Learning about carbohydrates has turned into a way more diverse trek than I ever thought it would be.
The series on fats ended up with thirteen do somethings, and carbohydrates (with still a few weeks to go) is already up to ten. TEN!! I have so many ideas jotted down in my calendar, I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up with twenty by the time we wrapped the series up!
Man, I sure do hope ya’ll like talking about bread! 😉
Onward forward. One of the most common questions I get is this:
What’s the difference between 100% whole wheat and 100% whole WHITE wheat?
The question is usually asked in the realm of flour, since that’s when we most often see the terminology. We know all about how manufactures mill flour, about enriched flour and even bleached flour, but we haven’t talked about the grains themselves yet. Odd, since that’s where the answer to our question really lies.
Different Types of Wheat
First, wheat is primarily classified according to its growing season.
- Winter Wheat – planted in the fall, harvested in the spring, comprises approximately 75% of wheat grown in the U.S.
- Spring Wheat – planted in the spring, harvested in late summer or early fall.
Beyond the growing season, wheat is further categorized according to its hardness (hard/soft), color (red/white) and shape of its kernel. In the end, we’re left with the following six types of wheat:
- Hard Red Winter
- Hard Red Spring
- Soft Red Winter
- Hard White Wheat
- Soft White Wheat
The Different Purposes of Different Types of Wheat
The protein content of the wheat is what primarily determines what the wheat will be used for and the greater the protein, the greater the elasticity of the dough will be.
- Hard red winter and hard red spring contain the highest percentages of protein are most often used in goods requiring size, like breads and rolls.
- Hard white and soft white contain the lowest percentages of protein and best suited for baked goods like cakes, cookies, crackers, pastries and muffins.
The color of the wheat plays a part too and as you may have already guessed, red wheat is darker than white wheat. Red wheat also has a stronger, more bitter flavor than white. This isn’t a big deal for many of us home bakers, but it is a big deal when you’re a big manufacturer trying to create a product that’s visually appealing to your consumer.
- Soft red winter is often used in blatantly obvious brown crackers and flat breads. These are often marketed as “whole grain” crackers and such.
- Soft white is used in goods when manufactures want the item to look and taste “white,” but be able to claim as healthy with wheat. One example of this are muffins “made with white wheat.”
Blending Different Types of Wheat for Different Flours
Generally speaking, the nutritional profiles of the grains do not differ much beyond the protein. Essentially, you could swap one wheat for another and the nutrition (except the protein) would remain fairly consistent. That’s why you’ll find many people using white wheat for bread at home when they’re trying to wean their families away from processed white flour.
But the only time you’re getting 100% whole wheat is when the label literally says “100% whole wheat” or “100% white whole wheat,” in which case the only difference is the color, harvesting season and protein content. 😉
Did you know that 100% whole wheat can only be claimed if the resulting flour contains all three portions of the grain (bran, germ, endosperm) in same proportion as they are found in the original grain?
There are many other flours that aren’t 100% whole wheat though. So then, what are they made of?
- All-Purpose Flour. 80% hard red wheat, 20% soft red wheat. Remember that this is made only from the endosperm, which has very little (if any) nutrients and very little color, since the germ and bran are naturally darker. Remember that all-purpose flour tends to be bleached and enriched.
- Bread Flour. Most varieties are made from hard red spring wheat, since it contains the highest level of protein and bread flour is ideal for bread. This is also milled only from the endosperm, so there is little, if any, nutrition. Bread flour also tends to be bleached and enriched.
- Cake Flour. Usually derived from soft white wheat, but again only from the endosperm.
- Pastry Flour. With a slightly higher percentage of protein than cake flour, this is likely derived from the endosperm of hard white wheat.
- Self-Rising Flour. A combination of all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Not recommended, since the all-purpose flour is likely bleached and there’s no control over the quantity of baking powder and salt in the mixture (which makes using it in a recipe that calls for both ingredients nearly impossible). Plus the baking powder can become ineffective in humid climates.
- Stone-Ground Whole Wheat Flour. Made the old fashioned way with stones grinding the wheat berries instead of steel mills. Bread connoisseurs claim stone-ground flour retains more nutrients than steel milled because the heat generated from the steel mills can harm some of the nutrients.
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Does that seem like overkill for such a simple little question? Maybe, but I’ve got a fun experiment and giveaway lined up for the next coming days and it’s important that you know your grains. Because you just might win some and have to decide which one you want!
I very much appreciate that you provided this information. I finally feel I have an understanding of the wheat berries that I have been looking for. Thank you!
Can you please tell me about graham flour? I’m trying to find for a recipe but very challenging! what should I substitute? Thank you~
Informative – thank you! Can you tell me a bit about ‘graham flour’? I think it’s a coarser grind of whole wheat flour, but since the term isn’t really used beyond graham crackers, I’m having a hard time finding trustworthy information – not to mention something to use when graham flour is called for.
There’s more than 6 types of wheat. You list Hard White Wheat, but just like Hard Red Wheat, it’s comprised of both Winter & Spring varieties.
Other than that, good article. Thanks!
My great grandfather owned a cannery and was asked by the community to reasearch, test, and basically pioneer foodstorage after the depression. Several years ago my grandma, knowing I have a wheat grinder, gave me probably about 40 lbs of hard red wheat he had stored. It makes great tasting bread, though does of course need a gluten boost. I’ve been wanting to try to see how viable the seeds are and have been reasearching germinating old seeds, but I don’t know what time of year would even be best to start. My question is how do I determine if my hard red wheat is a winter or spring variety?
Thanks very much, informative and succinct!
Hae Tiffany? I have home baking flour(blend) with a gluten 29.09 but I can not make biscuits using it. Why?
I have just found out that I have an intolerance to wheat flour. Does this mean all wheat based products I have to cut out? Im a little confused at the “flour” part as the test didn’t explain any further details. Is this meaning gluten? Im so confused!!!
Hey Liz! Odds are you have an intolerance to wheat, which would mean all wheat products. This *might* mean gluten, but not necessarily. I’d go back and get more info on the results.
I have read & have one friend that found using Einkorn wheat and/or making bread using fermentation (sourdough) leveling resulted in being able to eat wheat without upset.
Thank you so much for this post. It was really informative. Most cooking sites mention the difference between say AP flour vs. cake flour vs. bread flour in terms of protein content, but not in terms of the wheat that results in the protein difference.
I recently purchased a Bread flour from my local Farmer’s Market that claimed to be made from 100% of the wheat. I didn’t quite understand how this would impact my results as I swapped it out for the AP flour in my recipe. I think I know what went wrong now…
Hi, Someone please help me out,
Do we have the expression “consumer barley” as opposed to “feed barley”?
or “consumer wheat” for example?
if not, how can we differentiate between ordinary wheat which is produced for humans to eat and for animals?
You might be confused by the grading terms for grain quality. Here in Ontario our corn and wheat prices are quoted as Grade 2 quality with discounts for Grade 3, 4, 5, Feed Grade and Sample Grade. Foreign matter, kernel damage and presence of molds may lower the grade and increase the discount. The name of the grade really has no bearing on the final destination of the grain, however; pigs are highly sensitive to certain molds so a mill making hog rations would only buy Grade 2 grain. Elevators and other downstream users can even blend low quality grain with high quality grain to bring the overall grade up so long as it’s good enough for their purposes. And most important is the grain price, or at least it’s price relative to a substitute ingredient. We could have an excellent wheat crop, high yields and top quality, and most of it ends up in the feed trade because higher supplies means lower prices so feed mills use less corn and more wheat. So to answer your question I’ve never heard of “consumer barley” or “consumer wheat.” Feed is a grade and if the grain ultimately ends up being fed then that’s what makes it feed.
This post is wonderful. Absolutely the explanation I needed.
I’ve made bread since I was a young teen (my mother makes her own), and we always added gluten to soft white wheat. Then not too long ago, we [apparently] mistakenly read that soft white wheat doesn’t require any additional gluten. So over the last year my bread has been a disaster. Not even one good loaf. I attributed it to something else I was doing differently, or perhaps that fact that I have little ones “helping” me in the kitchen these days. 😉 I see now my mistake and am pleased to understand at last.
I do wonder, of hard red winter and hard red spring, which you prefer in making bread?
Thank you again for your post: it is most thorough and well explained.
Thanks for the compliment Carissa! I don’t think I have a preference between hard winter and hard spring, but winter seems to be easier to find and a bit cheaper!
Bread flour is bleached? I dont agree on that , could you quote some examples please, did you mean chlorinated? Or bleaching using what agent? When you say soft wheat is used in brown crackers n flat bread , do u mean it is straight run milled? Since it is difficult to mill srw and claim whole wheat cracker. Would be great if u could address this please
Hi Shwetha – yes, most bread flour is bleached. You can read the label of any bag of bread flour to determine whether or not it’s bleached. As for soft wheat, there are different types of wheat – hard red, hard white, soft red. Soft red wheat is most often used in items like crackers and flat bread because the gluten in soft red wheat isn’t very strong (meaning it has a harder time going “up”). You can definitely mill all types of wheat, and use them as you wish. I hope that helps clarify!
I had a question about the soft red wheat. I want to make my own Four-Cheese, Cheez-It crackers, and I know that growing wheat will be the best place to start. I was wondering, which wheat, if not soft red wheat I can grow in the fall, winter, spring, and/or summer?
Hi Jazmin! I’m not sure what wheat is best for you to grow because it all depends on where you live. To be honest, making your own crackers is really easy. If you’re looking to make the switch from processed food to real food, growing your own wheat is a very big first step… almost too big in my opinion. I’d purchase whole grains, mill them, and then make crackers: https://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2018/08/homemade-cheez-its/