Kansas Wheat Field, 1974.
U.S. National Archives 412-DA-13551. O'Rear, Charles, 1941-
Wheat is a grass that produces an edible seed, the wheat grain. It is the only grain that can make a gluten strong enough to make decent raised breads.
It has become fashionable to deprecate wheat as lacking in nutrition compared to other grains, or to attach to it some kind of inchoate sense of representing all that is wrong with agriculture and food. Yet, for close to 5,000 years now, humanity has prized it.
Around the kernel is the bran layer; inside the kernel is the wheat germ and the endosperm. The bran layer is used in whole wheat flour, in breakfast cereals, and in muffins. The endosperm, the starchy part, constitutes about 85% of the entire kernel. It is used in flour. The germ, only about 2% of the kernel, is sold in health food stores. For white flour, only the endosperm is used. For whole wheat flour, the entire grain is used.
There are three types of wheat: hard, which has good gluten for bread; soft, which is for pastry and cakes; and durum, which is good for pasta and noodles.
One 60 pound (27 kg) bushel of wheat provides about 42 pounds (19 kg) of flour,:enough flour for 73 one-pound (450g) loaves of bread.
The Egyptians were the first to discover that wheat had enough gluten to make good raised breads, around 2,500 BC. This was enough to make wheat more desirable than the other grains they had: barley, millet, rice and oats. Egypt became a massive producer of wheat , exporting it in huge ships, and after the Roman conquest, Egypt became the bread-basket of the Roman Empire.
The Romans called wheat "frumentum." Most people ate it as a boiled dish, sort of like polenta, with flavourings added to it. Soldiers, though, insisted on their wheat being made into bread.
The first windmill in the UK for grinding wheat was built in 1191 AD, in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
Sieves made of hair were invented around 1050 AD, which meant that more bran could be sifted out, making white flour more refined. Sometime after 1700, sieves made of silk produced even whiter white flour.
In France, ever the hotbed of free commerce, wheat production was severely controlled in 1664 by Colbert, Louis XIV's Minister of Finance, in order to encourage and protect regional producers of chestnuts. The regulations lasted for about 100 years, pushing the price of wheat and bread even further out of range for French peasants.
Wheat was brought to the Americas by the Spaniards and the English. Threshing machines were invented in 1831. A modern combine can do the wheat-harvesting work that it would have taken hundreds of people to do using prior methods.
The British Corn Laws (corn meaning grain in general), in effect from 1815 - 1846, were a protectionist measure slapping big import duties on wheat to protect British growers, even though it hurt the British population and hurt farmers in Canada, which was also British at the time.
The Swiss invented the steam roller mill in the 1800's.
Literature & Lore
"He that will have a cake out of the wheat must needs tarry the grinding." -- Pandarus. Troilus and Cressida. Act I, Scene I. Shakespeare.
Cleaning wheat, preparation for grinding and baking. Lane County, Oregon. 1932
Oregon State University Special Collections P020:1152
WheatAlpha Amylase; Bulgur Wheat; Cracked Wheat; Durum Wheat; Emmer; Hard Wheat; Maslin; Plain Flour; Seitan; Soft Wheat; Spring Wheat; Wheat Berries; Wheat Bran; Wheat Flakes; Wheat Germ; Wheatena; Wheat; Winter Wheat
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