What About Wheat

Ancient Egyptian mural – wheat harvest

Wheat is an ancient, ancient grain.  Wheat is mentioned in the Bible, Quran, Torah, Greek and Roman mythology, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Wheat kernels have been found in ancient ruins around the world, and found its way into the bricks of the pyramids in Egypt.

To the best of our knowledge, it was the first grain ever cultivated for food. This member of the grass family originated somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean or Middle East as early as 9000 BC, and possibly long before that. It spread throughout the region, and reached Europe around 5000 BC. The first identifiable wheat with gluten enough for yeasted breads emerged around 1350 BC in Greece.

Wheat was first planted here in the United States in 1777, and is now the main grain used in grain products, such as bread, crackers, and pastas. Wheat is grown in 42 states, with farmers producing about 2.4 billion bushels of wheat on 63 million acres of farmland. One acre of farmland will produce an average of 40 bushels, which is generally 60 pounds of wheat. More fun facts: one bushel contains approximately 1 million kernels of wheat, and will yield 42 pounds of white flour or 60 pounds of whole wheat flour. That’s a lot of wheat!!

As you can probably guess, the Mid-West holds some of the nation’s largest producers of wheat, with Kansas in the #1 spot, with North Dakota comes in second. Kansas also produces the most milled wheat in the US.  Kansas produces enough wheat each year to bake 36 billion loaves of bread and enough to feed everyone in the world, over six billion people, for about 2 weeks. An acre of Kansas wheat produces enough bread to feed nearly 9,000 people for one day. Way to go, Kansas!


Geographical location of wheat growers and varieties in the USA

There are thousands of varieties of wheat grown in the USA and around the world, ranging from old heirloom varieties to modern wheats specially grown to fight off pests and thrive in arid climates. Each variety of wheat will fall under one of six classes: hard red winter (HRW), hard red spring (HRS), soft red winter (SRW), hard white (HW), soft white (SW) and durum.

Winter wheat is sown in the fall and emerges before the frost, where it winters under the snow, and grows in the spring and summer. It is harvested before spring wheats, which are planted in the spring. Winter wheats typically have higher yields than spring wheats.

Hard Red Winter wheats have harder kernels, and are brownish in color. They have high-protein content, and are used for bread, hard baked goods and in other flours to increase protein in pastry flour. HRW accounts for almost 40% of the US wheat crop. Hard Red Spring wheats have hard, brownish, high-protein kernels used for bread and hard baked goods. Bread Flour and high-gluten flours are commonly made from HRS. Soft Red Winter wheats have softer kernels, and are lower in protein. SRW wheat is used for cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, and muffins. Cake flour, pastry flour, and some self-rising flours are made from soft red winter wheat.

Taken from the U of I College of Agriculture’s website

Hard White wheats have hard, light-colored, opaque, chalky kernels, and  medium-protein content. HW wheat is planted in dry, temperate areas, and used for noodles, yeast breads, and sometimes brewing.

Soft white wheat is a soft, light-color kernel with very low protein content. SW wheat is grown in temperate moist areas,  like the Northwest.   Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho are the largest producers of SWW in the US.  SWW is used for pie crusts and pastry flour, and much of what is grown in our region is shipped to the Pacific Rim for their specialty noodles.

Finally, Durum wheat  kernels are very hard, translucent, light-colored, and used to make semolina flour for pasta and bulghur. Durum is high in protein, specifically gluten protein.

Semolina is used in making pasta, cereals, puddings, and couscous. It is the coarsely-ground, purified wheat middlings, which are the starches separated from the wheat bran and germ. Semolina can be made from other grains as well. For example, corn semolina is more commonly called grits! Bulghur is a cereal made from the groats of wheat. Groats are the hulled grains of wheat which have been cut into fine, medium, or coarse textures. Basically, groats are the kernels just cut up to make using them a little easier. Bulghur is used in many dishes, such as pilafs, mainly in the Middle East and India.

Wheat is a very versatile crop, and different varieties can be grown in wetter environments, as well as in arid climates. The biggest producer of wheat worldwide is the European Union, followed by Russia, the US, China and India. Rising demand for wheat in Asia has led to increased production and export by these countries, and the opening of new regions for wheat production, specifically the countries located around the Black Sea.



Wheat Harvest in the Palouse

Better seed storage and germination ability is a 20th century technological innovation. In Medieval England, farmers saved one-quarter of their wheat harvest as seed for the next crop, leaving only three-quarters for food and feed consumption. By 1999, the global average seed use of wheat was about 6% of output. Wheat kernels travel well, and in the right environment can remain intact for years, millenia, even! Wheat can be prepared a myriad of ways for human consumption, and is also often used as animal feed. Whole wheat’s high protein and fiber contents, along with good amounts of other important vitamins and minerals, make this grain a very, very important part of the diet of people across the world.

Information for this article was taken from these sites:
http://www.wheatworld.org/
http://wheatfoods.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semolina

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