Copyright 1997 Alan T. Hagan. All rights reserved.
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Wheat comes in a number of different varieties. Each variety is more or less suitable for a given purpose based on its characteristics. The most common classifications for wheat varieties are spring or winter, hard or soft, red or white.
The hard wheats have kernels that tend to be small, and very hard and have a high gluten content. Gluten is the protein in grains that enables the dough made from them to trap the gasses produced by yeast fermentation and raise the bread. Low gluten wheat does not produce as good a loaf as high gluten wheat, though they can still be used for yeast breads if necessary. As a general rule, hard varieties have more protein than soft varieties.
The soft varieties have kernels tending to be larger, plumper and softer in texture than hard wheats. Their gluten content is less and these are used in pastries, quick breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals.
Winter wheats are planted in the fall, over winter in the field and are harvested the next summer. Spring wheats are planted in the early spring and are harvested in the fall. Red wheats comprise most of the hard varieties while white wheats comprise most of the soft. Recently, hard white wheats have been developed that are suitable for raised bread making. Some feel the hard white varieties make a better tasting whole wheat bread than the hard red.
The most commonly stored are the hard red varieties, either spring or winter, because of their high protein. They should have a protein content of no less than 12%, with higher the better. The hard white spring wheats are still relatively new and are not yet widespread. They have the same excellent storage characteristics as the hard red wheats.
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