CHOOSING VARIETIES OF WHEAT
Wheat classification is a detailed and complex business, with dozens of characteristics coming into play. However, the basic classification elements of importance to the farmer or baker are as follows:
Type. The wheat genus (Triticum) is classified into approximately 15 species, including einkorn (T. monococcum), emmer (T. dicoccum), durum (T. durum) and common (T. vulgare). Almost all of the wheat we grow at Earth Dharma Farm is common wheat, which is classified further according to the characteristics described below.
Growing Habit. Wheat is generally classified as winter habit or spring habit. Winter wheat requires a vernalization (cold hibernation) period to grow well, and is planted in the fall for harvest the following summer. Spring wheat - as its name suggests - is planted in the spring and harvested late the same summer. Generally speaking, spring wheat is higher in protein content than winter wheat. However, in colder climates it may not always ripen before the first frost.
Kernel Texture. Kernels are classified as either soft to semihard (soft wheat), or semihard to hard (hard wheat). Hard wheat is generally considered better for bread baking, while soft wheat is preferred for pastry and biscuits.
Kernel Color. Kernels come in many shades varying from light tan or even yellowish to deep brown, but they are generally classified as either white or red. Kernel color is a critical characteristic in distinguishing different varieties, but it is not so critical to the use of the wheat.
In very general terms, if you want wheat to make bread, you will want a hard wheat. Usually, but not always, hard wheats are red wheats. If you want to make pastries, biscuits or breakfast cereal you will want a soft wheat. Soft wheats can be white or red.
If you want to dig deeper into the classification of wheat, we highly recommend Classification of Wheat Varieties Grown in the United States in 1939, available at: http://plantbreeding.wsu.edu/tb0795, or any of the other detailed technical bulletins on wheat produced by the USDA over the past century. Lots of people these days seem to like to complain about government, but we feel pretty indebted to the USDA for the treasure trove of research it has handed down to us in these incredible documents.