What kinds of wheat are there?

Wheat is a great staple to include in your food storage plans, but did you know that there are multiple kinds to choose from?  The way I found out was the first time I went to buy bulk foods for storage, I went to the wheat section, and I saw all these different names and labels – red, winter, soft, white…. And I realized I knew a lot less about wheat that I realized!  So what are the different types of wheat, and how do you choose which one to store?

Common bread wheat is categorized according to three different traits: growing season, color, and hardness.

There are two growing seasons to choose from: winter and spring.  For food storage, this really doesn’t matter too much unless you’re planning on growing your own field of wheat (which would require a ton of space and effort).  The “winter” vs. “spring” designation tells the farmer when to plant the crop, so winter wheat is planted in the fall, so that the cold of winter will start the seeds germinating, whereas spring wheat is planted at the beginning of spring and will begin to grow quickly.

The hardness of the wheat is determined by its protein content vs. its starch content – the more protein, the harder the wheat.  Think of it this way: if you want a firm baked good, such as dense bread, you would use a firmer grain, so hard wheat.  If you want a soft baked good, such as a pastry, you would use a softer grain.

Wheat comes in two colors: red and white.  White wheat tends to have slightly less protein that red varieties, which can create breads that are a tad fluffier.  Of most consideration here is that the color of the wheat will affect the color of the product.  Have you ever wondered how manufactures can make “white whole wheat” bread?  Well, they can use whole grains of soft white wheat so the bread seems like they’ve used white flour, but has whole grain.

Six main varieties of wheat are grown in the United States: hard red spring, hard red winter, hard white spring, soft red winter, soft white winter, and soft white spring.  Thinking about what each of the classifications means, you can figure out what types might be better for different products.  Hard red wheats are going to be great for a hearty loaf of bread, and soft red wheat is often used for those whole wheat crackers where you can actually see the grains, so they look more whole-wheat (ah the magic of marketing).  Soft white grains would be ideal for pastas, cakes, scones and the likes.

When you’re storing grain for survival or long-term storage purposes, you’re first instinct is probably not to be concerned with which grain is going to produce the finest bread.  Rather, you’re likely asking yourself “Ok, which one is healthiest and lasts the longest?”  Well the good news is that besides their protein content, all the varieties of wheat are extremely similar in nutritional value.  They also all last for approximately the same amount of time.  Some may argue that the harder varieties are better for storage because there is less chance of the structure of the grain being compromised.  Personally I’d advise for going with hard red wheat.  It’s easy to find and you can be confident it will keep well.  If you really want to customize your wheat stores though, decide what you’re most likely to make if you need to tap into your food stores.  Are you going to make a loaf of bread each week?  Live off of homemade pasta?  You can buy the different kinds in accordance to what you think you’ll need.

As far as storing wheat goes, the main requirements are to keep it are to prevent moisture from getting to it, keeping it at ideally 40-60° F (although anywhere below 75° F should be fine), and keeping pests out of it.   Two great solutions are to seal it in 10 lb mylar bags, and then pack those into a 5 gallon food storage bin, or you could seal your wheat in #10 cans.  If you can’t seal your own tins, then you can even find wheat pre-packaged, although the most cost-effective way is to purchase it in bulk at a store, or even find a farmer who might be willing to sell it to you directly.  If properly stored, wheat can last 30+ years!

Hopefully this dispels some of the mystery around wheat.  Who would have known that something we consume every day could be so complicated?  But now you know all the options available to you, and you can fill out your food storage with this incredibly important staple.

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