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!