What Wheat Where?
July 25, 2019
Grains were among the first foods that humankind learned to preserve by drying.
Flour, made from wheat, comes in many forms and plays an integral role in baked goods, as a thickener in stews and sauces, and as a base for breaded coatings on meat or vegetables, or in noodles. Washington is the third largest wheat producing state in the nation with more than 2.3 million acres in production.
The bulk of the state's grain, approximately 85-90%, is exported. Shipped out of the Pacific Northwest ports along the Columbia River, this grain goes to nations such as Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia and Yemen.
Wheat and barley being the primary grain crops grown locally, one might assume that anyone could pluck up and immediately identify the plant species at hand, however, the opposite is true. For decades, Washington farmers have worked the land and its soil to produce some of the highest quality varieties of grains in the world. To passersby, every field looks the same. Either its rolling fields of green, or at harvest time, it's rolling fields of yellow wheat swaying in the breeze. What passersby don't glean are the many varieties of wheat and pseudograins.
Seasoned agronomists John Burns, retired from WSU, and Scott Yates from the Washington Grain Commission helped to decipher samples Times field agent Teeny McMunn collected throughout the area, photographed on the opposite page. According to the experts, determining the plant is done by assessing both the individual sample and the field at large.
"It is difficult to tell which class of wheat is which," says Yates, "I don't think I can do it with much accuracy, although I believe that when you have side by side crops of white wheat and red wheat, there is a color differentiation with the latter having a slight reddish hue.
Winter wheat and spring wheat are easier to tell apart, but only by their growth stage. Winter wheat will have a head while spring wheat is still in its vegetative phase. It is, however, incredible how quickly spring wheat catches up."
Known throughout the globe as the home of soft white and club wheat production, Washington farmers also raise superb hard red winter and spring wheat. Barley is also a top choice among some farmers.
What sets Washington farmers apart is their ability to yield more wheat on those acres than other states. On average, dryland, or non-irrigated, farmers can raise about 65 bushels per acre. One bushel of wheat contains approximately one million individual kernels (berries). A modern combine can harvest 1,000 bushels (60 pounds = one bushel of wheat; 48 pounds = one bushel of barley) per hour.
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.
In the US, 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. About 80% of Washington's total production is winter and 20% is spring.
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).
Soft White: SWW is the major class of wheat grown in Washington, used mainly for bakery products other than bread. Examples include pastries, cakes, and cookies. It is also used for cereals, flatbreads and crackers. It has a lower protein content and weak gluten. A low moisture wheat with high extraction rates, providing a whiter product for exquisite cakes, pastries and Asian-style noodles, Soft White is also ideally suited to Middle Eastern flatbreads.
Hard Red Spring: An important bread wheat, HRS, is used in pan breads, and hearth or artisan breads or rolls. It generally has high protein and strong gluten. (Gluten is the result of mixing flour with water. It's interaction with yeast and allows bread to rise - certainly a necessary factor in bread baking.) Washington farmers are growing more of this type of wheat each year. hearth breads, rolls, croissants, bagels and pizza crust
Hard Red Winter: HRW is a good wheat for Asian noodles, pan bread, hard rolls, flat bread, and general purpose flour and cereal. It has medium protein and gluten content. Many Washington farmers also grow this class of wheat.
Hard White Winter: The newest class of US wheat, HWW generally serves a dual purpose for Asian noodles or bread and also domestic wholegrain products. This class of wheat is popular among central states such as Nebraska and Colorado.
Soft Red Winter: SRW is used for a wide range of products including pastries, cookies, pretzels, crackers, pancakes, and flatbread. SRW is grown mostly in states east of the Mississippi.
Durum is the hardest of all wheat and is used for pasta, couscous and some Mediterranean breads. This wheat has a rich amber color and high gluten content, and is mostly grown in North Dakota and Montana.
From those grains springs a garden of flours. Each class has different end-use functions. Then, wheat milling by-products such as bran, shorts, and middlings are used in animal feeds.
Whole wheat flour
This flour is milled from the entire kernel of hard red wheat either by grinding the whole-wheat kernel or recombining the white flour, germ and bran that have been separated during milling.
The presence of bran reduces gluten development, therefore, items baked with whole wheat flour tend to be heavier and more dense than those made from white flour. The insoluble fiber content is higher than in white flours.
White whole wheat flour
This flour is milled exactly like whole wheat flour and is nutritionally equivalent to whole wheat flour as well. The only difference is that whole white wheat flour is made with a white, not red wheat variety. The bran of white wheat is lighter in color and has a milder flavor than red wheat and therefore the flour has these properties as well.
Self-rising flour is a convenience product made by adding salt and leavening to all-purpose flour. It is commonly used in biscuits and quick breads, but is not recommended for yeast breads. One cup of self-rising flour contains 1½ teaspoons baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt. Self-rising can be substituted for all-purpose flour by reducing salt and baking powder according to these proportions.
Enriched white flour is the finely ground endosperm of the kernel. Some of the nutrients that are milled out are replaced through enrichment. Slice for slice, enriched white bread as well as other enriched grain products, are a good source of iron and or B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid) as well as complex carbohydrates. Enriched grain products have over twice the amount of folic acid as whole wheat. Compare a slice of enriched white bread with 37mcg to a slice of whole grain bread at 17.5mcg.
Besides wheat, peas and chickpeas are common local crops. Green Peas are a good source of protein and fiber. One cup of peas packs more than 30 percent of an adult's daily fiber requirements. That same cup of peas is also a surprisingly potent source of vitamin C, offering more than half a day's supply. As well as a good dose of vitamin K, folate and thiamine, too.
Fresh peas are best and luckily they're readily available in the Touchet Valley. They're in season in spring and again in late summer to early fall. A pea's composition begins to change quickly after it's picked. Look for plump, bright green pods.
If fresh peas aren't an option, choose frozen over canned. When peas are quickly frozen after harvest, they maintain a decent amount of nutrients, which they lose in the canning process.
Washington Grain Commission http://wagrains.org
Wheat Foods Council https://www.wheatfoods.org