Wheat is a type of cereal grass that includes several species of the genus Triticum and is considered one of the oldest and most important cereal crops. Wheat has the broadest adaptation of all the cereal crop due to, in a large part, its cold tolerance. In the United States wheat is categorized by color, hardness, and growing season into 6 classes: hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, soft white, hard white, and durum. Wheat varieties are also classified as awned or awnless (bearded or beardless).
Hard red winter wheat is the most common class of wheat produced in the United States and is the largest class exported. It is primarily grown in South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring and is the primary wheat variety grazed by livestock. Hard red winter wheat is high in protein and gluten and therefore typically has excellent milling and baking characteristics for wheat foods like breads, hard rolls, flat breads, and general-purpose flower. It is the ideal choice for some noodles and general-purpose flower.
Like hard red winter wheat, hard red spring wheat is known for its high protein and gluten content. Hard red spring wheat often has the highest grain protein of the wheat classes and is mainly grown in Montana, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Hard red spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvested late summer or early fall. It typically has superior milling and baking characteristics and is used in similar applications as hard red winter wheat as well as designer breads and bagels.
Soft red winter wheat is a high yielding wheat that has low protein and low gluten content. Soft red winter wheat is mostly grown east of the Mississippi river. Its high yields, low gluten, and low protein make it profitable and ideal for cookies, crackers, cakes, cereals, and pastries.
Soft white wheat is similar to soft red winter but has added desirability due to the lighter grain color. Soft white wheat is mainly grown in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho but does have some production in California, Michigan, and New York. Like soft red winter wheat it is high yielding and low in protein making it ideal for delicate items such as cookies, crackers, cakes, cereals, and pastries.
Hard white wheat is similar to the hard red wheats but without the red color. It is the newest class of wheat and is growing in popularity though production remains limited in the United States. Hard white wheat is milder than its red counterpart and has a sweeter flavor. As such is it often used for white flower, pan breads, tortillas, some flat breads, and some Asian style noodles.
Durum wheat is the hardest of all the wheats and typically the least exported. It typically has the highest gluten and protein content of all the wheats. Durum wheat is considered the standard for premium pasta products, couscous, and some Mediterranean breads.
Russian wheat is a beardless hard red winter wheat that is primarily used for grazing. In the late 1800’s Russian Mennonites immigrated into Kansas and brought red wheat seed with them. This seed stock was increased and laid the foundation for the wheat production and genetics found in the United States today. This immigration is likely responsible for the “Russian Wheat” sold today. Regardless of the source, Russian wheat has been a consistently productive and economical wheat for Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas for years.
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