough environmental conditions and it is possible to cultivate it in even the most unfertile areas. Its value lies in its ability to give good yields on poor soils, and its resistance to fungal diseases such as stem rust that are prevalent in wet areas.


Strong similarities in morphology and genetics show that wild emmer (Triticum dicoccoides) is the wild ancestor of domesticated emmer. Because wild and domesticated kavılca wheats are interfertile with other tetraploid wheats, some taxonomists consider all tetraploid wheats to belong to one species, T. turgidum. Under this scheme, the two forms are recognized at subspecies level, thus T. turgidum subsp. dicoccoides and T. turgidum subsp. dicoccum. Either naming system is equally valid; the latter lays more emphasis on genetic similarities.  Like einkorn and spelt wheats, emmer is hulled wheat. In other words, it has strong glumes (husks) that enclose the grains and semi-brittle shafts. On threshing, a hulled wheat spike breaks up into spikelets. These require milling or pounding to release the grains from the husks. DNA studies on kavılca wheat have shown its place of domestication to be near Şanlıurfa (Göbeklitepe) in southeast Turkey. Domesticated emmer first appears at Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites in the Fertile Crescent.


In Turkey, Kavılca wheat was almost extinct until the mid-2000s, when with the support of local initiations, this ancient wheat variety was brought back to life in mountainous Kars region, located in eastern border of Turkey. From 2004 to 2014, the number of producers in Kars increased from 0 to 250-300, and annual production is estimated at 500-600 tons. Today Kavılca is cultivated in In Kars region and is traditionally processed into bulgur (cracked wheat) form at water-powered mills. It is used in local dishes such as bulgur pilaf served with local geese, milk soup or stuffed cabbage rolls. In order to produce Kavılca bulgur, this wheat is completely soaked in water, then dried and ground with traditional methods. Kavılca wheat flour is mixed with other flours and also used for bread making.


It is nowadays grown only in small pockets along the countryside and is mostly used as fodder, because food industry demands other commercial wheat varieties that can be easily separated from their husks and easy to process in factories. Emmer survived in the Kars region mainly because it is traditionally served as a side pilaf dish to tandoor-cooked goose during the cold winter months. One reason it has become endangered is the difficulty involved in separating the primitive double-kernel grain from its husk. Modern equipment is needed to obtain the intact whole grain. Growing Kavılca wheat can be a good source of income for Anatolian rural families, and also help conserve agro-biodiversity, however his task requires sophisticated machinery.