Monday, October 3, 2011

Wheat is wheat is wheat?

Mom bought me a wheat grinder for my birthday. It was a long time coming, as I’ve been stricken by refined grains and reliance on the power company for way too long. Nevertheless, the lady and I played with it last night and eventually came to appreciate the modern efficiency that gains that electricity provides. 1 cup of flour every 2 minutes, my ass. Anyway, we eventually made enough for our loafing needs and were able to move on to other matters. I’m kind of fascinated with wheat, however, and thought I’d organize some thoughts on the famous grain.

First, what we were grinding was hard red winter wheat (a lot of adjectives, I know). This variety is the plain vanilla, standard issue grain in terms of American farm production. It’s also known as Kansas City wheat, cause that’s where its futures are traded. Compared to the varieties of soft wheat, it has a relatively high amount of protein which makes it good for working with yeast. The harder the wheat, the more gluten it has; gluten (composing ~80% of the protein in bread) is the sticky result of kneading and traps the CO2 produced by the yeast. The soft kinds of wheat are consequently used to make things such as pastries, cakes, and other delicate baked goods. Another source explains that the content of the soft wheats result in baked goods that “crumble more and crisp greater than wheat flours of a higher protein content.”

In terms of color, the two primary wheat varieties are red and white (and it describes the kernel and not the flour that results). While red is the standard, white wheat has arisen in the last two decades in the US (it had been popular in Australia for many decades and is used to make noodles in Asia). The hard white wheat resembles the hard red wheat exactly except for the fact that missing genes in the bran (specifically, it has less phenolic acid) produce a lighter color. Because of this hard white wheat is both “sweeter and more mild than the red wheat flour, which some find to be slightly bitter.” The natural sweeter flavor of white wheat results in one not having to add as much honey or sugar to bread products, which is a boon for the health-conscious. Some sources also say that the white wheat has a lower protein content which results in a softer product, which is good for pan loaves and dinner rolls.

Any way you slice it, whole grain products provide a lot more nutrients than the refined flours and don’t cause the elevated blood sugar levels which appear to lead to many of the diseases of western civilization.

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