In June of 2016, I was asked to teach a class on storing and using whole wheat. There were many who were unable to attend, and requested the handouts that I provided. The requests for the info have continued – and thus this post. I have also included links to the recipes for that class. . . . and a few more (links are at the bottom of the page). Sorry – the tasting samples are long gone. They were delish!
From Wheat to Eat
There are many different types of wheat. Their uses are as different as their colors. But basically, wheat is categorized by the following:
Red vs. White
Red wheat makes up over 65% of the wheat grown in the US. In it’s whole state, it is high in protein (up to 15%), fiber, B vitamins, Vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, zinc, niacin, and selenium. It tends to have a stronger wheat flavor than other wheat. It is the familiar “storage” wheat. Red wheat is an acid based grain. The red comes from tannic acid in the outer layer – or bran of the wheat. The tannins in the bran tend to produce a somewhat bitter taste. When using this wheat, bakers tend to add extra sweeteners – to counter the bitterness. The acid in red wheat can cause digestive issues in some people. If you plan to begin using red wheat, introduce it into your diet gradually. Flour from red wheat is best for hard artisan type breads.
White wheat is relatively new on the scene. Although is has been the main wheat in Australia for many decades, it has only been commercially available in the US since the 1990’s. Although the nutritional value of white wheat is nearly identical to that of red, the bran of the white wheat has no gene for color. The tannins that are present in red wheat are missing in white wheat and give it a much more mild flavor. Unlike red wheat, white wheat is an alkaline grain, making it easier to digest.
When ground into flour, white wheat yields more flour per bushel than it’s red cousin.
Hard vs. Soft
Hard wheat has a higher gluten content than soft wheat. It is better for breads and hard pastas.
Soft wheat – with it’s lower gluten content– is a better choice for pastries – and where a light, fine flour is required. It is also lower in protein (ranging from 6-10%) and nutrients. It is best suited for recipes where baking soda or baking powder are part of the recipe – (cookies, pancakes, waffles, biscuits, etc.)
Spring vs. Winter – refers to the time of year the wheat was planted
Spring wheat is planted in April/May – and grows through the spring and summer. It is typically harvested in August or September.
Winter wheat is planted in the fall. It grows to a point and then becomes dormant during the winter months. It resumes growth as the weather warms, and is harvested beginning in early June and running through July. Winter wheat has slightly less protein than Spring wheat (dry conditions during the summer growing season increase the protein in wheat). The lower protein content in winter wheat makes it a favorite of noodle makers.
Wheat, in it’s whole state, when properly stored, can remain viable for decades. Ideally, you are using it and rotating it through every 5-10 years. The older the wheat, the heavier your bread will be. It should be stored in clean, air-tight containers, away from moisture and heat. Unless you purchase your wheat already packaged for storage, the use of oxygen absorbers or dry ice is a must to insure that your wheat will not be consumed by bugs. . .
Once the wheat kernel is broken open, the oil in the germ is exposed to oxygen and begins to degrade. With time, the oils become rancid, giving the flour an off taste and making them unusable.
As soon as the flour is ground, if left at room temperature, the nutritional value of the flour declines quite quickly. Whole grain flour should be used within a week or two, or stored in air-tight containers in the refrigerator or better yet, in the freezer. To use the flour, just measure out the amount you need, and allow the flour to come to room temperature before using it.
If you purchase whole wheat flour – pay close attention to the “best if used by” date on the package. Store it in your freezer if possible.
Now – the “To Eat” part!
Why Whole Wheat?
Of the 44 known essential nutrients needed by the human body, wheat is lacking only 4 of them – vitamins A, C, B12, and iodine. In the milling of wheat – to produce white flour, the bran and germ of the wheat are removed, leaving only the center of the grain – which is mostly simple carbohydrates. The fiber and nutrition are removed, the flour is bleached and the result is a beautiful, white, soft flour. . . that is delicious . . . . and that’s about it.
1 cup of wheat berries typically produces 2 cups of flour
Types of grinders:
Hand vs. Electric
Stone vs. Steel
Other options include high powered blenders with a dry blade option – such as Vitamix or BlendTec
Small batches for ‘cracked wheat’ can be done in a small coffee grinder
To use whole wheat flour in a recipe that calls for All-Purpose flour, you will need to adjust your recipe slightly. It may take a few attempts to get it just right – but don’t give up.
Whole wheat flour takes longer to hydrate than all-purpose flour. Allowing the batter to sit a bit before baking will allow the moisture to soften the bran and germ. If you forget to hydrate, let the baked good sit overnight before eating.
Bake at a lower temperature (25º) and increase the time
For bread recipes:
Use ¾ cup whole wheat flour to replace 1 cup All-purpose flour – or use cup for cup – but add 5 teaspoons water for each cup substituted.
Add some of the flour to the water in your recipe, mix it up, and allow it to sit for 10 minutes or so before adding the yeast and remaining ingredients
Reduce the baking temperature by 25º and bake for a few minutes longer.
For Cookies and Cakes:
Use ¾ cup whole wheat flour to replace 1 cup All-Purpose flour – or use cup for cup and add 1-2 Tablespoons liquid for each cup of flour exchanged.
Reduce the amount of butter, fats, oils, shortening called for by 20%Mix up the cookie dough and let it sit for 10-15 minutes – or up to overnight before baking.
If the dough seems stiff, add in liquid 1 Tablespoon at a time until the dough is the desired consistency.
Bake a test cookie to see if the cookie flattens the way it should – adjusting flour/water as needed.