Wheat 101:Get your wheat game on

anatomy of wheat - 

Let’s start at the beginning with the anatomy of a kernel of wheat. The kernel is also called the wheat berry or the seed, because actually the kernel that is milled into flour or cooked or sprouted is the very same seed that is planted in the ground. When you have that aha moment the anatomy of wheat makes a lot more sense!  The wheat seed is made up of 3 components: the bran which is the outermost layer, the germ is the embryo of the wheat plant- here comes that aha moment- the part that germinates or sprouts, and the endosperm, the part that contains the nutrients to support the embryo.  Check out Grain's Anatomy

whole grain vs refined –

What is a whole grain? According to the Whole Grains Council, all grains start life as whole grains. In their natural state growing in the fields, whole grains are the entire seed of a plant.  Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel. When milled into flour, if all the parts are left you have whole wheat four.  Because the germ’s high fat content can limit the shelf life of flour, the germ is often separated from flour during milling resulting in refined or white flour.  Refining normally removes the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm.  Without the bran and germ, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, and are greatly reduced in at least seventeen key nutrients.  Have you ever wondered why white flour is enriched?? If all parts of the grains are milled into whole grain flour they provide more protein, more fiber and many important vitamins and minerals.

So first you have the whole grain, then after it is milled you have flour.  If all parts of the grain are milled you have whole grain flour.  If the bran and germ are removed you have white or refined flour.

ancient vs heritage/heirloom vs landrace vs modern– 

The Whole Grains Council maintains that there is no official definition of ‘ancient grains.’ All whole grains in the larger sense are “ancient” — they all can trace their roots back to the beginnings of time.  The term ancient is often used to refer to varietals that were domesticated around 10- 12,000 years ago, with Einkorn being the Mother of all wheat varietals.

The terms heritage or heirloom can be used interchangeably and refer to any landrace varietal that has been mostly unchanged in the last several hundred years.  

A landrace varietal refers to ancient pre-hybridized varieties ("races") of wheat, barley, oats, rye, and other grains that flourished since time immemorial in areas  or "lands" throughout the world where they adapted to local environmental conditions.  Think of place when you think of a landrace, varietals that are uniquely adapted to the place they are grown and the practices with which they are grown- much like the term terroir in wine speak.   

Modern wheat is dwarf wheat, a cultivar developed in the ’60s to increase yield per acre. It is a high-yielding cultivar with larger seed heads and thick, short stocks that could bear the extra weight. Being shorter, it received less sunlight than traditional wheat cultivars, but it produced a lot of grains on less acreage. Agronomist Norman Borlaug pioneered the development of these high yield dwarf varieties, refining and perfecting already existing wheat strains, and received much acclaim (including the Nobel Peace Prize) for introducing the dwarf wheat and modern agriculture to developing countries. Modern wheat is often grown conventionally and relies heavily on chemical inputs.


Let’s break it down 

Turkey Red is a hard red winter wheat - 
Red Fife is a hard red spring wheat – 
Pasayten is a hard white spring wheat -
White Sonora is a soft white wheat – 
They are all heritage/heirloom varietals

hard vs soft –

here we have adjectives that stand in for strength – a hard wheat is higher in protein and therefore “harder” or stronger – a soft wheat is lower in protein or “weaker”

red vs white-

these adjectives simply refer to the color of the wheat kernel.  The color comes from the bran which may be red or white. Hard white wheat was developed from hard red wheat by eliminating the genes for bran color while preserving other desirable characteristics of red wheat.  White wheat bran contains less tannins, making the end flour product naturally sweeter. 

spring vs winter –

this refers to the time of year that the wheat was planted.  Spring wheats tend to be higher in protein.  

How do I choose??

Well…it depends on what you’re making and what flavors and textures you like.  For bread baking you can’t go wrong with a hard, red or white, winter or spring wheat.  For cakes, cookies and pie crusts try a soft white.  This is the fun part where you get to play around and choose - very different from grabbing a bag of white flour from your pantry.