Types of Wheat: What to Grow and How to Use It

Wheat has nourished people around the globe for centuries, but recent news has called wheat nutrition into question. Find answers to your concerns regarding wheat breeding, wheat nutrition and wheat flavor here — plus discover which types of wheat are best for the home grower.

  • Wheat Breads
    Wheat breads, from whole-wheat to ryes, tempt us.
    Photo by Fotolia/Grafvision
  • Man Scything Wheat
    A 1,000-square-foot planting of wheat can yield 30 to 100 pounds of grain.
    Photo by Fotolia/Aotearoa
  • Water-Powered Grist Milll
    Whole-wheat flour retains most of the grain's nutrients.
    Photo by Fotolia/VMartina
  • Buffet of Sweets
    Many sweet treats are made from refined, soft-wheat flour.
    Photo by Fotolia/Thomas Glaubitz
  • Different Types of Flours
    The many types of flour can be confusing until you understand the terminology.
    Photo by Matthew Stallbaumer
  • Gluten-Free Products
    Gluten-free foods are often just as processed and sugary as other junk foods.
    Photo by Matthew Stallbaumer

  • Wheat Breads
  • Man Scything Wheat
  • Water-Powered Grist Milll
  • Buffet of Sweets
  • Different Types of Flours
  • Gluten-Free Products

The great diversity we see today in wheat is the result of millions of years of evolution capped by 100 centuries of breeding by humans. Varieties originating throughout that history — modern types, heirloom varieties from past decades or centuries, and even wheat varieties we can date back to 9,000 B.C. — are still available today. Sorting through the types of wheat and flour to find the most nutritious or flavorful — or the best to use for a specific purpose — requires wading into a deep gene pool. Doing so, however, will give you better breads, more tender cakes and biscuits, and sturdier pastas.

There are no “standard” types of wheat. The term “wheat” encompasses a sprawling family tree of species, and myriad varieties within those species (see "Wheat’s Family Tree" later in this article), and no two varieties produce grain that’s exactly the same.

Which Wheat for Which Purpose?

Common wheat (Triticum aestivum), sometimes called “bread wheat,” is the most widely grown species, and yields the flour we buy by the bag. This wheat is the chief ingredient in commercial foods, such as loaf and raised breads, tortillas, doughnuts and cakes, and East Asian noodles.

Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum ssp. durum) is used in most dried pasta and couscous, for raised and flat breads in parts of Europe and the Middle East, and, less often, in the United States for raised breads. Although pasta can be made from common wheat as well, durum pasta predominates and is generally considered higher-quality.

Ancient wheat varieties are currently grown on smaller acreages in the United States than common and durum wheats. Whereas the kernels of the latter two are released from their hulls by threshing, those of ancient wheats remain enclosed in inedible hulls after threshing. Each ancient species occupies a different branch of wheat’s family tree: Spelt (Triticum. aestivum var. spelta) is an older form of common wheat, emmer (farro) (T. turgidum ssp. dicoccoides) is the direct ancestor of durum wheat, and einkorn (Triticum monococcum) is closely related to a wild grass species that played a part in the ancestry of all wheats (see Wheat's Family Tree). These early wheat varieties are now mechanically dehulled, and lend themselves to a variety of products. Some strains of einkorn can make raised bread or pasta. Spelt, too, can create good bread.

Which Wheat Is Most Nutritious?

­Whole-wheat products are richer in fiber, minerals, B vitamins and antioxidants than those made from white flour — which, stripped of its nutrient- and fiber-rich germ and bran, provides mostly empty calories (see Whole-Wheat Flour vs. Unenriched White Flour Chart). An extra-nutrient-rich wheat variety processed into white flour will be less nutritious than whole-wheat flour from any run-of-the-mill variety. The long-running Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts, begun in 1948 and still continuing, found that subjects who ate at least five servings of grains per day, with whole-wheat products prominent, lost more belly fat than those who ate less than five servings of grains.

Frederica Huxley
4/15/2014 11:18:17 AM

I live in the UK, where 99% of supermarket breads are made by the Chorleywood Method. Thanks to accelerated yeasts, additives and mold inhibitors, these bread products are mixed, baked and packaged within one hour. Since the uptake of this method in the '70s it is noticeable that there has been a similar uptake in people complaining of gluten intolerance and IBS. Perhaps the reason is the way the bread is made, not the wheat!

3/29/2014 3:33:52 PM

Robert Graybosch, a wheat geneticist with the U.S Department of Agriculture Think he may have a financial incentive to discredit Davis and Perlmutter??

2/12/2014 12:42:53 PM

Thanks for the mention in your article! For more spelt information check out my website GoshenValleyGrains.com!

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