Previously I covered the many types of wheat flour, including: all-purpose, self-rising, bread flour, cake flour, pastry flour; as well as the less common ones: gluten flour, semolina flour, spelt flour, bulgur flour, etc. (See the blog post -or- visit the ‘Ingredients’ page.) However, the other day I got an off-the-wall question about the types of wheat. I had no idea of the answer…but as always, I’m willing to research it to get the answers.
Firstly, there are over 30,000 varieties of wheat today. In fact, wheat is actually a sprawling group of species, with varieties within each species. They are classified differently by different countries, groups of people (aka- botanists versus farmers), etc. Let’s break down some of the most common classifications you’ll see: winter/spring, red/white, and hard/soft. Most wheats you see in stores for purchase will be labeled with a combination of those labels.
Winter or spring wheat? This refers simply to the plant’s response to cold weather, and is based on the season in which the crop is grown in the Northern Hemisphere (so winter wheat is winter wheat even when grown in March in Chile, South America).
• Winter wheats– winter wheats require a period of cold weather- several weeks- called vernalization before they can fully flower. They are planted in the autumn, germinate and develop into small plants that go into a vegetative state over the cold period, and then resume growth in the spring.
• Spring wheat- spring wheats are wheats that do not require the period of cold (vernalization) required by winter wheats. They can actually be planted year-round depending upon climate. (So they can be grown in the fall in warm-termperature climates, but are still called spring wheats).
Red or white? This is a division based on kernel characteristic; color determined by pigment found primarily in the bran.
• Red wheats– red pigmentation in the bran layer carries an astringent flavor, thus darker in color and flavor.
• White wheats– lacks the red pigmentation in the bran layer, thus lighter in color and flavor.
Hard or soft? This is a division based on kernel characteristic. Both hard and soft can be red or white.
• Hard wheats– hard wheats have more gluten and more protein (thus critical for yeast-leavened baked goods); and are used to make breads, rolls, and all-purpose flour.
• Soft wheats– soft wheats have less gluten (and higher percentage carbohydrates) and are often used for cakes, pastries, muffins, cake flour, and pastry flour. Can be red or white, and is almost always winter wheat.
• Hard red spring– one of hardest kinds of wheat grown, highest protein (13.5%), brownish in color; used for: bread, hard baked goods, pizza dough, bread flour, other high-fluten flours. Grown primarily in Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana, and Canada.
• Hard red winter– hard, protein roughly 10.5%, brownish in color; used for bread, hard baked goods, and unbleached all-purpose flour. Often used with other flours to increase protein in pastry flour. Taste is also mellow enough to be used in other baked goods, such as muffins and scones, if needed. Grown primarily in Plains. Good choice for home grain mills.
• Soft red winter– lower in protein; used in making pastries, cakes, pie crusts, pan bread, pastas, cake flour, and pastry flour. Being soft, easier for most grain mills to grind than the hard varieties.
• Hard white spring- high protein content (thus gluten), good for yeast-leavened baked goods. Light color and flavor.
• Hard white winter– similar protein to hard red; but sweeter, neutral flavor. Used in pan breads and Asian noodles; good choice for home grinding.
• Soft white spring- grown primarily in the East and Canada. Used in pastries and cakes needing softer flavor and coloring.
• Soft white winter- growing in popularity. Usually must special-order or online-order, but as popularity grows, availability also should.
• Hard white- grown primarily in dry, temperate climates. Hard, light-colored, opaque, medium-protein wheat; used for bread and brewing.
• Soft white– grown in Pacific Northwest as well as other temperate, moist areas. Soft, light-colored, very low protein wheat; used for pie crusts, pastry, and pastry flour.
• Hard winter- grown primarily in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and other prairie states. Protein content ranges between 10–12%.
• Hard spring- grown primarily in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana, & Canada. Generally, the farther north you go, the more spring wheat you’ll find and the greater the levels of protein—generally 12–14%.
• Soft winter- grown primarily east of the Mississippi: Missouri, Illinois, east to Virginia, the Carolinas, and New York.
• White spring- grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Preferred by millers due to more flour per ton of wheat. Most wheat exported from the West Coast to East Asia is white, because noodles made from red wheat tend to be gray.
• Durum– actually a different species (triticum turgidum) than common wheat (triticum aestivum). Used in most dried pasta, many flatbreads, and semolina flour. Hardest wheat, highest in protein (though low in gluten), translucent. Grown primarily in North Dakota.
Whew! Did that all make sense?
Now, a question for you, my dear readers: do you buy whole wheat and grind it (or have it ground directly at store)? If so, what is your favorite variety?
A list of posts related to this topic:
• The non-wheat flours post covered the description, uses, and substitutes for numerous non-wheat flours, including corn flour & meal, barley flour, buckwheat flour, oat flour, rye, rice flour, and more.
• Wheat Flours: Ingredients. Description of various types of wheat flour including: all-purpose, self-rising, bread flour, cake flour, pastry flour; as well as the less common ones: gluten flour, semolina flour, spelt flour, bulgur flour, etc.
• Wheat Flours: Substitutes. Various substitutes for commonly used wheat flours, including all-purpose, self-rising, bread flour, cake flour, and pastry flour.