Nutrition Meets Food Science

Wheat Varieties and Application in Different Products

Wheat has several varieties and they differ in properties making them useful in some products and not others. Higher protein makes them useful in bread making while lower protein in biscuits and cakes. There are many types of flours which are used in different products. These flours are made from different varieties and sometimes blends are used. The flours may vary in protein content, carbohydrate makeup, moisture and physical properties of seeds. The variation in composition and properties may be due to varieties but also dependent on environmental conditions during growth.

Most common wheat species used world over is Triticum aestivum, which is used in bread, biscuits, chapati etc. while T. durum species is preferred for traditional pasta products because of yellow colour and hardness. There are also other lesser common species. Each species has different varieties that are grown in different regions and in different seasons and under different conditions. To that are added many hybrid varieties that are prepared by mixing genes from different species and varieties to provide them higher yield or greater resistance against pests etc.

Common wheat varieties have different properties based on endosperm texture (whether hard or soft), sowing season (winter or spring) and seed coat colour (red or white). Separation of endosperm and bran is easier in hard wheat. Indian varieties normally have lower proteins and are softer.

Whole wheat is not normally consumed as it contains inedible parts like husk or bran which are removed when making flour or coarse ground to semolina. Whole wheat can be germinated to make malt for making some food products or fermented products. Whole wheat flour is made in India by stone grinding.

A long list of products is prepared from wheat including bread, porridge, crackers, biscuits, muesli, pancakes, pasta, pies, pastries, pizza, semolina, cakes, cookies, muffins, rolls, doughnuts, gravy, beer and other alcoholic beverages and breakfast cereals. Many Indian foods like chapati and many types of rotis, puri, naan, paratha, thalipeeth, khakhra, chivda, laddu, halwa, khichdi, rava dosa, upma and many others.

Wheats are mainly of two types: hard and soft. Hard wheat is higher in protein and gives stronger flour, which makes more elastic dough with water because of more gluten. This is better for making bread as dough will expand due to elastic nature as yeast ferments and produces gas that expands volume. Weaker flour will not hold much gas which escapes and not leavening the dough much. Tiny bubbles entrapped by gluten will further expand during baking and will form nice soft bread with beautiful porous structure. If this dough is used for biscuits the dough will start shrinking before baking and the nice shape of biscuit will get distorted. Biscuits need softer wheat flour with less protein.

Hard wheat has hard endosperm so when it is broken in milling it forms pieces that separate cleanly from the bran so it gives greater amount of refined flour containing mostly starch and protein with much less bran. Lesser bran gives better elasticity for dough that is better for softer bread with bigger loaf volume.

Durum wheat has among the highest protein content and hardness. It makes nice granular semolina flour useful for traditional Italian pasta products. The noodles and other pasta products made with this has good strength and does not become soft mushy product, which is what some Asian noodle become when made from softer wheat.

Softer wheats have lesser protein and are good for such products like cakes, pie crusts, biscuits and muffins. As they have lesser protein with lower elasticity, they need additional help in raising the dough for making cakes, pastries and cracker biscuits. They use baking powder to help leavening.

Indian wheats are slightly lower in proteins but are good enough for bread. Refined wheat flour is used for breads although now many breads are available which have added bran or added whole wheat flour containing bran. This increases the dietary fibre but leavening is difficult so they need help with dough conditioners, enzymes and emulsifiers to give better leavening.

Softer whole wheat flours are good for biscuits and cookies and most traditional Indian foods like chapati, roti, phulka and others are made with softer wheat but naan is made with maida as its dough is fermented causing leavening. Whole wheat is difficult for this.

Thus wheat is a very versatile grain which is used in probably the largest number of different foods and products made both at home and in industry. Whole wheat products are more nutritious but bran causes some difficulties in processing a few products. However, scientists find ways to overcome these difficulties as they did in making a very good whole wheat bread.

Dr Jagadish Pai

Editor, PFNDAI

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