The Triticum genus is genetically complex and include hybridization with genus Aegilops (goat grass). Much of this hybridization occurred naturally in pre-agricultural times, but the hybridization that produced today's common wheat happened naturally, but in farmer's fields.
This complexity helped early farmers select varieties suitable as domesticated crops. Wild grains tend to ripen unevenly and "shatter", meaning they drop seeds from the head as they ripen. Domesticated versions need to have larger seeds and the heads must hold together until all the seeds are ripe so they can be harvested efficiently. The modern Common Wheat and Durum Wheat are also "free threshing", meaning they come out of their husks with little effort.
Information on storage life and storage methods for all these grains in their various forms can be found on our page Grain, Seed & Flour Storage
Common Wheat: [Bread Wheat, Triticum aestivum]
This is the
wheat most grown today, a free threshing wheat with greater cold hardiness
than most wheats. It developed naturally in farmer's fields, was selected
out and is now cultivated in temperate regions worldwide. Like spelt, to
which it is closely related, it is hybridized with Goat Grass (Aegilops
cylindrica alt Aegilops tauschii). Several varieties have been
selected as major crops in North America.
Durum Wheat: [Pasta Wheat, Semolina, Triticum durum]
This is a very hard, high protein (high gluten) wheat particularly used for making pasta. This wheat was developed by artificial selection from domesticated Emmer Wheat. It's origin is thought to be Egypt or Ethiopia, and it spread through the Magreb and Middle East. It was brought to Europe by the Islamic invasions of Spain, Southeast Europe and Sicily.
This wheat is used for all high quality dried pasta, including the
couscous of North Africa and the Levant. It is also used in Italy to make
pizza bread and in North Africa to make flat breads, but the biggest use
is to make bulbur (parboiled wheat). The Middle East and North Africa
are the largest producers, followed by North America and Western Europe.
Spelt: [Triticum spelta]
This grain is a hybrid of a domesticated Emmer (Triticum dicoccum) and Goat Grass (Aegilops cylindrica alt Aegilops tauschii), a common weed in wheat fields. This probably happened in Anatolia and the Caucasus where goat grass is native and the earliest evidence is found (around 4000 BCE). It may have happened again in central Europe around 2000 BCE, but as a hybrid of emmer and common wheat.
Spelt is mentioned in translations of Jewish, Greek and Latin texts, but it did not grow in those regions and the translation should have been to Emmer.
Spelt was an important crop in Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval
times and was introduced into North America but has been almost totally
displaced by Common Wheat. It has recently found new markets. One is for
use by people with a wheat allergy (but it's not suitable for celiacs). It
has the most desirable qualities for the "health food" market, being exotic
and expensive. It has also been adopted by the organic farming movement
because it requires less fertilizers than regular wheat. It has hard husks
so it's much more difficult to thresh than common or durum wheats.
Adjar: [Adjar (Armenia); Zanduri (Georgia); Parinj (Persia);
Triticum timopheevii | wild Triticum araraticum]
The wild version of this grain grows all through the Southern Caucasus and from
southeastern Turkey through northern Iraq to northwest Iran. The domesticated
form is grown mostly in Georgia. It is used in Georgia, Armenia and
parts of Persia (Iran) to make pilafs which are highly regarded, and is also
ground into flour to make bread. Adjar is pretty easy to find in the ethnic
markets here in Los Angeles, particularly around Glendale (the Western
capital of Armenia), but may be hard to find in other regions.
Duckwizard, who identified for us
exactly what "Adjar" is, suggests Khorasan Wheat as a
decent but not exact substitute.
Emmer: [Farro (Italy); Triticum dicoccum]
This grain was first domesticated in the southeastern region of Anatolia about 9500 BCE. Wild emmer was presumed extinct, but a remanent population was found in Israel in 1906. Emmer was a widely grown crop throughout the Near East and North Africa. Emmer and Barley were the main ingredients in bread and beer in ancient Egypt. The photo specimens were "pearled" Farro from Italy. In other words, the fibrous outer layer has been milled off.
Today Emmer is grown mainly in mountainous areas of southern Europe and North Africa where it gives better yield in poor soil than other wheat crops and has better disease resistance. Emmer, as Farro, is most popular in Italy and grown as a certified crop in Tuscany. It is widely sold in Europe as a "health food" because it is sufficiently expensive for that market, but due to demand, spelt is being grown in non-certified regions and deceptively sold as Farro.
Emmer is baked into bread in Italy and Switzerland and in Tuscany is
used as whole grains in soup. Today it is being made into pasta for the
"health food" market, but many consider the texture of emmer pasta
inferior. Emmer has a higher fiber content than regular wheat. It has
hard husks so is much more difficult to thresh than common or durum
Einkorn: [Triticum monococcum]
This grain was
first domesticated in southeastern Anatolia around 7000 BCE. It differs from
the wild variety (Triticum boeoticum) en that the seeds are larger
and the heads do not "shatter". It was already in decline by the Bronze Age
and today is planted only in mountainous regions around the Mediterranean
basin where it survives well in poor soil. It is often made into bulgur
(parboiled and cracked wheat) in those regions. It has hard husks so is
much more difficult to thresh than common or durum wheats.
Photo by Kurt Stueber distributed under license
Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.
Khorasan Wheat / KAMUT [Triticum turanicum alt
Triticum turgidum ssp turanicum]
A relatively low yield wheat producing very large kernels, probably
originating in northern Mesopotamia (stories of it coming from an Egyptian
tomb are highly unlikely). It is a "heritage" variety some of which has
been grown in Egypt but is mostly found in small plots in southeastern
Turkey. Some people with a wheat allergy can eat this grain, but not celiacs.
KAMUT is a registered trademark designed to control the characteristics of
the type and is not a generic term for this type of grain.
Photo by Kamutinternational contributed to the public domain.
Domesticated Teff has been harvested in Ethiopia for between 3000 and
6000 years, and is now a minor crop in India and Australia. It is
increasingly grown in the western United States as a productive and very
nutritious animal forage crop, alternating with alfalfa in the fields.
This has made it more available for other uses as well. Ethiopia had a
long standing ban on exporting Teff to keep it affordable, but
improvement in agricultural practices allowed that ban to be lifted in
2015. It is used to make Injera, the regional bread of Ethiopia and
Eritrea. Caution: seeds of a mustard plant called
London Rocket are often erroneously
labeled "Teff". That seed is used in beverages in Iran.
Details and Cooking.
Whole Wheat: - [Wheat Berries]
Pearled Wheat: This is wheat with the outer bran layer removed by an abrasive process. It is increasingly used to prepare wheat for roller milling into flour rather than removal by the first roller stage which is not as precisely controllable. It is not generally sold as a retail product (see Pelted Wheat).
Pelted Wheat: - [Dzedzadz (Armenia); Jareesh,
Jerrish, Gerish, Gerrish, (Arabic - crushed); Ceris (Turk); Hurled Wheat]
This is used particularly in Turkish, Amenian, Middle Eastern and Persian
cuisines, so is quite available here in Los Angeles. The whole wheat
grains have been lightly pearled (the outer bran layer removed by
abrasion) and polished. The germ is still present but has been damaged
to the point it is not viable. It cooks more quickly than whole wheat
and has a less assertive flavor. Some of the fiber has been removed and
its keeping properties are less than for whole grain because the germ
will be slightly damaged. This product is also available crushed under
various spelling of "Jareesh", used particularly in the Arabian
peninsula in a dish called "Jareesh".
Cracked Wheat: - [Gorgot, Gorgod (Armenia); Yarma
(Turkey); Daliya (India)]
Whole wheat or pelted wheat kernels crushed (I have also found packages
of whole pelted wheat labeled Gorgot). This product will cook much
faster than whole wheat, but it is much more perishable due to damage to
the wheat germ. Keeping properties will be similar to Bulgur. It is not
equivalent to Bulgur, though they are often confused - Cracked Wheat takes
a lot longer to cook. It is sold in fine, medium and coarse grades. The
photo specimen of very coarsely crushed pelted wheat and was labeled
Whole wheat kernels are soaked, then boiled or steamed and dried.
When dry, the hulls and some of the bran are removed (as little as 5%) after
which they are crushed and sorted to various mesh sizes. This form cooks much
faster than cracked wheat and can be used uncooked (just soak well). As with
parboiled rice, some of the bran nutrients are driven deeper into the berry
for better nutrition. Bulgur is much used in the cuisines of southeastern
Europe, Anatolia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa,
ancient Rome and the Levant, Bulgur is sold in numbered grades depending on
coarseness. The photo shows #1 and #2 on the top row and #3 and #4 on
the bottom. Grade #5 is not easy to find.
Details and Cooking.
Wheat Flakes Wheat is soaked and steamed, then flattened between rollers to make flakes. These can be used to make a hot breakfast cereal similar to rolled oats. The flakes can be further processed to make them usable as cold breakfast cereals, for example, Wheaties© .
Wheat Flour: The largest portion of the wheat crop is ground very fine into flour for making bread and a vast number of other applications. See our page Grain, Seed & Flour Storage for storage methods and recommended storage times.
European Flour Numbers: The equivalences are not precise due to different standards for testing.
Wheat Bran: This is the outer layer of the wheat kernel, removed before milling into white flour. It is used mainly to add dietary fiber to products deficient in fiber or to make a "high fiber" claim on the box. It contains minerals and, if fresh, vitamins.
Wheat Germ: This is the living part of the wheat kernel. Because it is highly perishable it is removed from the grain in making white flour. Because it is high in vitamins and oils it is in high demand and the salvaged germ can often be sold for more than the flour.
Wheat Germ Oil: This oil contains the highest concentration of vitamin E of any plant source. It also contains long string fatty alcohols, suspected of being able to lower blood cholesterol, and other substances of nutritional interest. It is not used as a cooking oil because of its strong taste and high price.Health & Nutrition
Disclaimer: I am not a medical or diet practitioner of any kind, and don't claim to be one on dates. What is written here is informational, gleaned from publically available material, and can not be considered medical advice. On the other hand, I have no drum to beat on the subject.
Wheat is high in protein but that protein is incomplete for human nutrition, so it must be complimented by beans which are protein deficient in the opposite direction. Persons with a diet rich in meat are getting an excess of protein, so this deficiency is irrelevant to them.
Typically, for 100 grams of hard red winter wheat, 12.6 grams is protein, 1.5 grams is fat, 71 grams is carbohydrates (mostly starch) and 12.2 grams is dietary fiber. Wheat is fairly high in iron, around 3.5 milligrams per 100 grams depending on variety.
Gluten Intolerance: Roughly 1 in 133 people of Indo-European descent have an intolerance to gluten, a protein in wheat, barley, rye and some other grass seeds. This is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine and is of genetic origin. Called "celiac disease" in North America and "coeliac disease" in Europe and elsewhere, it is currently under-diagnosed in North America and often misdiagnosed as "irritable bowel syndrome". It is a debilitating and degenerative condition which must be taken seriously.
There is no cure for Gluten Intolerance. A person with this condition must follow a strictly gluten-free diet, including avoidance of all products with even traces of wheat, barley, rye and other gluten bearing grains. Even a very. Rice and Corn are gluten free grains that can be used as alternatives.
Gluten Sensitivity: Some people are sensitive to gluten, suffering similar digestive problems, but come up negative for celiac disease and have no evidence of digestive tract degradation. This condition is poorly understood and people vary greatly in sensitivity. There is currently no reliable diagnostic.
Persons who suffer from these digestive problems are recommended to try a gluten free diet for a few weeks. If they improve markedly they should consider a gluten free diet.
Allergies: Some people who are not celiacs are allergic to wheat proteins and must avoid wheat and other gluten containing grains. This condition is discomforting, but not as dangerous as celiac disease.
Gluten Free Diet: a "celiac clean" diet takes a great deal of attention to every bit of food eaten, and close attention to intake of vitamins and minerals, fiber and other nutrients which can easily be deficient in such a diet.
Many health industry practitioners are now strongly promoting a gluten free diet for everyone (and many of them are selling products related to that). Actual nutritional scientists generally recommend not going on such a diet if there is not a clear reason to do so, because it makes proper nutritions much more difficult and more expensive.
There is a current fad to go "gluten free" for rapid weight loss. Experts say this is hokum, the only way such a diet will cause weight loss is if your diet is now so unappetizing you don't want to eat. Hardly a good trade off. Many gluten free products are more fattening than their gluten containing equivalents, and poorer in vitamins and minerals.