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Some notes on wheat with relevance to breadmaking and pasta
Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, the
best food reference there is (at least in English), has a lot of good
detail about this, including the latin names of the various species and
varieties of wheat. Below are some common wheats and related grains:
(larger versions available on flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/debunix/247497350/)
Clockwise from Top:
Rye (Cecale cereale)-greener than wheat, and more variably colored in general
Barley (Hordeum vulgare)--partly pearled berries are pale here
Kamut (Triticum turgidum)--unusually long, thin, otherwise more resembling durum
Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum diococcum)--longer, thinner, more translucent and golden than T. aestivum
Hard white wheat (Triticum aestivum)--compact, light colored, more translucent than soft white
Soft white wheat (Triticum aestivum)--plump pale kernels
Oats (Avena sativa)--pale, narrow, softer kernels
Spelt (Triticum aestivum spelta)--redder, plump, often has hulls still attached
Not pictured: hard red and soft red wheats, which look like hard red
and white wheats except they're the same color as the spelt here.
Modern bread wheat, T. aestivum, has
a variable protein content from 10-16%. The lower protein content
versions are called soft, and the higher protein wheats are hard.
Their protein forms a highly elastic and strong gluten when
wetted and kneaded that is good for breads. The higher gluten
content of hard wheat makes for breads capable of rising higher. The soft wheats
are used for pastries, cookies, and cakes, where too much gluten makes
for chewinesss rather than crispness or softness. When milled
into flours, the protein content is lower than that of the whole wheat
berry because protein is lost when the bran and germ are sifted out to
make white flour.
American white all-purpose flour is a mix of hard and soft wheats, with
a mid-range protein content (11-12%), that makes ok bread and ok
pastries. Pastry flour is lower protein (8-9%), and specialty
bread flour is higher (12-14%). European bread flours are noted
for having lower protein content than American flours, because they
don't have the same access to very high-protein spring wheats grown in
the northern great plains and Canada. You'll find specialty "European",
"French" or "Italian" bread flours mixed to 9-10% protein to
approximate these different flours. The combination of different
protein and varied degrees of hydration (percentage of water in the
recipe) are what give many French and Italian breads their big soft
holey crumbs, and makes for good pizza dough. Cake flour has
lower portein content still at 7-8% (I think sometimes extra starch is
added to cut the percentage of protein).
Durum and Kamut are both older types of wheat than modern T. aestivum bread
wheats, with a different proportions and types of gluten than bread
wheats. Their gluten is very strong, but not as elastic, so
doesn't stretch as well to accomodate pockets of gas from growing
yeast. It works very well to hold together pasta, however. Durum is the source of durum flour and semolina
(a coarser variety of flour from the same durum berry). Durum
flour is more golden and makes breads with a warm, golden crumb, and a
slightly nuttier flavor than bread wheat. I like to use 20-50%
durum sometimes for breads, especially in flatbreads where the degree
of rising is less critical, to take advantage of that flavor.
Spelt is a very old variety of
wheat, neither a modern bread wheat, nor a durum wheat, and though it
looks much like it, it is not the same as emmer or farro.
It has a high protein content (16%) but the gluten is not very
elastic, and will not make a bread as light as a modern bread wheat of
the same percentage of protein. I particularly like to use it in
soups, although probably any wheat would do as well.
As used here, white flour (sifted or milled to remove the bran and
germ, for better shelf life and maximum rise in breads) is not to be
confused with white wheat or red wheat;
these refer to the color of the bran of the wheat berry, and the color
is independent of the protein content or hardness of the wheat. Red
wheat bran tends to be a bit more bitter tasting than white wheat
brans, and may be part of what puts some people off when they taste
whole wheat baked goods. Durum and Kamut also lack that bitter edge.
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