Plant Common Name
Bread Wheat, Common Wheat
The world's "staff of life", common wheat provides the grain that's used whole or ground to produce most beer, pastries and breads. An annual grass, wheat's precise origin is uncertain; many believe it originated from western Asia, near the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, and was domesticated alongside another important grain, barley. As early as 6000 B.C. types of wheat were used by people and their grazing animals for sustenance. Over time man has repeatedly selected wheat for larger more abundant grain, which has significantly improved it genetically and led to many cultivated forms, around 20,000 by most counts. Though Triticum aestivum is the most refined and commonly grown of all wheat species, other important species exist; spelt (Triticum spelta), duram wheat ( Triticum durum) and poulard wheat (Triticum turgidum) are three of 16 different species and varieties valued worldwide.
Wheat is a tall, slender annual grass with long blades of light to medium green. In early summer, or several weeks after sowning, each plant sends up a tall flower stem topped with a cluster of yellow flowers that are wind-pollinated. Fertile flowers become light green fruits that ripen by late summer to autumn, drying to beige or tan. The decorative wheat heads may or may not have make threadlike awns. After the seed ripens, the annual plants die.
Originally, heat was applied to the seedhead to release the grain, but today free-threshing types allow the easier grain harvest. Triticum aestivum is a free-threshing, large-grained wheat that is hexaploid (having six pairs of chromosomes). The protein gluten is found in extra large quantities, which feeds yeast and allows for the creation of dough that is elastic, light and fluffy. Bread wheat is also fermented to create alcoholic beverages like beer. The roughage is used for silage.
Grow wheat in full sun and fertile, well-drained soil that is not highly alkaline. It requires adequate moisture through the growing season to thrive. Sow when soils are warm and where growing temperatures are warm and humidity low. High humidity causes fungal problems. Other threats are mosaic viruses, aphids and nematodes.
Flour from wheat is usually classified as white, brown (whole wheat), or graham. White flour is derived from grain endosperm, enriched with vitamins and has a long shelf-life. Brown flour is derived from the whole grain, endosperm, bran and germ, and because the natural oils remain it becomes rancid more quickly. Graham flour is also whole grain, but lacks the germ, and tends to become rancid quickly. The least nutritious flour is white. The bran and germ discarded from white flour is milled and usually sold as livestock fodder.