No other food is so demonized and deified as wheat. Some praise the excellent baking properties, and others complain about health disadvantages. However, wheat is by no means unhealthy for everyone. We clear up all kinds of prejudices.
The symbolism of wheat
There is hardly any other food that is as disreputable as wheat. Wheat is said to make you fat and depressed, even stupid. It hasn’t always been like this. The diverse symbolism shows how important wheat was for people in the past.
For the ancient Egyptians, the sown grain of wheat, which dies in the earth (because it then germinates and becomes a plant), represented resurrection. The ancient Greeks saw wheat as a perfect object of mystical contemplation. The Romans, on the other hand, planted wheat on graves in order to able to benefit from the power of the dead.
The Bible is filled with parables about wheat. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sows grains of wheat in his field. In mysticism, the grain that germinates in secret is a parable for the new birth of the human heart, hidden from sight. How can it be that wheat has lost so much charm these days? We now want to get to the bottom of this question and many others.
Every culture had its grain
The systematic cultivation of grain began around 10,000 years ago. Agriculture made it possible for nomadic peoples to settle permanently and become sedentary in a specific place. Each culture was characterized by its own grain cultivation adapted to the respective region. While the rice was grown in Asia, corn was grown in America and millet in Africa. On the other hand, the northerners cultivated rye and barley, and the ancient Romans cultivated wheat.
The Origin of Wheat
After barley, wheat is the second oldest type of grain. The oldest finds date from between 7,800 and 5,200 BC. Chr. Wheat emerged from the crossing of various types of wild grass and cereals. The very first growing region for wheat was called the Fertile Crescent and is located in the Near East. Around 2,000 BC In the course of Indo-European migrations, wheat reached Europe.
The most important types of wheat at a glance
Wheat is not just wheat. This includes a whole range of plant species that – like all cereals – belong to the sweet grasses. The main types of wheat are:
Einkorn comes directly from wild wheat and is the most original form of cultivated wheat. In the 20th century, the undemanding grain was condemned to insignificance because the yields are low compared to modern wheat varieties. In the meantime, people are increasingly reflecting on the value of the old type of wheat, which has a higher content of vital substances than modern wheat, e.g. B. around 200 percent more lutein (carotenoids d) and 42 percent more zinc. Einkorn is produced on a small scale, e.g. B. cultivated in German-speaking countries, Italy, and in Turkey. In health food stores, Emmer products such as bread and pasta are sold.
The emmer descends from the wheat species called wild emmer in southeast Turkey. In ancient times, it reached Europe from western Persia via Egypt and North Africa. The so-called “Wheat of Rome” only lost its importance in Europe in modern times. Emmer has been increasingly cultivated again since the 20th century but has never been able to build on its earlier successes. Nevertheless, various niche products such as grains, bread, pasta, and beer are becoming increasingly popular.
- soft wheat
If wheat is spoken of, the speech is usually from soft wheat. Its name refers to the soft, floury grain. Soft wheat comes from Emmer and is also known as seed or bread wheat. It is the most commonly cultivated grain and accounts for as much as 95 percent of global wheat cultivation. The commercially available wheat flours that are mainly used in households are all made from soft wheat. Common wheat is used in particular to make bread and other baked goods.
Spelled – also known as spelled or Schwabenkorn – is closely related to soft wheat and comes from Turkey. It came from a cross between wild emmer and another wild grass. The spell was an important commercial grain up until the 18th century, but then cultivation steadily declined due to the low yield and the complex processing (the grain is firmly attached to the husks). Since the 21st century, however, spelled has experienced a renaissance in the form of flour, coffee, and beer. The green spelled, as spelled that is harvested unripe and then dried is called, is used whole or ground in soups, patties, and spreads.
- durum wheat
Durum wheat is also known as durum, durum wheat, semolina, or glass wheat. The hardest of all types of wheat – durum means hard in Latin – comes from Emmer. After soft wheat, durum wheat is the second most common type of wheat but accounts for only 5 to 8 percent of global wheat production. It is mainly cultivated in the Mediterranean region and in the Near East. The term durum wheat refers to grain hardness. In addition, durum wheat contains more gluten than soft wheat and has a different protein structure. For these reasons, durum wheat is characterized by a high cooking strength and is therefore ideal for making pasta such as pasta.
- Khorasan wheat
Khorasan wheat is the result of a natural cross between durum wheat and a wild form of wheat. It is one of the oldest cultivated types of grain and originally comes from Khorasan (a historical area in today’s Iran and Afghanistan). Since 1990 the name Kamut? which means the soul of the earth in ancient Egyptian, registered and protected with the patent office of the USA. The cultivation and distribution are therefore only possible under license from the company Kamut International. The most important growing areas today are North America and Southern Europe.
Khorasan wheat is less demanding and less sensitive to diseases and insects and also hardly responds to artificial fertilizers, which is why it is very suitable for organic farming, but has never been of interest to conventional farming (since the yield is low and it is not can be increased by adding artificial fertilizers). Khorasan wheat is therefore a niche product that is mostly sold in health food stores and health food stores. Like durum wheat, it is good for making pasta. Kamut grains are significantly larger than other cereal grains.
Wheat: Difference between durum wheat and soft wheat
Durum wheat and soft wheat differ in many ways. While durum wheat requires a warm, sunny climate, soft wheat is content with cooler climates. The appearance of the plants and grain is also different. The durum wheat grows less tall, the ears are longer and the grain kernels are yellow and glassy due to the higher beta-carotene content. The grains of soft wheat, on the other hand, is almost white.
Durum wheat contains less starch, more protein, and 3 percent more gluten (glue protein) than soft wheat. Durum wheat flour consists of coarser components since the hard grains cannot be ground as finely. Durum wheat flour can e.g. absorb more water because of the coarser structure and higher gluten content. As a result, a robust, solid gluten structure is built up, which is why the dough is tougher and more difficult to work with and only rises slowly, but has a high cooking strength. For these reasons, durum wheat is ideal for making pasta such as pasta, bulgur, semolina, and couscous.
Soft wheat dough, on the other hand, is more elastic, less tough, easier to work with, and rises faster. Soft wheat flour can absorb less water, which is why eggs must be added to the dough when making pasta such as tagliatelle. The gluten structure is weaker and the cooking strength is therefore lower.
In Germany, for example, bread is primarily made from soft wheat, since the tough dough is ideal for fine-pored bread such as e.g. B. rolls are not suitable. If you’ve ever eaten southern Italian bread like Pane Pugliese (bread from Puglia), which is quite hard and coarse-pored compared to German white bread, you’ve tasted the difference.
Wheat: are semolina and durum wheat the same?
In Italy, where durum wheat plays a very important role, the flour made from it has its own term: Semola. This word does not exist in German, which is why it is usually simply translated as Griess. But with semolina, it makes absolutely no difference whether it is durum wheat, soft wheat, or completely different grain. The term semolina defines a certain degree of grinding. If the grain size of the ground material is between 0.3 and 1 mm, it is semolina. What is ground finer is called flour.
Where wheat got its name from
The word wheat probably comes from the Germanic word hwita for white, since the grain of wheat or the flour made from it is significantly lighter in comparison to rye flour.
What distinguishes wholemeal flour from flour
It is not uncommon to assume that the extracted flour is automatically wheat flour. Extracted flours can be made from many types of grain – not just from wheat. Extracted flour is basically lighter than wholemeal flour because it is only made from the inner core of the grain and therefore contains no shell parts.
With wholemeal flour, on the other hand, only the awns and husks are removed, while the bran, consisting of the shells, the aleurone layer (the surface layer that separates the endosperm from the outer shell), and the germ, and as a result, the nutrients contained therein are almost completely preserved. This is one reason why whole wheat flour is generally considered healthier than refined flour.
The Glycemic Load of Wheat
Both wheat bread (white bread) and whole wheat bread have a glycemic index (GI) of 70. Scores up to 55 are considered low. The GI tells you how carbohydrate-containing food affects blood sugar levels. The higher the GI, the more the blood sugar level rises after eating. The disadvantage of the GI is that it always refers to 100 g of carbohydrates in the respective food – regardless of how high the carbohydrate content is per 100 g of food and also regardless of whether and how much dietary fiber is included. The GI is therefore a very theoretical value that makes no sense in practice.
In general, glycemic load (GL) values are more realistic. Because these refer to the number of carbohydrates contained per serving and therefore also include the fiber content. And so whole grain bread has a GL of only 18, while white bread is between 38.8 and 42.5. Scores up to 10 are considered low, scores from 11 to 19 are medium, and scores 20 and above are high.
Whole wheat products, therefore, cause blood sugar to rise less sharply, which means that the body has to release less insulin. Whole grains can even reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Wholegrain wheat is allowed for low-carb meals
There are different types of low-carb diets. With the Atkins diet, for example, carbohydrates are almost completely avoided at the beginning, so whole grain products naturally do not fit here, while the Logi method only avoids the intake of carbohydrates with high GL. The carbohydrate content can be between 15 and 30 percent.
It is important to avoid refined sugar, white flour, and products made from them when eating low-carb. However, whole grain cereals are allowed, as they fill you up faster and longer, keep the intestines going, and do not raise blood sugar levels so quickly. After all, low carb does not mean any carb! It is crucial to learn to distinguish healthy carbohydrates from bad ones and of course to keep them in moderation.
Wholegrain wheat is richer in better quality protein
As explained above, the high-quality protein in wheat grains is in the aleurone layer that separates the endosperm from the outer shell. However, this is mainly separated during the production of flour. This is the reason why wholemeal flour, which still contains all the components of the grain, not only contains more dietary fiber but also more protein of better quality (a higher proportion of essential amino acids) than refined flour.
While 100 g of Type 405 wheat flour contains around 3,600 mg of essential amino acids, the same amount of whole wheat flour contains around 4,470 mg. This is due to the fact that refined flour does not contain any bran, which contains the more valuable protein. However, since bran is considered difficult to digest, it is not certain whether the organism can benefit from the amount of protein it contains, which probably depends on the fineness of the flour. Because the finer the bean is ground, the better it can be digested.
The history of wheat breeding
The cultivation of wheat began thousands of years ago. Initially, farmers simply propagated plants with desirable traits (selective or selective breeding). Cross-breeding was later used, whereby plants are deliberately crossed with one another. Recently, it finally became possible to look directly into the genome and genetically modify the plants.
The breeding goals for wheat include an easier harvest, an increase in yield, an increase in resistance (diseases, climate), and also an improvement in the milling and baking properties. Could it be that intolerances have increased in connection with the breeding of modern wheat varieties?
Does Modern Wheat Really Contain More Gluten?
The question is often asked why the great-grandparents tolerated wheat wonderfully and intolerance used to be an exception, while nowadays more and more people have problems with this grain. This is often attributed to the so-called high-performance wheat, which is said to contain much more gluten than old varieties.
In 2020, researchers from the Technical University of Munich analyzed the protein of 60 wheat varieties from the period between 1891 and 2010. They found that the modern varieties even contain a little less protein than the old ones. The gluten content has remained constant over the past 120 years. Although the composition of gluten has changed slightly, the proportion of gliadins, which are viewed critically, has fallen by around 18 percent. It is therefore not true that the old varieties contained less gluten.
It’s easy to find out if high-performance wheat is responsible for wheat sensitivity. You simply do without it for a while and instead fall back on old types of wheat such as einkorn, emmer, and Kamut. If there are no more symptoms, you know what it is better to avoid in the future.
The weather determines the gluten content in wheat
During their analysis, the scientists from the Technical University of Munich just mentioned made another interesting discovery. Because they found out that more gluten is formed in wheat grains in rainy years. The proportion of problematic gliadins, the effects of which we have already reported for you, then increases by up to 25 percent. Climate change could therefore have contributed to why people today tolerate wheat less well than in the past.
The researchers were surprised that environmental conditions have a greater impact on wheat proteins than changes caused by breeding. They stated that intolerance to wheat cannot be traced back to modern varieties, but to the weather-related higher gluten content or the altered gluten composition. It could also be that the content or the composition of other ingredients has changed.
The cultivation of wheat
After maize and rice, wheat is the third most commonly grown grain worldwide, with more than 700 million tons a year. China and India are among the largest wheat producers. In Europe, France with 40 million tons and Germany with 23 million tons of wheat is the most important growing country. In comparison, the annual wheat harvest in Austria is 1.6 million tons, and in Switzerland 500,000 tons.
While durum wheat is primarily cultivated in the Mediterranean region, in Central Europe almost only soft wheat plays a role. This is due to the climatic preferences of the wheat species. Since the wheat cultivated in German-speaking countries is not sufficient to meet demand, it is imported from countries such as the Czech Republic and Poland.
What are the benefits of sprouting wheat?
Germinating wheat offers you some health benefits. Because the nutrients contained in the grain are not only retained but sometimes even increase. For example, the vitamin E content increases threefold during germination.
Wheat can also be better digested through germination, since complex carbohydrates are partially broken down, which increases digestibility. A large part of the protein is broken down into its basic building blocks (amino acids) during germination and is therefore also easier to digest. This process normally only takes place during digestion. The amount of free essential amino acids in the seedlings increases up to 5 times.
Half of the flours tested contained mold toxins
Not only pesticides can cloud the quality of wheat, as the consumer magazine Ökotest found out in 2020 when analyzing 50 flours. Wheat flours of types 405, 550, and 1050 as well as whole wheat flour and spelled flour of types 630, 1050, and whole spelled flour were examined. It was gratifying that about half of the flours were awarded the best grade. However, mold toxins were found in around half of the wheat flours tested.
This was primarily the toxin deoxynivalenol (DON), which is produced by a fungus called Fusarium. The plants are already infested before harvest, favoring factors include rain and high temperatures during the wheat blossom. In high doses, DON can cause vomiting and diarrhea and weakens the immune system.
In principle, it can be said that the DON content in most of the flours and wheat products examined, such as noodles, is well below the legally prescribed limit. Nevertheless, the regular intake of DON can endanger health. Children are particularly affected. The problem is that wheat products do not show whether they contain traces of mold toxins and that these are not destroyed during cooking or baking.
Organic wheat flour contains far fewer mold toxins
It is not uncommon to read that the mold toxin DON is particularly frequently detected in organic wheat flour (and other organic flours). Supposedly because no chemical-synthetic fungicides may be used in organic cultivation. But the opposite is the case! Numerous analyzes have clearly shown that most organic foods have much lower levels of DON. On average, ecological samples contain about half the corresponding conventional values.
There are various reasons for this. For example, in organic farming, more resistant varieties, the plow, more crop rotation, and less nitrogen fertilization are used. In addition, studies suggest that the highly controversial glyphosate can also lead to an increase in Fusarium infestation and thus to a higher toxin load in the corresponding flours.
Ergot is no longer a threat
In the past, numerous people died from the highly toxic alkaloids produced by the dark-colored, 2 to 5 cm long ergot fungus. Rye is the most susceptible to infestation, but wheat can also be affected.
But nowadays there is practically no consumer risk since wheat and grain are generally thoroughly cleaned. An airflow is used, whereby foreign bodies are blown out of the grains. Ergots as well as straws and insects can be neatly separated from the harvested crop by sieves with graduated mesh sizes.
How to recognize high-quality wheat flour
High-quality wheat flour cannot be recognized by the eye alone. The consumer cannot determine whether it contains pesticides or mold toxins. It is therefore better to choose wheat flour from the organic supermarket in order to avoid corresponding residues. Otherwise, you can use all your senses to tell bad flour from good:
- Appearance: High-quality flour is yellowish-white and has a slightly dull sheen. Inferior flour is chalky-white and dull. The causes include long and/or incorrect storage. Carotenoids were destroyed by acid.
- Grip: Perfect flour is powdery and slightly gritty, which can be felt by rubbing it between your fingers. Faulty flour is lumpy, coarse-grained, and has a good grip. An excessively high water content (over 16 percent) can be responsible for this, which can be attributed to incorrect storage.
- Smell: Good flour smells fresh, pleasant, and pure. Poor flour smells rancid, musty, and sour. The causes include mold due to storage that is too humid, decomposition of fat in storage that is too warm, or acid formation due to storage that is too long and warm.
- Flavor: Good quality flour tastes tart. The slightly sweet taste only becomes apparent after chewing for a long time. Inferior flour tastes sweet immediately because the starch has already been broken down by enzymes into sugars.
The optimal storage of wheat flour
As a rule, you should only buy flour when you need it and not build up stocks. It is best to store the flour in the paper bag that you bought it in. If you want to keep flour for as long as possible, you can put it in an airtight container after buying it from the paper bag. Always keep the flour in a dry and dark place. The cupboard above the stove is unsuitable because flour is sensitive to cooking fumes.
If stored properly, wheat flour can still be used a few months after the best-before date has expired. However, this does not apply to wholemeal flour. Because this has a higher fat content and therefore becomes rancid faster than flour.
Basically, the older the flour, the greater the loss of vitamins. In addition, the baking quality decreases as the degradation of naturally contained enzymes progresses. If you would like to bake with wholemeal flour in the future, then it is worth getting a flour mill, with which you can always grind the grain fresh just before consumption.