Georgia is one of the centers of origin of wheat and is home to numerous varieties of wheat (many of them endemic), due in particular to its highly varied climatic conditions and soild. Tsiteli doli (Triticum aestivum var. ferrugineum), or “red wheat,” is a landrace of winter bearded (or awned) soft wheat. There are several varieties of tsiteli doli, one of which is from Akhaltsikhe, in the southern Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. This variety is well adapted to heavy, poor soils and a harsh climate (Samtskhe-Javakheti is characterized by cold winters and hot, dry summers): It is frost hardy and quite resistant to drought and disease. When grown in non-irrigated lands (which is the norm), yields are somewhat reduced but the taste and baking quality are better than if it is grown in irrigated fields. Another problem resulting from irrigation is an increased tendency for lodging, which is not normally an issue for this variety. The plants grow to a height of up to 1.2 meters. The spikes are 6.5-12.5 centimeters long, red, and have long awns (hairs). The grains themselves are also reddish. This variety yields 2.5-3.2 tonnes per hectare, which is not particularly high generally speaking, but is more than most other varieties yield when grown in the areas where Akhaltsikhis tsiteli doli was developed. It is sown between August and October, or earlier in particularly cold places.
Whole grains of Akhaltsikhis tsiteli doli are boiled and used in sweet porridge (kolio, korkoti, or tsandili), mixed with nuts and honey, and flour made from this variety is excellent for baking, as it gives products a sweet, fresh flavor. The flour is used for making various breads, including khachapuri (a cheese-filled bread); pastries such as kada; and sweets such as tatara (grape juice thickened with flour) and churchkhela (strings of walnuts dipped in tatara). Georgians formerly used doli flour for baking the so-called “makhobliani bread”: Makhobeli (Cephalaria syriaca) is a wild plant that grows in wheat fields and farmers used to leave the makhobeli seeds in the wheat harvest intentionally. The bread baked from this flour has a distinctive taste, a bluish color, and maintains its freshness for up to a week, which made it particularly important for farm families who could not bake bread every day. Makhobeli seeds also have medicinal properties.
Even though tsiteli doli is an important wheat variety in some areas outside of Georgia (e.g. in France, where it is known as Caucasus rouge), it is critically endangered within Georgia: Like many other local Georgian crop varieties, Akhaltsikhis tsiteli doli was almost abandoned during the Soviet period due to an agricultural policy based on specialization, concentration, and mechanization. Along with the wheat itself, the knowledge and practices associated with its cultivation and use also declined. Today, Akhaltsikhis tsiteli doli is grown on a total of only about 50 hectares throughout Georgia, by 25-30 farmers who grow it primarily for their own consumption, but sometimes also for bakeries. It is difficult to find the grains or flour on the market.