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Name That Grain! (What are all Those Kinds of Wheat For???)

grinding flour

If you had asked me what kind of wheat I used two years ago, I would have said “whole wheat, sometimes unbleached white flour.” I thought I was pretty hot stuff because I knew to get unbleached flour and how to substitute part whole wheat in my quick bread and cookie recipes.

Guess what happened when I was presented with this daunting list?

  • pastry flour
  • hard red winter wheat
  • white spring wheat
  • soft spring wheat
  • spelt berries
  • And, uh…what’s a wheat berry? Is it a fruit?

Yikes! I had no idea what to do. Ever been there?

Here’s my super quick and easy primer on what wheat to use for what purpose.

What’s the Nutrient Difference?

The first point to make is that all whole wheats have about the same nutrient profile. They’re all fiber-rich, have healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. If you want to know more details, here’s the breakdown on the nutrients in a whole wheat berry. That post also explains how to read a bread bag to decipher all the marketing foo-foo you’ll find trying to trick you into buying not-so-healthy bread, if you’re not at the point of making your own yet.

When I first started talking about white whole wheat flour  on Kitchen Stewardship®, many readers were concerned it wasn’t as healthy as “regular” whole wheat flour. That word “white” throws people off because we’re so used to avoiding refined baked goods as we seek a healthy lifestyle. White whole wheat is just a different variety of wheat berry. It’s from the hard white spring wheat. Other than having slightly less gluten, which affects the protein count, white whole wheat is just as nutritious as standard whole wheat flour, which comes from hard red wheat berries (spring or winter).

As long as you’re using the whole wheat berry in your grain grinder, your baked goods are 100% whole grain, and you only have to worry about whether that’s the nutritious choice or not. Winking smile Are whole grains good or bad for you?

A wheat berry is just the whole kernel of wheat, bran + germ + endosperm, the way it grows in the field minus the husk. The top photo shows wheat berries and flour.

The List: How to Use Different Whole Grains

I’m far from an expert, but this will give you a place to start if you are ready to diversify your flours or get your own grain grinder.

whole wheat biscuits

Hard red wheat (spring or winter):

Pumpkin Muffins

This is what you recognize as traditional whole wheat. Nutty and hearty in breads, plenty of gluten for a good rise, but can be dense in many baked goods for most people’s palates. Most whole wheat recipes fit great with hard red wheat, including pancakes, crackers, and bread.

Hard white wheat (spring or winter):

WHOLE WHEAT CRACKERS

This can be used very similarly to red wheat. White wheat is a bit lighter, which makes it a great choice for transitioning from white flour to whole wheat. You can often substitute white whole wheat for refined flour (white flour) at least 50/50 in quick breads (above), cookies, pancakes, crackers and even yeast breads. Many people love white whole wheat in yeast breads, but I actually prefer the heartiness and the bit of extra gluten in red wheat for breads and pizza dough.

Soft wheat:

Pumpkin Pancakes

This is the same as pastry flour, which has the right profile for the flakiness needed for pie crusts, cakes and biscuits, and it gives muffins, pancakes and crackers an amazing boost. When I used to substitute half the white flour in my biscuits recipe with whole wheat, they were very dense (but still good). Now with 100% whole wheat pastry flour (soft wheat berries), the biscuits (above) have more fluff and taste less “healthy” even though they’re a big step up. It’s tough to make a good whole wheat pie crust, but if you start experimenting, always use pastry flour.

Whole Spelt:

Sold as whole berries or flour, spelt is an ancient cousin of wheat. It is a gluten-containing grain but has less stable gluten than modern traditional wheat. Spelt also has more protein, but less fiber and fewer calories. Some people find spelt easier to digest if they struggle with whole wheat. (source)I find spelt to be sweeter than wheat, which makes it quite incredible for reducing the sweetener in these cookies (above). Many people describe spelt as nuttier. A lot of people love spelt for their daily bread, but I haven’t experimented with it enough. If you try it and like it, you can often sub spelt for wheat in many recipes, but you may have to add up to a quarter more flour or reduce the liquid by a quarter. If you’re making bread, knead no more than 4 minutes, because spelt’s gluten breaks down more easily than wheat. (source)

Gluten flour or vital wheat gluten:

You won’t find whole wheat berries with this name, but it’s another confusing one for beginning bread makers. Gluten is a protein in wheat and spelt that, when kneaded to organize the gluten strands, gives bread dough its stretchiness and bread its ability to rise and have air pockets. Adding extra gluten to a whole wheat recipe is very common to achieve a fluffier, lighter bread with a higher rise.However, taking gluten out of flour is ceasing to eat “whole” foods, is it not? With all the gluten intolerance in our modern times, I’m hesitant to use vital wheat gluten and try to avoid it whenever possible. If you wish to find some, it’s often in the baking aisle of a major grocery store in a smaller bag from somewhere like Bob’s Red Mill.

Am I missing any common whole wheat varieties? What’s your favorite? How do you use them?

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

27 thoughts on “Name That Grain! (What are all Those Kinds of Wheat For???)”

  1. Pingback: 5 Ways to Feel Better About Desserts | daily digest

  2. Melissa via Facebook

    Prarie Gold is white hard wheat and has a mellow, slightly sweet flour as is less acidic than red hard wheat. If you buy whole wheat at the store it will be red. Prairie Gold is my favorite modern wheat.

    Have you tried Kamut yet? It is incredible! It is an ancient wheat first brought to the states from Egypt by an airman following WW II. We LOVE the flavor. I have been thinking of switching from white wheat to Kamut entirely.

    And if you have not yet found a whole grains pastry recipe, I used ground barley with two tablespoons of bread flour and an egg yolk in addition to the butter. It holds together great, still stays flaky and is whole grain!

  3. Margaret via Facebook

    Ew! I looked it up. Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye and is grown mostly for fodder.

  4. Margaret via Facebook

    I like Prairie Gold wheat and what is Triticale? It’s in a seven grain berry blend I got from a bulk place.

  5. THANK YOU for this post, Katie!!!! I am thinking about buying a Nutramill next month and this is the perfect cheat sheet! I’ll be using a link from your site to buy it off of amazon, especially since your comparison of the Nutramill and Whispermill convinced me that’s what I want!

  6. How much extra time does it really take to grind all of your own flour? I used to have a hand cranked stone mill, but it was so labor intensive that we rarely used it.

    1. Liz,
      With an electric mill, only a minute or two. Plus you can do other things while it’s milling, so that’s not too bad. 🙂 katie

  7. Great Post! I am thinking about attempting to buy the dry blade for my Vitamix and start making flour from whole berries.

    My question is what is the lowest glycemic grain there is to make flour (for bread)? I have been eating ezekiel bread (sesame) a sprout grain bread that is low on the glycemic index. I usually only have 1 piece of bread with a protein. I try to eat small meals every 2 1/2 to 3 hours because I was feeling like I had low blood sugar and I would then want to eat sweets all the time to raise it. So now I have been able to avoid sweets and simple carbs by eating often (low glycemic meals) and keeping my sugar levels balance.

    What do you suggest?

    Thank you!

    Jennifer

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      I am sure that Katie would agree…you will not get the volume nor the consistency out of the Vitamix that you will get from a grain grinder. Lower glycemic grains are buckwheat, amaranth, teff, quinoa, wild rice (among the gluten-free choices).

    2. Jennifer,
      I’m glad Adrienne weighed in, b/c I’m kind of clueless about glycemic index! I am dying to try a Vitamix or Blendtec, but haven’t yet. Enjoy! 🙂 Katie

    1. Linda,
      I generally avoid refined flours, i.e. white flour. However, I absolutely still have some around and use it with whole wheat sometimes. White flour has almost no nutrients and metabolizes like sugar, so it’s a big compromise/dessert type food around here. 🙂 Katie

  8. I’ve been making pie crusts for a while and have found the soft white wheat, ground very fine with the Nutrimill, makes a great crust. I use 1/2 lard, 1/2 butter for the fat. I also mix the dough in my old food processor. Obviously, I don’t baby the dough, but it’s fast and easy and healthy!

  9. Maybe you’ve mentioned this in another post, but how do I take the vital wheat gluten ou of a recipe? We have a recipe we’ve loved but I’ve been wanting to take out the 1/3 cup gluten.

    My baby is on day five of this fever bug, so I feel for you!

    1. Nikki,
      When I take it out, I just replace the bulk (1/3 cup) with equal amount whole wheat flour. You have to be ready for a sunken loaf, though. If you have a favorite recipe, you might start by cutting it in half and/or trying another dough enhancer like ginger or citric acid.

      Hope your little one feels better now! 🙂 Katie

  10. I was also wondering where kamut fit in with the various wheats and spelt. Spelt bothers my stomach more than wheat. Haven’t used kamut enough times to have a feel for that yet. Love your blog, thanks for your time, research and passion!

    1. Sally,
      Good question! I forgot about kamut, even though I just ordered my first bag. It’s supposed to be along the lines of spelt, older than wheat, I think, but a very specific strain. I see many people use it in pizza doughs and such in place of wheat. How little I really know! 🙂 Katie

  11. I was going to mention kamut as well. It has a somewhat buttery flavor to it. We used to make kamut pasta with it and it was a hit with everyone in our home. It wasn’t great alone for a loaf of bread, however. It had a somewhat “off” taste.

    There is also triticale, which is a hybrid of wheat and rye, but I have never baked with it.

    I also have a good “press in the pan” pie crust that worked well for us using either kamut or whole white wheat or pastry flour. I even was able to cut out or sculpt some “leaves” with extra crust for on top.

    Hope your little one is feeling better. It is really going around!

    1. Adrienne, good call on the triticale. your recipe for the press-n-pan pie crust sounds awesome. would love to try it! 🙂 Kelly

      1. Hi Kelly! I see you are going to start a blog soon! I’d love to connect w/ you. I’m at wholenewmom.com. Very new site 🙂 Pay me a visit and let’s connect. I should post the recipe and then you can have it 🙂

  12. How about Kamut (khorasan wheat) – a wonderful wheat relative that is higher in protein that wheat. I love baking with Kamut! It’s an especially delicious substitute for traditional wheat for waffles, pancakes and muffin recipes! 🙂 kel
    www.facebook.com/TheNourishingHome

    1. Kelly,
      Thank you! Good to know – I’m excited to try to substitute it in pancakes now. I’m a kamut rookie! 🙂 Katie

  13. Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

    Ironically I found out that we do not do well with spelt, even sprouted — and had to switch back to wheat. So while many might do better with spelt, we were not among them. 🙂

    Can’t wait till I can do SOME grains again…though not sure how long that will be!

  14. This is great information!I’ve started a personal challenge to make all our own bread products and am planning to do a post about this sort of thing-I think I just might direct people over here too!Thanks for sharing. This stuff does seem confusing-I am pretty new to bread making (=

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