Today, let’s talk about the main types of wheat to use in whole grain baking and cooking, the differences between them, where you can buy them and how you can use them in baking/cooking. Whether you make your own bread or not, whole wheat berries/flour can be used in many ways.
Disclaimer: I’m hitting on the wheat varieties that are common, easy to find, and that I’ve used for many years with great success. These are my preferred varieties of wheat but I have friends/family who use other types (like kamut, in particular) so feel free to do your own research on some of those wheat outliers.
Okie doke. Ready? First off, in case you didn’t know, wheat that has been hulled but unmilled (like you see below) is called wheat berries.
I’ll refer to “berries” often throughout this post and didn’t want you to be looking for pictures of fresh fruit if you are new to wheat terminology.
You can tell immediately from these pictures that each type of wheat looks a bit different, both in color and shape. Notice also that for every 1/4 cup of wheat berries, hard red wheat has slightly more protein while hard white and soft white are the same.
First up, let’s take a closer look at soft white wheat. The berries themselves are rounder in shape and they are lighter and more yellow in color than the other two types of wheat. Soft white wheat, finely ground, is perfect for tender, light baked goods. Bread, rolls, and even pie crusts, pastries and cookies.
Next, we have hard red wheat. It is noticeably darker than the other two white wheat varieties. Because of it’s slightly higher protein content, it is better used for heartier, heavier breads.
It isn’t going to yield the same light color and texture in a baked good that a variety of white wheat will. Many people who try whole wheat bread with red wheat first are sometimes disappointed because it tends to produce heavy, dark loaves.
I always recommend using hard white wheat to start; for some reason, it seems easier to develop the gluten and get a lighter, more tender bread. I’m not anti-red wheat (you’ll find out more below); but it is the type of wheat that sometimes gives wheat bread in general a bad rep.
Finally, hard white wheat. Light color, just like soft white wheat, but it has a slightly longer, thinner berry shape. This is the type of wheat I use the most. It is a great all-purpose wheat flour to use as it works great in yeasted breads/rolls and also in cookies and other baked goods.
When ground, the wheat berries produce flour at any level of coarseness or fineness, depending on your grain mill or wheat grinder. My rule of thumb, unless I’m going for a cracked wheat cereal, is to grind as finely as my grain mill allows because I like to be able to sub the wheat flour in for all-purpose flour and the more finely ground it is, the more easily I can substitute one-for-one with all-purpose flour.
I’ll be talking more in-depth about wheat grinders sometime soon, but a good rule of thumb is that one cup of wheat berries produces about 2 cups flour. Keep in mind, though, that freshly ground wheat flour is full of air from shooting out of the grinder so measuring freshly ground wheat can be a bit tricky (and is also the reason I use approximate amounts of flour for whole wheat bread recipes instead of exact measurements). I either let the flour settle for 30 minutes or so, or if I’m going to use it right away, I forget my standard flour measuring rule, and pack it in the cup a bit more to account for the airiness of just being ground.
It’s hard to see it in this picture below, but the hard red wheat flour (top) has a bit more texture and a darker color than the soft white wheat flour (bottom).
I have made bread with all three varieties and what do you know? I think it was the best bread I’ve ever made. So, basically, experiment with the type of wheat you prefer – it will vary widely among every person.
For bread, I always use my trusted 100% whole wheat recipes. For rolls and other breads, I generally use at least half whole wheat flour, sometimes more and sometimes less (with the exception of this ciabatta bread, this rustic crusty bread and a small handful of others which I always splurge and make 100% white flour).
However, you can think outside of the box and use wheat berries in many other ways besides bread. Here are some good ones:
Homemade Cream of Wheat Cereal: Toast the wheat berries in the oven until lightly golden, let them cool, then grind them in a grain mill or wheat grinder to the texture of hot cereal, not fine like flour but not as coarse as cracked wheat. You could probably even do that in a blender. Cook or microwave 1 cup of the toasted ground wheat berries in 3 cups water for a delicious, hot cream of wheat breakfast (this is honestly one of my boys’ favorite breakfast choices with blueberries and a touch of brown sugar and milk).
Pancake Mix: I use 100% whole wheat flour for our favorite oatmeal pancake mix. It’s hearty, healthy and totally delish.
Traditional Cracked Wheat: If your wheat grinder can hack it, grind the wheat berries for cracked wheat cereal.
Whole Wheat Blender Pancakes/Waffles: This unique recipe doesn’t use flour at all; it starts with whole wheat berries that are blended with buttermilk and other ingredients. It’s another breakfast staple at our house. You can use any type of wheat berry for these.
Wheat as a Meat Extender: You can get all wild and crazy and use wheat as a meat extender. It’s amazing! My friend Jenna told me about this years ago after she served me stroganoff that was so tasty, I asked for the recipe and she shyly admitted that the “meat” in the recipe was at least 1/2 wheat berries. WHAT? I couldn’t even tell. It’s been years since I’ve employed this method myself (I need to start again!) but I can vouch that it works. The wheat takes on the taste and texture of the meat plus it adds a whole lot of extra protein and fiber. Basically you use cooked wheat berrries (cracked wheat) and simmer it with your meat (for tacos, stroganoff and other ground beef/turkey meals that simmer or cook for a bit). Google “wheat meat extender” and you’ll get some good ideas.