Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

Wheat Facts

History of Wheat / Growing Wheat / Wheat Processing /Uses for Wheat /
Facts About Bread
/ Other Wheat Foods / Non-Food Wheat Products /

  • Wheat is the number one crop grown in Oklahoma. Most of the wheat grown here is hard red winter wheat. This is the kind of wheat that grows best in our climate and in states like Kansas, Colorado and Texas. Hard red winter wheat is used mostly to make bread.

  • The most common varieties of hard, red winter wheat planted by Oklahoma producers are Jagger, Endurance and Overley.

  • Other kinds of wheat grown in the US include durum, a very hard, translucent, light colored grain used to make semolina flour for pasta; hard red spring wheat, a hard, brownish, wheat used for bread and hard baked goods; soft red winter wheat, a soft, brownish, wheat used for bread; hard white wheat, a hard, light colored, wheat used for bread and brewing; and soft white wheat, a soft, light colored, used for bread.

  • In 2003, Oklahoma ranked number two in the nation in the production of hard red winter wheat.

  • Wheat is grown on more land area worldwide than any other crop and is a close third to rice and corn in total world production. In 2004, world wheat production was approximately 624 million tons.

  • Because wheat is such a versatile crop, it is being harvested somewhere in the world every month of the year.

  • Wheat is well adapted to harsh environments and is mostly grown on wind-swept areas too dry and too cold for rice and corn.

  • In 2004 the world leaders in wheat production were China (91.3 million tons), India (72 million tons), United States (58.8 million tons), Russia (42.2 million tons), France (39 million tons) and Australia (22.5 million tons).

  • Wheat supplies about 20 percent of the food calories for the world’s people and is a national staple in many countries. In Eastern Europe and Russia, over 30 percent of the calories consumed come from wheat. About 1/3 of the world's people depend on wheat for their nourishment.

  • The per capita consumption of wheat in the United States exceeds that
    of any other single food staple.

  • A kernel is a wheat seed. There are about 50 kernels in a head of wheat and 15,000 to 17,000 kernels in a pound.

  • Both whole wheat flour and all-purpose (white) flour are made from kernels of wheat. A wheat kernel is divided into three major parts—bran, endosperm and germ. All purpose flour is made from only ground endosperm. Whole wheat flour is made by grinding the entire wheat kernel.

  • A bushel of wheat yields about 42 pounds of white flour or 60 pounds of whole wheat flour.

  • A bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds.

History of Wheat

  • Domestic wheat originated in southwest Asia in what is now known as a the Fertile Crescent. The oldest archaeological evidence for wheat cultivation comes from Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, and Iraq. Around 9000 years ago, wild einkorn wheat was harvested and domesticated in the first archaeological signs of sedentary farming in the Fertile Crescent. Wild einkorn wheat still grows in the Fertile Crescent.

  • Around 8,000 years ago, a mutation or hybridization occurred within emmer wheat, resulting in a plant with seeds that were larger but could not sow themselves on the wind. While this plant could not have succeeded in the wild, it produced more food for humans. In cultivated fields this plant outcompeted plants with smaller, self-sowing seeds and become the primary ancestor of modern wheat breeds.

  • Columbus packed wheat on his ships on his second voyage to the New World.

  • While wheat was grown in the United States during the early colonial years, it was not until the late 19th century that wheat cultivation flourished, owing to the importation of an especially hardy strain of wheat known as Turkey red wheat. Russian immigrants who settled in Kansas brought Turkey red wheat with them.

Growing Wheat

  • Unlike most other crops, hard red winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring.

  • In the summer, wheat producers prepare the soil for planting. They drive a
    tractor that pulls the plow through the fields. The plow turns the soil over and kills all the weeds. Then the farmer connects the tractor to a disk harrow and drives it over the field. The disk harrow breaks the soil down into smaller pieces. When the soil is ready for planting, the farmer uses a grain drill to plant the seed.

  • The wheat plant will grow about six inches before the frost comes. Each plant grows by producing more leaves and new stalks from the base of the plant. The new stalks are called “tillers.”

  • When the weather gets cold the tiller will stop growing. This is called the dormant period. On most farms in the Great Plains cattle feed, or graze, on the young wheat plants while they are in their dormant period. The plants grow back. They are not damaged by proper grazing.

  • In the spring, the warm moist days make the wheat plants grow quickly. As the wheat comes out of its dormant period, more tillers of wheat emerge. Each tiller can form another head of wheat.

  • Some varieties of wheat grow as tall as seven feet, but most are only between two and four feet tall.

  • During the early summer, the plants begin to fade from dark green to tan and then to a golden brown. Then the wheat is ripe and nearly ready for harvest. Now the wheat producer must race with the weather to get the wheat out of the fields.

  • Some years the wind and rain keep the plants from ripening, and they cannot be harvested. Other years hail may break all the heads, or a lightening storm may start a range fire.

  • When the weather cooperates, and the wheat is ripe, the farmer must move fast. He checks the wheat by rubbing a wheat head between his hands, blowing the chaff away and then chewing some of the grain. If the kernels crack easily and get soft as they are chewed, the wheat is ready to harvest.

  • The farmer drives a combine across the fields to harvest the grain. When the storage bin of the combine is full, he empties it into a truck. Someone else drives the truck to the grain elevator in town.

  • It takes a combine nine seconds to harvest enough wheat to make 70 loaves of bread.

Wheat Processing

  • Workers at the grain elevator help empty the wheat into a very deep pit. Machinery in the grain elevator raises, or elevates, the wheat into a tall bin.

  • In many small towns in Oklahoma, the grain elevator is the tallest building in the town.

  • The wheat stays in the grain elevator until the farmer is ready to sell it. Workers keep an eye on the wheat kernels to make sure they stay cool and dry. If the wheat kernels get wet or too hot they will spoil.

  • Some of the wheat is sold to people who use it to make food for people and animals. The rest is cleaned and saved until it is time to plant again.

  • One kernel of wheat can grow several hundred new kernels next harvest.

  • Wheat that is sold for food is taken to a mill. At the mill, huge machines grind the wheat kernels into flour. First the wheat must be cleaned several times. A series of disks separate the wheat kernels from other weed seeds, dirt and small stones. A giant magnet removes any metal pieces, like nuts or rivets that might have shaken loose from the farm machinery and fallen in with the wheat.

  • Finally the kernels go into a giant water bath where any remaining stones or other heavy materials drop to the bottom. Light materials float to the top and are washed away. Now the wheat is cleaned and ready to be milled.

  • Rollers crack the kernels into smaller pieces. Huge machines shake the wheat pieces through several screens to make the pieces even smaller.

  • If the wheat is to be made into white flour, air currents blow the bran—the outer layer of the kernel — away from the rest of the wheat. The wheat bran and germ that have been removed are used in animal feeds.

  • The pieces are now ready for grinding. Smooth rollers grind the wheat finer and finer.

  • After grinding, the wheat is sifted through more screens, sometimes as many as 25 times. Each screen has smaller openings than the one before.

  • Special ingredients are added to age the flour and whiten it. Vitamins and iron are also added to replace those that have been removed with the wheat germ and bran. Now the flour is ready for baking.

Uses for Wheat

  • Besides being a high carbohydrate food, wheat contains valuable protein, minerals, and vitamins. Wheat is an efficient source of protein, when balanced by other foods that supply certain amino acids such as lysine.

  • Wheat is the major ingredient in most breads, rolls, crackers, cookies, biscuits, cakes, doughnuts, muffins, pancakes, waffles, noodles, piecrusts, ice cream cones, macaroni, spaghetti, puddings, pizza, and many prepared hot and cold breakfast foods.

  • Much of the wheat used for livestock and poultry feed is a by-product of the flour milling industry.

  • Wheat straw is used for livestock bedding. The green forage may be grazed by livestock or used as hay or silage. In many areas of the southern Great Plains, wheat serves a dual purpose by being grazed in the fall and early spring and then harvested as a grain crop.

Facts About Bread

  • Bread may be the ancestor of all prepared foods. The first bread was made in Neolithic times, nearly 12,000 years ago. It was probably made by crushing grain and mixing it with water. The dough was then baked in the sun or laid on heated stones and covered with hot ashes.

  • Bread provided ancient people with a reliable food source which would keep through the winter months and multiply in the summer. This allowed them time to develop other useful skills beyond what was required to feed themselves.

  • Bread can be unleavened or leavened with yeast. When flour comes in contact with water and remains idle for a period of time, it begins to rise. In modern processes, yeast is added to aid in the rising, but even without yeast, dough will begin to ferment, and the resulting gases will cause the dough to rise. The Egyptians were the first to discover that this process would produce a light, expanded loaf. The Egyptians also invented a closed oven in which to bake the bread.

  • The word biscuit is from the Latin phrase biscuctus which means baked (bis) twice (cuctus).

  • The ancient Hebrews were in such a hurry to get away from their Egyptian captors that they made their bread without leavening. Today Jewish people celebrate Passover, their escape from the Egyptians, with unleavened bread—matzo. Bread without leavening also represents truth in Jewish tradition, because bread that is unleavened retains the true flavor of the grain from which it is made.

  • Traditionally, people made bread from whatever grain grew best in the area where they lived. Wheat, rye, corn, barley, millet, kamut and spelt are some of the grains used around the world. Wheat flour is preferred because of its gluten content. Gluten is what gives bread its elastic quality.

  • Bread is such a powerful food that ancient Egyptian governments controlled its production and distribution as a means of controlling the populace. In France the shortage of bread helped start the French Revolution.

  • For thousands of years people used stone wheels powered by wind to grind wheat into flour for bread.

  • In the middle of the nineteenth century, a Swiss engineer invented a new type of mill with rollers made of steel which operated one above the other and were driven by steam-engines. Meanwhile, the North American prairies were found to be ideally suited to grow wheat. This, together with the invention of the roller-milling system, meant that for the first time in history, whiter flour (and, therefore, bread) could be produced at a price
    which brought it within the reach of everyone—not just the rich.

  • It takes nine seconds for a combine to harvest enough wheat to make about 70 loaves of bread.

  • An acre will produce enough wheat for about 2,500 loaves of wheat bread.

  • Bread is probably the one food eaten by people of every race, culture and religion.

  • One family of four can live 10 years off the bread produced by one acre of wheat.

  • When shopping for 100 percent whole wheat bread, look for a label that has the words “whole wheat.”

Other Wheat Foods

Bulgur

The oldest recorded use of wheat is in the form of bulgur. Bulgur is made by soaking and cooking the whole wheat kernel, drying it and then removing part of the bran and cracking the remaining kernel into small pieces. Its uses are numerous from salads to soup, from breads to desserts. It is a nutritious extender and thickener for meat dishes and soups. Tabouli is a popular salad made with bulgur, parsley, cucumber and tomato.

Wheat Germ

The germ of the wheat kernel is often added to baked goods, casseroles and even beverages to improve the nutritional value and give a nutty, crunchy texture. The protein quality of wheat germ is very comparable to that of milk. One-fourth cup of wheat germ contains about 110 calories.

Wheat Bran

The bran is the outer layer of the wheat kernel, often used for animal feed. It also makes a nutritious addition to baked goods, because it is a good source of fiber and is high in B vitamins, protein and iron.

Wheat Berry

The wheat berry is another name for the wheat kernel. The cooked whole kernel can be used as a meat extender, breakfast cereal or as a substitute for beans in chili, salad and baked dishes.

Cereal

Many commercial cereals on the market are made from wheat and can be eaten as a snack, breakfast cereal or added to baked products. A variety of ready-to-eat wheat cereals are available. The wheat may be shredded, puffed, flaked or rolled. The bran may be in the form of flakes or granules.

Cracked Wheat

Cracked wheat is very similar in nutrition and texture to bulgur. It is the whole kernel broken into small pieces, but has not been pre-cooked and dried. Cracked wheat can be added to baked goods for a nutty flavor and crunchy texture. Only a small proportion of cracked wheat can be used in breads, because it is very sharp and will cut gluten strands.

 

Non-Food Wheat Products

wallboard

cosmetics

pet foods

newsprint, paperboard, and other
paper products

soap

trash bags

concrete

paste

alcohol

oil

gluten

Wheat Lessons

Wheat Cards (quick ideas for teaching about wheat)

 

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Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.