- Wheat is a member of the grass family that produces a dry, one-seeded fruit commonly called a kernel.
- More than 17,000 years ago, humans gathered the seeds of plants and ate them. After rubbing off the husks, early people simply chewed the kernels raw, parched or simmered.
- Wheat originated in the “cradle of civilization” in the Tigris and Euphrates river valley, near what is now Iraq.
- The Roman goddess, Ceres, who was deemed protector of the grain, gave grains their common name today – “cereal.”
- Wheat was first planted in the United States in 1777 as a hobby crop.
- Wheat is the primary grain used in U.S. grain products — approximately three-quarters of all U.S. grain products are made from wheat flour.
- Wheat is grown in 42 states in the United States.
- Six classes bring order to the thousands of varieties of wheat. They are: hard red winter (HRW), hard red spring (HRS), soft red winter (SRW), hard white (HW), soft white (SW) and durum.
- In 2008/2009, U.S. farmers grew nearly 2.4 billion bushels of wheat on 63 million acres of land.
- In the United States, one acre of wheat yields an average of around 40 bushels of wheat.
- About half of the wheat grown in the United States is used domestically.
- One bushel of wheat contains approximately one million individual kernels.
- One bushel of wheat weighs approximately 60 pounds.
- One bushel of wheat yields approximately 42 pounds of white flour OR 60 pounds of whole-wheat flour.
- A bushel of wheat yields 42 one-and-a-half pound commercial loaves of white bread OR about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread.
- There is approximately 16 ounces of flour in a one-and-a-half pound loaf of bread.
- The first bagel rolled into the world in 1683 when a baker from Vienna Austria was thankful to the King of Poland for saving Austria from Turkish invaders. The baker reshaped the local bread so that it resembled the King’s stirrup. The new bread was called “beugel,” derived from the German word stirrup, “bugel.”
- The traditional bagel is the only bread product that is boiled before it is baked.
- Never refrigerate bagels or any bread product. Bread products go stale up to 6 times faster in the refrigerator. Leave these products at room temperature or freeze them.
- A bushel of wheat makes about forty-five 24-ounce boxes of wheat flake cereal.
- Per capita consumption of pasta in the United States was 22 pounds in 1996 and in 2005 was at 19.52 pounds.
- A bushel of wheat makes about 42 pounds of pasta or 210 servings of spaghetti.
- If you eat pasta three times a week, it would take 70 weeks to eat all the pasta made from one bushel of durum.
- Semolina is coarsely ground durum with a texture somewhat like sugar. It is the best product for pasta.
- There are more than 600 pasta shapes produced worldwide.
- Approximately 3 billion pizzas are sold in the United States each year.
- The early crackers, or “biscuits” as the English called them, were handmade, hard-baked products made from flour and a little moisture.
- Crackers main ingredient is unbleached flour from soft red or soft white wheat.
- Ancient traditional tortillas were made from ground corn by Mexican natives as long as 2000 years ago. Flour tortillas only started to become popular in the 19th century.
- In the U.S. in 2000, there were 85 billion tortillas consumed, not including tortilla chips.
What about Montana?
Wheat is the principal human food grain produced in the United States. Montana, in the past ten years, has produced an average of 150 million bushels of wheat each year. In 2009, Montana ranked 3rd in the nation for All Wheat production. Traditional top wheat-producing counties in Montana are Chouteau and Hill, located in the heart of the “Golden Triangle”, an imaginary area encompassing Shelby, Havre and Great Falls. This 7 county area produces about 45% of Montana's wheat crop each year.
Montana producers do indeed help to feed a hungry world, and most uniquely, Montana is a one-stop shopping center for foreign buyers. Montana is the only place that has commercial production of five of the six major classes of wheat grown in the U.S. – Hard Red Winter (HRW), Hard Red Spring (HRS), Hard White (HW), Durum, Soft White (SW), and the one we do not grow – Soft Red Winter (SRW). (In the U.S., 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. Approximately 60% of Montana’s total production in 2008 wheat was winter and 40% was spring.
Each class of wheat has different end-use functions.
An important bread wheat, HRS, is used in mass-produced pan breads, and hearth or artisan breads or rolls. It generally has high protein and strong gluten. (Gluten is what interacts with yeast and allows bread to rise -- certainly a necessary factor in bread baking.)
HRW is a good wheat for Asian noodles, flat bread, and general purpose flour. It has medium protein and gluten content.
SW provides a white brighter product for biscuits, cakes, and flat bread. It has a lower protein content and weak gluten. (After all, one doesn’t need a three-inch tall cookie!)
Durum is the hardest of all wheats and is used for pasta, couscous and some Mediterranean breads.
HWW is the newest class and while production in Montana is, at present, very limited, it generally serves a dual purpose for Asian noodles or breads.
(SRW is a high yielding class used for a wide range of products including pastries, crackers, pancakes, etc.)
Wheat milling by-products such as bran, shorts, and middlings are used in animal feeds.
Wheat provides natural health benefits. Complex carbohydrates provide endurance and energy. Amino acids, essential to nutrition, are contained in wheat protein. Fiber aids in digestion and is being studied as a way to prevent type 2-diabetes. Furthermore, wheat’s folic acid prevents certain birth defects and may lower the risk of heart disease, strokes, and some cancers. Phytonutrients contain an assortment of antioxidants and phytoestrogens. In addition, 100 grams of whole wheat flour (baked value) provides: Folate – 22 mcg Iron – 3.88 mg Magnesium – 138 mg Manganese – 3.80 mg Phosphorus – 346 mg Potassium – 405 mg Selenium – 70.70 mcg Zinc – 2.93 mg
It’s little wonder then, that wheat has long been considered the staff of life.
So, who buys Montana wheat?
Approximately 80% of the State’s grain that is exported, is shipped out of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) ports. This grain goes to Japan, Taiwan, The Philippines, and South Korea.
Our biggest competitors in the world marketplace are Canada and Australia.
Despite the fact the first evidence of wheat has been found in the pyramids, the production of wheat has changed considerably. In the U.S., scythes and threshing machines have given way to combines.
Even more recently, farming by global positioning systems – signals bouncing off a satellite, which directs a farmer where to apply more nitrogen, etc.
Certainly trends have also changed. Thirty years ago foccacia, croissants, wraps, bulgur and couscous, all wheat products, were not part of the mainstream. There weren’t McDonald’s outlets in hospitals or WalMarts. Boutique breads hadn’t yet taken their place next to mass-produced pan breads. For that matter, bread machines for the home were just coming off of the drawing boards. And, – can you believe it -- there were no Krispy Kreme donuts!
The USDA Food Guide Pyramid, touting adults eat 6 to 11 servings of grain-based foods a day, help to increase per capita consumption of flour in the U.S.
Now, however, carbohydrates (an integral part of grain-based foods) have come under fire and the Food Guide Pyramid itself is being questioned. Consumers are bombarded with all sorts of confusing nutrition messages and, consequently, we are seeing significant reductions in domestic utilization numbers for wheat. (Domestic utilization is how we use wheat here in the states.) Proponents and opponents to the high protein/low-carb diets line up and fire salvos at each other. I will leave nutrition discussion to experts but, basically, wheat and grain-based foods do have a place in a healthy diet, as do all foods. Perhaps over simplistic but true – moderation is the key to all eating choices and routine exercise is, of course, necessary.
Speaking of trends and changes in the grain industry, one must consider the consolidation and, in some cases, elimination of country elevators and the establishment of super facilities that can put through 110-car train units where 26-car units were the norm years earlier.
Some good information on GMO
An even bigger change in the wings is the controversial advent of genetically-modified wheat. Keep in mind that according to food manufacturers (as quoted by Katie Couric on the Today Show – October 28, 2003) 70% of all processed foods in our supermarkets now are made from genetically-modified ingredients. (In the most basic terms, genetic engineering involves inserting a desirable gene into a plant or animal.) I’ve eaten DNA and so have you. Much of anything made with corn sweeteners has been genetically-modified. You’ve heard of tomatoes which have been bred to contain more cancer fighting elements. You’ve perhaps heard of Golden Rice which has been modified to contain more Vitamin A to fight blindness in under-developed countries. People speak of Frankenfoods and the horror associated with them, and the truth is, we’ve been modifying our foods for over 20 years. Technology has spawned new terminology, as well. Now we have functional foods that provide something unique other than fuel for our bodies in that they prevent disease or enhance health. We are into a world of “nutraceuticals” whereby regular foods have been “beefed up” with vitamins or minerals through genetic design.
There is no genetically-modified wheat in commercial production in the U.S. but researchers are looking at ways to breed wheats better able to withstand pests and drought and produce more with less pesticides on smaller parcels of land to feed ever-increasing populations.
The U.S. wheat industry is committed to the adoption of a nationally and internationally accepted definition of biotechnologically-derived traits and urges the harmonization of scientific standards and trade rules. The national wheat industry recognizes the great promise it believes the technology will deliver to benefit both the consumer and the producer.
Here is one final thought
This time about non-food uses for wheat. Technology has made it possible to utilize various components from wheat to make, for example, strawboard, polyfilms, cosmetics, and coatings or binders for pharmaceutical tablets. One firm is even experimenting with edible, biodegradable “dishes” that could be used on board aircraft carriers, for example, where garbage storage and disposal is a problem. The day may come when you could have a bowl made from wheat, to hold your cereal, and eat them both!
Taken as a whole, the wheat and barley industry in Montana is second only to cattle as the top agricultural revenue source for Montana. Wheat alone is responsible for $525.5 million dollars in export value in 2007 (taken from Montana Agricultural Statistics Bulletin, 2008).
Any way you slice it, we in Montana shouldn’t take our waving fields of grain or our stubble fields for granted. They could, indeed, be considered our “bread and butter.”