Letter Re: Hard Red Wheat Versus Soft White Wheat for Storage and Baking

As you know, I live near Niagara Falls. I grew up on a farm, mostly growing ‘row crops’. Wheat, oats, corn, buckwheat, and soybeans have become a big crop in the area of late. The wheat we grow around here is [soft] ‘white’ wheat, not the hard red [winter] wheat that is grown in the mid-west. I have wondered what the difference really is, and have never really found out. Can someone out there straighten me out on this? It seems most bread is made from the red, from what I hear. Can’t bread be made from the white wheat? I can get white wheat by the truckload locally. I have never even seen any red.
We used to grow several hundred acres of the stuff. Anymore, there are very few small farmers left, there are thousands of acres growing up to bushes and trees all over western New York. It is a sad sight to see, but it really is giving the land a chance to ‘rest’ after being intensely farmed for over a hundred years. Trouble is, it will eventually have to be cleared again, if it is ever to be farmed again. I wonder if it will be farmed with horses again. – Sid, near Niagara Falls

JWR Replies: Soft white wheat has less nutritive value (protein) than hard red winter wheat. Although they are both categorized as “hard grains”, the hard wheat varieties store better than the soft wheats. (30+ years versus 15 to 20 years for soft white wheat.) For both of these reasons, hard red winter wheat is preferred for home food storage programs. The following is a quote from the excellent wheat article at the Walton Feed web site: “The hard wheats generally contain smaller kernels and are harder than soft wheat kernels. They contain high protein and gluten levels primarily designed for making bread flours. Depending on variety and growing conditions, hard wheats can have vastly different protein levels. For bread making, your wheat should have a minimum of 12% protein. The hard varieties of wheat can have protein levels up to 15 or 16%. Generally speaking for bread making, the higher the protein content the better. The two main types of hard wheat are the hard red and the hard white varieties. Hard white wheat is a relative new-comer that tends to produce a lighter colored, more spongy loaf of bread and because of this, it is gaining quick popularity among home bread makers. However, we have talked with bread makers who prefer the hard red wheat for it’s more robust flavor and more traditional textured loaf of bread it makes.
The soft wheats are just that – not quite so hard. If you want to roll your own wheat, you should buy soft wheat. The hard wheats tend to crack and break in the flaking machine. Containing less protein and gluten, soft wheat flour is ideally suited for making biscuits, pastries and quick breads. Typical protein levels for the soft wheats are 9-11%. Flour made from the soft wheats can also be used for cake flours. If you want a really low gluten cake flour, mix your soft wheat flour with other low gluten flours such as oat flour, barley flour of buckwheat flour.
Durum wheat is a botanically separate species from the hard and soft wheat varieties. It’s kernels are a little larger and are shaped a bit differently than the other wheats. Durum wheat has very hard, high protein kernels but it’s the wrong kind of protein to form a strong gluten. Durum has been used for centuries to make pasta; whether it’s macaroni, egg noodles or spaghetti noodles.”