Monday, February 13, 2012

All About Wheat Varieties…

pastry grainA friend and neighbor and sometime blogger (see HERE) asked for a grain tutorial explaining different grains and how to use them, as she felt she needed more information than is contained in my flour primer (see HERE). So, I am going to start with all the variations on wheat. If you are unfamiliar with baking and the wide variety of flours, you might want to read that primer first. Tuesday I will be covering non-wheat grains and on Wednesday some seeds which are called grains. But today we are talking wheat.

There are a variety of wheat grains, some of which are often referred to as alternative grains when they are not. Wheat, and rye to a significantly lesser degree, is essential to true bread as it has the necessary gluten which provides bread’s structure. There are older versions of wheat which are increasingly available and have similar profiles with some important distinctions.

Spelt: this ancient variety of wheat is perhaps the grain used in Biblical times and the flour referred to in scripture and was the predominant grain used in Europe through the middle ages. It averages about 14% protein and 3% fat making it very suitable for bread and does contain gluten, though many who do not tolerate modern wheat well report it does not produce as many problems for them. Spelt is readily water soluble and it vitamins and minerals, which are evenly distributed through the grain, are readily absorbed by the body. It tastes sweeter than wheat and somewhat nutty. It makes an excellent substitute for pastry wheat in biscuits, cakes and cookies and produces a light and tender product. When adapting a recipe which calls for white flours, you can use an equal amount of spelt but you might want to add additional fat or egg yolks to compensate for the bran. When substituting for hard wheat in recipes, increse the amount called for by 1 1/2 TB per cup. Like all whole grains, it takes longer for the liquid to be absorbed to create the lightest product and soaking adds considerable loft and tenderness.

Semolina or Duram: this very high gluten flour is the darling of pasta and has a high protein content of at least 13% but a very low fat content of 1% making it a good storage grain as it does not go rancid easily. The high gluten content is what gives pasta it’s tensile strength making is firmer and chewier than say the soft noodles made from common wheat. Couscous is made of semolina and is actually just small pieces of pasta, and depending on the brand is often whole grain. This grain is often used to make batter coating and is also cooked in to porridges both sweet and savory. The flour is very gritty and is mostly not used by itself and is instead blended with other wheat flours in pasta and bread baking, and is a great substitute for corn meal when dusting pans and peels in making English muffins, pizzas and stone baked breads. Some breads call for a small amount of this flour in order to give a toothiness, a grittiness not unlike corn bread but it cannot be substituted entirely in other recipes but you can use it for a small amount of the flour called for (no more than 20%) or for equal amounts in recipes calling for cornmeal.

Graham Flour: as in graham crackers. This is a coarsely ground whole wheat flour made from soft (low protein, about 9%) winter wheat which means it produces excellent crackers, biscuits and cakes and can be used for part of the flour in bread recipes yielding more spongy, sandwich like texture but when used by itself it makes a dense and heavy loaf. It also makes an excellent pie crust when a couple tablespoons of white bread flour are added. The flour is made by a peculiar process advocated by a minister named Dr. Sylvester Graham who was an advocate of whole grain flours in the late 19th century. The bran is removed from the grain and the grain ground finely into white flour, while the bran is coarsely ground separately and then added back in. When using this flour, aerate with a whisk to evenly distribute the bran before measuring. This is a lower gluten flour which might be considered by those looking for less gluten products.

Kamut or Khorasan Wheat: this is increasing in popularity but found its way to United States when an American airman stationed in Egypt following Word War II mailed some back to his father claiming that it was an ancient Egyptian grain. The success of the grain with consumers took decades but is now becoming easier to find. It is a very large grain, looking much like long grain brown rice and when baked produces sweet, nutty breads and cookies even sweeter than spelt. The grain probably is middle-eastern in origin and is a lower carbohydrate with about 12.5% protein and high fat (around 10%) grain making it less appropriate for long term storage. It can be used ounce for ounce with any whole wheat recipe. It is a proprietary grain and requires licenses to grow it and must always grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. It has a low allergenic response and is well tolerated by those with delayed IG immune reactions. When baking, it can be helpful to allow the bran to absorb liquid so long soaks and ferments produce the best results. I have found that the acidic nature of yogurt breaks down the bran nicely. Yogurt soaked Kamut makes  amazing muffins and cakes. You can find out more about the grain and its history as well as find recipes at its website (HERE) and more on the Purdue University website as it relates to allergic response (HERE).

Triticale: all wheats are triticums or from the the same family, but this most often refers to a hybrid of rye and wheat. It is a high protein grain like wheat but the resulting plant has the hardiness of rye, which can grow almost anywhere. The intention was to provide a high-yield grain which could be grown in the poorest areas of the world. It has a very high protein content of 17% but it has not attracted consumers and the majority of it is sold as animal feed. If you are able to get your hands on some (I’ve never baked with it) the King Arthur test kitchen recommends a few tips for working with it in their invaluable compilation “Whole Grain Baking”. Firstly, knead just to incorporate the flour as the delicate nature of its particular gluten degrades with kneading and it won’t rise as well. Secondly, rise only once; presumably because the dough lacks structure necessary to “bounce back” after being punched down.

Interested in learning more? See this post HERE all about alternative grains other than wheat and to learn more about some seeds which are mistaken for grains, read this post HERE. If you want to know all about the various flours you see in the store, visit my page on flours in the tabs above or HERE. I have a great sourdough book which can teach you to put all this "grain" knowledge to good use, click on the My Books tab above or HERE.

Linking up with Monday Mania!


  1. wonderful! Thank you so much! I'm impressed with how quickly you were able to pull this together. Can't wait for the next in the series.

  2. Thanks! I get confused with all the varieties. Looking forward to reading further posts about the other grains!

  3. So do you use kamut for everything, or different flours for different things? Should one sprout all these grains before using them as flour? I have used spelt for soaked pancakes and they are awesome, but the sprouted wheat flour I made was a failure for pancakes. I'm going to try sourdough pancakes with sprouted wheat and see how that does. I'm about ready to make my first sourdough loaf and am wondering which type of flour I should use for that...sprouted whole wheat? Regular whole wheat?

    1. I grind and freeze several varieties for grains just for kicks. Sometimes we want a rye loaf or I feel like making something a little different like a barley pie crust or a spelt cake. I was a big fan of the Prairie Gold white wheat for its mild flavor and great results and still like it. We are doing Kamut because it is higher fat and lower carb but still high protein and fiber, plus it tastes sweet and this is a big hit with the family. I use Kamut now for almost everything. If it not a special occasion, it is Kamut.

      But you don't need to sprout it AND soak or sprout AND sourdough. It's a one or the other kind of thing. Sprouting is nice because you can use it straight away and not have to mess around with soaking or sourdough ferment. I sprout flour as a fail safe and keep some ground in the freezer.

      If you are doing sourdough, don't sprout. Just grind the flour or use ready-ground and go. Hard red wheat is the cheapest, but there are more brands of white wheat around now. White is milder and doesn't taste too "wheat-y" but you can use Kamut or spelt as well, they just cost more. It is all up to you. Does that make sense?

    2. Yes! Awesome, thanks. :)

  4. If you check out above, you will see that I edited this to have links the other articles in the series. So, let me know what you think!

  5. Thanks for this info - It's so important yet hard to find in one place. I for one spend a lot of time contemplating which grains to use for what. We just got your sourdough ebook from Amazon and look forward to reading it! -Sarah

    1. Sarah, a friend and neighbor asked me to spell it all out and thought it would be helpful for others. She was right! I got a lot of emails about how this just what people were looking for. Thanks for the positive feedback!

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