It has a larger kernel than spelt, is nuttier tasting than wheat, but gives yields that are far less than the wheat our ancestors came to prefer, which is the wheat we grow today (“Triticum aestivum”.)
Emmer probably originated in the Middle East, probably as a naturally occurring hybrid between Einkorn wheat and another grass, possibly a goat grass. It was probably being cultivated in the Middle East as early as 8000 or 7000 BC, and in Africa by 3000 BC. Emmer is the wheat that the Egyptians used. The Egyptians used Emmer as a pregnancy test. Emmer will germinate if moistened daily with urine from a pregnant woman; it won’t with any other kind of urine. Reputedly this actually works.
The Etruscans used Emmer, as did the Romans. Romans would bake Emmer into bread, or boil it into a form of polenta, though they preferred the wheat that we use today. Emmer may have been one of the grains distributed free to people in Rome starting in 59 BC, after the bread riots. Emmer is still used in some regional cooking in Italy, such as in the Tuscan soup called “minestra di farro”.
Emmer is known in Ethiopia as “aja”, where it is still about 7% of their wheat production.
Durum wheat emerged as a variety of Emmer. Emmer was used until people discovered Durum, which they came to prefer because it was easier to separate the grain from the husk or (“chaff”).
The Romans called Emmer “farrum”.