Wheat or theTriticum spp. is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East but now cultivated worldwide. In 2010, world production of wheat was 651 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize (844 million tons) and rice (672 million tons). Wheat was the second most-produced cereal in 2009; world production in that year was 682 million tons, after maize (817 million tons), and with rice as a close third (679 million tons).
Globally, wheat is the leading source of vegetable protein in human food, having a higher protein content than other major cereals, maize (corn) or rice. The whole grain can be milled to leave just the endosperm for white flour. The by-products of this are bran and germ.
- Wheat is actually a grass and belongs to the genus Triticum species aestivum. Wheat plants grow several side shoots called tillers from a crown, which is just below ground level. Each of these tillers grows a long stem, which bears a flowering head at its top. The length of these tillers varies greatly between different wheats, some being extremely short (less than 20cm) while other are extremely tall (over 1m!).
- Modern wheat is generally 80cm to 1m tall.
- The grains are commonly a red colour, although wheat has white grains and more unusually purple, black, brown or green/grey varieties exist. The wheat grain (or kernel) is divided into several parts.
- Two other structures are important to us because of their food value. The aluerone is a thin layer between the bran and the endosperm.
- The Scutellum is also a thin layer between the germ and the endosperm. Both of these layers are very rich sources of vitamins essential for our health and which may be deficient in our diet. It is common practice abroad when very white flour is milled and these layers lost, to add synthetic vitamins to make up the deficiency.
Raw wheat can be ground into flour or, using hard durum wheat only, can be ground into semolina; germinated and dried creating malt; crushed or cut into cracked wheat; parboiled (or steamed), dried, crushed and de-branned into bulgur also known as groats. If the raw wheat is broken into parts at the mill, as is usually done, the outer husk or bran can be used several ways.
Wheat is a major ingredient in such foods as bread, porridge, crackers, biscuits, Muesli, pancakes, pies, pastries, cakes, cookies, muffins, rolls, doughnuts, gravy, boza (a fermented beverage), and breakfast cereals (e.g., Wheatena, Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat, and Wheaties).