All About Wheat
Some fast facts about Washington’s wheat
…One bushel of wheat contains approximately one million individual kernels (berries).
…The kernel is the seed from which the plant grows.
…A modern combine can harvest 1,000 bushels (60 pounds = one bushel of wheat) per hour.
…More foods are made with wheat the world over than with any other cereal grain.
…A family of four could live 10 years off the bread produced by one acre of wheat.
…One 60-pound bushel of wheat provides about 42 pounds of white flour, 60 to 73 loaves of bread (depending on the size of the loaf and whether the bread is whole wheat), or 42 pounds of pasta.
…Assuming a sandwich was eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it would take 168 days to eat the amount of bread produced from one bushel of wheat.
...Crackers main ingredient is unbleached flour from soft red or soft white wheat.
Wheat isn’t just...well, wheat
Wheat is the principal human food grain produced in the United States. Washington is the 4th largest wheat producing state in the nation with more than 2.2 million acres in production. What sets Washington farmer is their ability to raise, or yield, more wheat on those acres than other states. On average, dryland, or non-irrigated, farmers can raise about 65 bushels per acre. Also, Washington wheat is some of the highest in quality throughout the nation.
There are six different wheat classes grown in the U.S.: Hard Red Winter (HRW), Hard Red Spring (HRS), Hard White (HW), Durum, Soft White (SW), and Soft Red Winter (SRW). In the U.S., wheat varieties are classified either as “winter” or “spring” depending on the season each is planted. Winter varieties are sown in the fall and are usually established before the cold weather arrives and then goes dormant over the winter. Approximately 80% of Washington’s total production in 2010 wheat was winter and 20% was spring.
It is critical to know that wheat is not wheat – in other words, each class has different end-use functions.
The major class of wheat grown in Washington is soft white. Soft white wheat is used mainly for bakery products other than bread. Examples include pastries, cakes, and cookies. It is also used for cereals, flat breads and crackers. It has a lower protein content and weak gluten.
An important bread wheat, HRS, is used in mass-produced pan breads, and hearth or artisan breads or rolls. It generally has high protein and strong gluten. (Gluten is what interacts with yeast and allows bread to rise -- certainly a necessary factor in bread baking.) Washington farmers are growing more and more of this type of wheat each year.
HRW is a good wheat for Asian noodles, flat bread, and general purpose flour. It has medium protein and gluten content. Many Washington farmers also grow this class of wheat.
Durum is the hardest of all wheats and is used for pasta, couscous and some Mediterranean breads. This wheat is mostly grown in North Dakota and Montana.
HWW is the newest class and it generally serves a dual purpose for Asian noodles or breads. This class of wheat is popular among central states such as Nebraska.
SRW is a high yielding class used for a wide range of products including pastries, crackers, pancakes, etc. SRW is grown mostly in states east of the Mississippi like Ohio.
Once the wheat berries are milled, wheat milling by-products such as bran, shorts, and middlings are used in animal feeds.
Wheat provides natural health benefits. Complex carbohydrates provide endurance and energy. Amino acids, essential to nutrition, are contained in wheat protein. Fiber aids in digestion and is being studied as a way to prevent type 2-diabetes. Furthermore, wheat’s folic acid prevents certain birth defects and may lower the risk of heart disease, strokes, and some cancers. Phytonutrients contain an assortment of antioxidants and phytoestrogens. In addition, 100 grams of whole wheat flour (baked value) provides: Folate – 22 mcg Iron – 3.88 mg Magnesium – 138 mg Manganese – 3.80 mg Phosphorus – 346 mg Potassium – 405 mg Selenium – 70.70 mcg Zinc – 2.93 mg.
So, who buys Washington wheat?
The bulk, approximately 80-90% of the state’s grain is exported. It is shipped out of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) ports along the Columbia River. This grain goes to eastern nations such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. There is also a demand for Washington wheat throughout the rest of the world.
Our biggest competitors in the world marketplace are Canada and Australia.
Despite the fact the first evidence of wheat has been found in the pyramids, the production of wheat has changed considerably. In the U.S., scythes and threshing machines have given way to combines. Even more recently, farming by global positioning systems – signals bouncing off a satellite – helps direct a farmer on where to apply fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. These newer technologies are key tools that help to increase a farmers overall stewardship of the land.
Some good information on GMO...
An even bigger change in the wings is the controversial advent of genetically-modified wheat. Keep in mind that according to food manufacturers (as quoted by Katie Couric on the Today Show – October 28, 2003) 70% of all processed foods in our supermarkets now are made from genetically-modified ingredients. (In the most basic terms, genetic engineering involves inserting a desirable gene into a plant or animal.) I’ve eaten GMO and so have you. Much of anything made with corn sweeteners has been genetically-modified. You’ve heard of tomatoes which have been bred to contain more cancer fighting elements. You’ve perhaps heard of Golden Rice which has been modified to contain more Vitamin A to fight blindness in under-developed countries. People speak of Frankenfoods and the horror associated with them, and the truth is, we’ve been modifying our foods for over 20 years. Technology has spawned new terminology, as well. Now we have functional foods that provide something unique other than fuel for our bodies in that they prevent disease or enhance health. We are into a world of “nutraceuticals” whereby regular foods have been “beefed up” with vitamins or minerals through genetic design.
There is no genetically-modified wheat in commercial production in the U.S. but researchers are looking at ways to breed wheats better able to withstand pests and drought and produce more with less pesticides on smaller parcels of land to feed ever-increasing populations.
The U.S. wheat industry is committed to the adoption of a nationally and internationally accepted definition of biotechnologically-derived traits and urges the harmonization of scientific standards and trade rules. The national wheat industry recognizes the great promise it believes the technology will deliver to benefit both the consumer and the producer.
For more information about wheat and all it's wonder, visit The Wheat Foods Council.