6 Types of Wheat Plants - Urban Agriculture

6 Types of Wheat Plants

Part of the grass family, wheat plants produce a single-seeded fruit commonly referred to as its kernel. There isn’t a crop on earth that has played a larger role in the expansion of our race than the humble grain of wheat. In this article, we will take a brief look into the amazing history of wheat as well as shine a light on each of the six classes of wheat that are grown right here in America. 

It’s documented that wheat has been consumed by humans for well over 17,000 years. Initially, our ancient ancestors would gather the seeds of the wheat plant and, after removing the husks, eat them raw, parched, or simmered.

Wheat consumption can be dated back to Mesopotamia, which is the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (modern-day Iraq). Wheat has been the world’s dominant cereal crop since the 18th century when it was milled on mass to produce flour.

Knowing that wheat flour is used to make bread, pasta, pizza, noodles, cereal, biscuits, and cake shows just how big of impact wheat has had in shaping the way that we eat and survive from food.

There are now thousands of wheat varieties around the world that have been grouped into six classes. Here in the US alone, our farmers produce a staggering 2.5 billion bushels of wheat on a whopping 63 million acres of land per year. With every class of wheat being grown on US soil we thought it would be helpful to find out a little bit about each class of wheat and their growing season.

Hard Red Winter Wheat

Staking a 40% claim of total wheat production, hard red winter wheat is the most popular variety of wheat grown in America. It is primarily grown in the Midwest Great Plains states of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Like all winter wheat, hard red is planted in the fall and harvested the following spring. It gets its name from the red husk and its berries that have a darker shade than most white wheat.

It has a high protein content of about 10.5% which means it has a high gluten content too. Hard red winter wheat is also full of flavor and suits whole wheat and grain blends as a result. Many home-flour millers use this wheat because of its strong flavor, and it is also great wheat to make sourdough bread with. 

Soft Red Winter Wheat

Soft red winter wheat is the preferred wheat to mill into flour for cakes, cookies, and crackers. Because of its softness, it is much easier to mill and results in a finer flour which is ideal for these types of food. Soft red winter wheat is known to retain all the characteristics of the flavor profile of hard red, just with a softer touch.

Totalling 15% of US wheat production, it is less widely used than its harder cousin but is still very much an integral part of our wheat industry.

Soft red winter wheat is mostly grown along the Mississippi River and in a few eastern states too. It is much lower in protein when compared to hard red winter wheat which is another reason why it’s preferred by bakers who are looking to bake soft pastries and bread. 

Hard Red Spring Wheat

Roughly 55% of all hard red spring wheat produced in America is exported to over 70 countries worldwide. More than half of this exported wheat makes its way to Asian and Central and South American countries, with the rest of it divided between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

It’s estimated that almost 95% of hard red spring wheat that’s grown in America comes from the Northern Plains states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, and South Dakota. 

Hard red spring wheat has the highest protein content of all wheat varieties in American at almost 16%. Being high in protein is one of the reasons why it is sorted after on a global scale for making premium yeast bread, pizza, rolls, and bagels.

Hard red spring is used extensively throughout the US and beyond as balanced blending wheat too. Because it is high in gluten it also helps to strengthen flour batches as well as enhance their dough handling, mixing characteristics, and water absorption.

Hard White Wheat

Unlike the previously mentioned wheat varieties, hard white wheat can be grown in both the winter and spring growing seasons. It accounts for 15% of total wheat production in America and can be found in states like Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Michigan, and New York.

Although this isn’t a huge amount, hard white wheat production has seen a slow but steady increase over the last 10 years.

It is milled well and creates fine finished products in Asian noodles, tortillas, and pan bread. Its kernel is a lighter color when compared to hard red wheat and has a sweeter flavor with more subtleties. It’s the primarily milled whole that helps to preserve the protein and nutrient content of the wheat. 

Soft White Wheat

Soft white is mostly grown in the Pacific Northwest of America and is subsequently exported from most Pacific ports with strong demand in many Asian markets. It is the third-largest wheat export in America, with almost 80% of all soft white produced in America destined for offshore ports.

As is the case with hard white, soft white can also be grown in both the winter and spring seasons, making it a versatile variety. Although, most growers of soft white will seek out a certain soft white variety for each season and stick to it.

Because of its low moisture content, soft white performs well in the mill and is the best fit for many pastries, bread, snack foods, and cakes. It is typically fairly low in protein at 8.5, which also lends itself to confectionary products. Soft white is considered unique for its gluten type that is both soft and weak and not tied to its protein content. This gives it a particular starch composition that is perfect for creating soft and fluffy sponge cakes. 

Durum Wheat

Last but certainly not least, Durum wheat is what most of the world’s pasta is made from. Of course, it needs to be milled into durum wheat flour (semolina) before it can be mixed up into pasta but you catch the drift and that drift is that durum wheat is a big deal.

However, durum isn’t actually such a big deal in the US wheat scene, being the least produced wheat of the lot at just 2 – 5% of total wheat production.

Where it does grow, it is grown in small amounts in states like North Dakota and Montana where it is termed Northern Durum. There is also a Desert Durum variety that is grown in the southern parts of California and Arizona.

Canada is now the largest exporter of durum in the world, closely followed by Mexico and Europe. It is the hardest and most protein-rich variety of wheat which is the reason why it is used to make pasta. This hardness gives it extensibility which means it can be stretched out into long pieces with little chance of breaking. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Health Benefit Of Wheat?

Although wheat has gained notoriety amongst certain circles for being bad news when it comes to health, it is actually a very good source of some fundamental plant properties.

Not only is wheat a great provider of energy but it is also a good source of protein, dietary fiber, phytochemicals, and vitamins like B vitamins. However, and like all grains, wheat is best consumed in conjunction with a balanced diet. 

Which Wheat Is The Healthiest?

Whole wheat is the healthiest form of wheat because it contains the entire kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm.

Simplified, this means that whole wheat is able to retain all the nutrients that make wheat a filling and healthy food in the first place. It is a better source of fiber, iron, folate, potassium, and magnesium when compared to white and refined wheat varieties.

Which Is Best, Rice Or Wheat?

The age-old debate that will rage on for eternity is whether rice or wheat is a better choice for our bodies. However, the facts don’t lie and when it boils down, wheat edges ahead of rice in terms of most benefits. Per 100g wheat is richer in calories, nutrients, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, most minerals, and vitamins, whereas rice has a higher saturated fat, starch, vitamin B9, and vitamin E content.

So if you’re looking for a filling and nutritious addition to your dinner, then wheat products are the smarter and more filling choice.

Summary

Wheat has and will continue to be one of the most important food sources that our planet has. Not only is it made into all types of classic foods like pizza, pasta, pastry, bread, and cake but it is also cheap to produce. Its low price point is what makes it a great source of protein and fiber for many developing nations as well.

With the US being the 2nd biggest exporter of wheat, just behind Russia, it is nice to know that we are helping to feed the world, one grain of wheat at a time.

Caroline Roberts
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