The story of wheat is a long and complicated one. From its early beginnings to frequent uses today, wheat is one of the most important crops to learn about. To learn all about wheat, keep reading. This article covers everything wheat, including what it is, what it looks like, its parts, its history, and more.
Wheat is one of the most important crops worldwide. In fact, it is the most important grain worldwide when you look at grain land area. Based on total production volume, it is the second most important grain. As a result, the world has produced over 772 million metric tons of wheat. Hence, the world trade of this crop is greater than all of the other crops combined.
As though wheat is not popular enough as is, it is projected that wheat will become even more popular in the upcoming years as more diets become westernized.
Needless to say, wheat is an important crop to know about. Whether you are a farmer or consumer, knowing about the history of wheat and its usage provides you with the knowledge to make smart decisions about your food.
What Is Wheat?
Wheat is a type of grass that is cultivated worldwide since it is a staple in so many diets. The scientific name of wheat is Triticum, and there are many species that belong to this genus. The most common wheat is the T. aestivum variety, but there are 22 other species.
The top of the wheat has hard and dry fruit called kernels. These kernels are the reason that wheat is harvested. When kept dry, the wheat kernels can be fed to farm animals, turned into human food, and even grind down into flour.
What Does Wheat Look Like?
Even if you aren’t super familiar with wheat, you likely know what it looks like without realizing it. Much like every other plant, wheat grows in stages. The stages of wheat growth can be divided into the following categories: germination, tillering, stem elongation, heading, and ripening.
When most people imagine a wheat plant, they imagine the plant in its ripening stage when it is between 2 to 4 feet tall, contains leaves and a spike, and boasts a gorgeous golden hue. Even though wheat’s final form is recognizable by all, the plant undergoes many changes during its growth stages.
Here is a closer look at what the plant will look like during each stage.
The germination stage is when the wheat seed is planted and starts growing its first roots and leaves. At this point, most of the wheat is unseen because it is underground.
During the tillering phase, the wheat plant starts growing more leaves to the point that it almost looks like grass. Its grass-like appearance is from the fact that the leaves are green, and the leaves are only a couple of inches off the ground.
Eventually, the wheat plant will start growing like weeds during the stem elongation phase. At this point, the plant won’t look much like grass anymore simply because of how tall it is. More leaves will continue growing on the main stem as it grows.
During the heading phase, the wheat plant grows its spike, but it is still green. Because it is still green, the wheat is not ready for harvesting.
The ripening phase is when the wheat becomes completely dried out. It is this stage that most people imagine when they think of wheat. It contains all of its leaves, its full height, and a full spike. Most notably, it has a golden color that is vibrant and reminds one of autumn.
Because the whole plant has grown and dried out at this point, the spike looks very spiky, hence its name. These spikes contain all of the wheat grains or kernels. Some of the grains are visible to the naked eye, but some are very small as well. Each grain will look like a little seed.
The Parts of Wheat Plants
Although the kernel is the most important part of the plant for consumption, wheat plants have other parts as well. It’s important to understand these parts so that you know what the plant looks like and how it is used.
Just like every other plant, wheat plants begin with roots. This root system grows into the ground and provides the plant with nutrients and water. You will not be able to see the root system since it is located under the ground.
The root system is connected to the stem of the plant. The stem is just another word for the wheat stalk. This stem can grow anywhere from tw2o to 4 feet tall. Factors such as nutrients, wheat type, and location impact exactly how tall the stem grows.
At the very bottom of the stem, you will see a couple of leaf-looking items. Even though these items look like leaves, they’re actually tillers. The tillers were additional stems that developed on the main shoot.
Running up and down the stem will be leaves. These leaves are drooping and there are typically only four or so on each stem.
Head or Spike
At the very top of the stem is the head or spike. The head or spike is made up of many kernels and grains. It shoots out of the stem and looks spiky, hence its name.
Grains Or Kernels
Finally, we have gotten to the individual grains and kernels located on the spike. The grains and the kernels are what get ground into flour and turned into food for human consumption.
The number of grains on a single spike are practically uncountable because of how small they are. The size of an individual grain of wheat ranges from 2.67 to .
The History of Wheat
The history of wheat is a long one. You could write book after book about its history without much problem. So you don’t have to spend the rest of your life learning about the history of wheat, here is a quick rundown instead:
It is believed that the first type of wheat was cultivated around 8500 BCE. It was cultivated in what is called the Fertile Crescent, which is in the modern-day countries of Baghdad, Turkey, and Iran. If you are familiar with history, the Fertile Crescent is another name of Mesopotamia.
Wheat Expands to Greece and Germany
Around 6500 BCE, wheat slowly made its way to Greece as it became more adaptable to various climates. Shortly after, wheat was taken by various Grecians upwards to modern-day European countries, most notably Germany.
Milling Becomes Popular
After wheat had made it to continental Europe, it developed so that it could withstand nearly all environments, with the exception of Antarctica. By the 12th century CE, wheat was being milled as a common food source.
Wheat Expands To America
It wasn’t until the 18th century that wheat truly blew up. By this time, wheat had made it all across the globe, most importantly to the UK and America. In fact, America quickly took over as being the leading producer of various types of wheat.
Still, the wheat that was being produced in the 18th and 19th centuries is not like the wheat we eat today. It wasn’t until the discovery of genetics that wheat began to be bred for specific purposes, thus resulting in the wheat we see today.
Now, wheat is one of the most versatile and useful crops for the entire world. It is only growing more popular as the western diet is making its way around the globe.
What Products Are Made From Wheat?
Wheat is considered one of the most important ingredients in a variety of foods. Practically any food that needs to be baked includes some form of wheat or grain. Here is a list of the most popular foods that include wheat:
Around the world, wheat is most important for the production of bread. Without wheat, bread would not be able to take shape and rise.
How Much Is In One Bushel of Wheat?
Whenever wheat is packaged and sold, it is typically sold by the bushel, which is a unit of measurement. Most often, bushels of wheat use the US bushel instead of the British bushel.
Bushels can be a bit confusing because the exact amount within the bushel depends on the commodity in question. For wheat specifically, one bushel has 60 pounds of wheat. This results in about 1,000,000 wheat kernels.
Although the exact price for a bushel of wheat depends on the time of year, location, and type, the average price of a bushel of wheat is about $7.90.
Facts About Wheat
Even though we’ve learned a lot about wheat, we haven’t even covered half of it. Here are some other facts about wheat to enlighten you about this unique grain.
Wheat Is a Grain With Fruit
The entire wheat plant classifies as a grain, not a fruit or vegetable. Other foods that fall into this group include rice, oats, barley, and cornmeal.
What is interesting is that individual parts of the wheat are sometimes referred to as fruit. Most notably, the kernels on the spike are often referred to as fruit because they are technically seeds. To many people’s surprise, the wheat seed is called a “wheat berry” and botanically classified as the caryopsis fruit. So, the whole wheat plant itself is a grain, whereas the individual seeds are a fruit.
Newsflash: America Is NOT The Leading Producer Of Wheat
The global production of wheat is nearly 800 million tons. Because so many states in the US focus on wheat production, it’s easy to assume that the US is the leading producer of wheat, but that is not the case. The United States only produces about 47 million metric tons of wheat every year, which allows it to take the 4th spot.
The top three producers of wheat are China, India, and Russia. China produces 134 million metric tons, India produces 98.5 million metric tons, and Russia produces 85.9 million metric tons. To put that in perspective, the top three countries account for nearly 41% of the entire wheat production in the world.
Even though America is not the leading producer of wheat, it is the leading exporter of wheat. Nearly 42% of wheat is exported from America.
You Can Eat Wheat Raw
Most people eat wheat in the form of bread and other baked goods. Although wheat is tasty in this way, you can technically eat wheat raw. In fact, many people like to sprinkle wheat kernels over salads and other similar foods to offer a nice crunch to their meals.
You should not, however, eat flour raw. Even though it is not toxic in this form, it is easy to choke on flour or inhale its particles since it is ground so finely. So, only eat natural wheat raw.
Wheat Has Undergone Many Mutations
It’s difficult to answer whether or not wheat is natural. Technically, wheat did arise in the wild, but the wheat we eat today is not like wild wheat. Since the 1900s, wheat has undergone many genetic mutations under human supervision in order to enhance flavor and production.
Not to mention, most wheat that we eat has undergone various milling processes, including bleaching, malting, and aging. With this in mind, wheat is not natural by many people’s definitions.
Still, the wheat itself is natural in that it grows from the ground. You do have to consider the fact that it did undergo a lot of mutations and often undergoes various milling processes before it reaches your table.
Wheat Is Primarily Produced By Big Wheat Corporations
In the United States, the majority of farms classify as small farms. Specifically, it was found that about 98% of all US farms were made up of family farms. However, the majority of the money made by farms is made by large farms.
Still, family farms only account for 24% of the value of production. More worrisome is the fact that large farms that make at least $1,000,000 only make up a small sliver of the US farms (about 2%), but they make nearly 50% of production value. What this means is that even though there are still way more family farms than commercial farms, the real money lies in the commercial farms.
Not only is this problematic for the small farmers that work insane hours just to make ends meet, but it is problematic for the future of the wheat industry as a whole. Since these large commercial farms bring in so much money, they can continue to produce more wheat without worrying about finances. As a result, these commercial farms are pushing family farms to the wayside.
By pushing family farms to the wayside, there are more negative environmental impacts that happen, less accountability, and fewer options for the buyer. So, everyone should be concerned about Big Wheat, not just small-scale farmers.
National Wheat Day
Wheat is such a popular crop in the United States that there is even a national day dedicated to it. On the 20th of April, you can celebrate Wheat Day with others who love the delicious crop!
So, now you know all about wheat. Next time you eat a slice of bread or dive into a muffin, consider the fantastic crop that is required for the food’s tasty flavor.