Wheat is a grass native to the Near East region of Fertile Crescent with edible cereal crops eaten worldwide. The grains of this cereal crop are used as a staple food in most regions of the world. Scientifically known as Triticum aestivum, this winter crop is has English alternative names like bread wheat or common wheat. This food crop is available in different varieties that include bearded, dwarf and semi dwarf wheat. The tall varieties of this grass are the specialist grazing varieties required as hay crop. The crop heads are 5 to 10 cm long and 2 cm broad with many having terminal awns that shoot up to 6 cm in height. The wheat grains are usually 4 to 5 mm long with a golden husk. This staple food crop is used for making flat, steamed and leavened breads. Most wheat recipes include cookies, breakfast cereals, biscuits, noodles, pasta and cakes. Wheat is also fermented for producing beer and other alcoholic drinks. The most cultivated varieties of this food crop are bread wheat, durum, einkorn, emmer and spelt. This crop is also processed into different edible products like bulgur, wheat flour, cracked wheat, farina, shredded wheat, wheat flakes, couscous, wheat germ, wheat germ oil and seitan, all of which are required for various cooking purposes. According to difference in protein content, the crop can be categorized into hard red winter, soft red winter, hard white, soft white and red wheat.
History of Wheat
Wheat happens to amongst the first few cereal crops to have been cultivated. Wheat’s self pollinating ability led to the cultivation of different varieties if this food crop since the pre-historical times. According to archaeological data, wheat originated in the Nile Delhi and Fertile Crescent, which comprise the southeastern regions of Levant, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and Israel. The genetic analysis of the variety – einkorn suggested the crop was first cultivated in Turkey’s Karacadag Mountains in the Neolithic period. It was only after 8,000 BCE, that the cultivation of wheat was begun regions beyond the Fertile Crescent. Wheat cultivation spread to India, Cyprus and Greece by 6500 BCE, to Egypt after 6000 BCE, to Spain and Germany by 5000 BCE and to Scandinavia and England by 3,000 BCE. By the late 19th century, this food was in common use worldwide.
Culinary Uses of the Wheat
Raw wheat is mostly used in the flour form for making baked foods like breads and cakes. In all these cases, the flour is mixed with liquid like water or milk and other ingredients specific to the recipe to make a dough or batter which is then cooked in desired ways. Often wheat is coarsely ground into semolina, which is most commonly used in India for making idlis, upma and various sweet dishes. Other popular varieties of processed wheat include malt, cracked wheat and groats which are used in versatile recipes all over the world.
Popular Wheat Recipes
The most common preparations of wheat are bread, crackers, cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, biscuits, rolls, porridge and Muesli. Breakfast wheat is commonly found in the form of wheatena, wheaties, cream of wheat and shredded wheat. Wheat is also a key ingredient in wine and other alcoholic drink production and boza, a wheat fermented beverage is a popular traditional beverage.
Cuisines Using Wheat:
Wheat is used as a staple food in almost every cuisine of the world. If wheat is more popular as a breakfast cereal and key baking ingredient in American and European cuisine, the crop finds a versatile use in the Asian countries. In the Asian cuisine, wheat recipes include noodles, breads, confectioneries, gravies, sauces and pilaf. In Indian cuisine, wheat is mostly used in the flour form for making chapattis, paranthas and puris, while the semolina is used for making rava idli, dosa, upma, sooji ka halwa, laddu and other such popular dishes.
Preferable Cooking Methods for Wheat
Wheat flour which is mostly used for baking is first mixed with a liquid like milk or water and then rolled into dough or beaten into a batter by blending in other ingredients. Depending on the recipe, this dough or batter is given desired shapes or molded before being placed inside the oven. Often the dough or batter is just fried in oil or toasted. The breakfast cereal is usually mixed with milk and fruits and eaten.
Five Most Popular Wheat Recipes
One of the most well known wheat recipes is Dundee cake which is prepared by blending plain wheat flour with ingredients such as cinnamon, whiskey, almond, raisins, cherries, margarine and sugar. Almond biscotti is another popular wheat recipe which is prepared by baking an all-purpose flour dough mixed with various ingredients like sugar, butter, vanilla, baking powder and milk. The Indian aloo paratha deserves a special mention here, as it is one of the most popular Indian foods which is basically made by rolling the wheat flour dough into a flat circular shape and then fried in ghee or oil. The other popular recipes made from this cereal crop are chocolate pound cake and cheese sauce.
Nutritive Value of Wheat
Wheat is very rich in carbohydrates (mostly starch). Besides that, it also contains protein, essential minerals like calcium and iron and vitamin B complex. Besides, wheat also contains magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and fiber. Wheat also contains gluten, which may cause celiac disease, an adverse immune system problem in eaters with gluten allergy. Generally, wheat is known to be beneficial for the overall health of the body, especially for the digestive system.
Wheat Storing Tips
Wheat should always be stored in sealed containers or drums with tight lids so that the grains or the flour doesn’t come in contact with warmth, moisture and oxygen. This will also keep the bugs away.
Non- Food Uses of Wheat
Wheat straw is often used for roofing thatch. The crop is also used as forage crop for feeding livestock.
One bushel of this cereal crop wheat is equivalent to 42 loaves of white bread.