Whole Grains 101

whole grains 101

Whole White Wheat FAQ

White Wheat (photo courtesy of Farmer Direct)

Whole white wheat is now available, with all of the nutritional advantages of traditional whole wheat, but with lighter color and milder taste. Learn about it here!

Q. What is whole white wheat?

A. White wheat (pictured here) is a different type of wheat that has no major genes for bran color (unlike traditional “red” wheat which has one to three bran color genes). An easy way to think of it is as a sort of albino wheat. The bran of white wheat is not only lighter in color but it’s also milder in flavor, making whole white wheat more appealing to many people accustomed to the taste of refined flour.

The term “white flour” has often been used to mean “refined flour,” so “whole white wheat flour” sounds like a contradiction in terms. But it is simply WHOLE flour – including the bran, germ and endosperm – made from WHITE wheat.

Q. Why is white wheat milder in flavor?

A. White wheat does not contain the strongly-flavored phenolic compounds that are in red wheat. This gives white wheat a milder flavor, and also means that products made with white wheat require less added sweetener to attain the same level of perceived sweetness.

Q. Is there any difference nutritionally between whole white wheat and "regular" whole wheat?

A. Experts consider these two kinds of whole wheat to be the same, nutritionally. Most of the nutrition differences among wheat varieties are driven by environmental conditions, such as weather and soil composition. For example, when crops are in a drought, the protein in wheat will be higher and may function differently.

Q. When did whole white wheat first become available in the US?

A. White wheat has been the principal type of wheat grown in Australia for many decades, but different varieties needed to be developed to match conditions in the US. Varieties of white wheat currently grown in the US were developed during the 1970s and 1980s by cross-breeding strains of red wheat. While most red wheat has three genes for red bran color, some have only one or two such genes; when these strains are cross-bred, a certain proportion of the offspring have no color genes.

Much of the early research and cross-breeding for US varieties of whole white wheat was done at Kansas State, and early crops were commercialized by the American White Wheat Producers Association. Today AWWPA is known as “Farmer Direct.” Based in Atchison, KS, Farmer Direct is a cooperative of over 300 producer members who have been working for almost two decades to grow and popularize white wheat. King Arthur, Farmer Direct Foods, and Hodgson Mill have been selling whole white wheat in retail markets since the early 1990s, and Sunnyland Mills has sold white-wheat bulgur in the U.S. since 1935.

Q. What proportion of the wheat grown in the U.S. is currently white wheat?

A. According to the USDA, white wheat accounts for at most 10-15% of America's total wheat crop.1 But this proportion has been changing rapidly. Production bushels of hard white wheat are estimated to have more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2004, rising from 13,021,903 bushels to 56,554,260.2 In Australia, the vast majority of the wheat produced is white wheat.

Q. What prompted the U.S. switch toward white wheat?

A. Ironically, the trend toward white wheat was not originally prompted by its advantages for making whole wheat products for the U.S. market. The original incentive was to reverse a decline in U.S. wheat exports. From 1980 to 1990, hard red wheat exports fell by 34%. Where U.S. hard red wheat constituted 60% of the market in Central and South America in the mid-1970s, market share had dropped to just 12% two decades later.3 It is largely a serendipity that this earlier drive to develop varieties of white wheat suited to the U.S. has resulted in greater availability of the white wheat option just as whole grain consumption and interest have risen.

Q. Does white wheat grow in different climate/geography than red, or could a red-wheat farmer easily switch to white?

A. In the U.S., white wheat farmers were once concentrated in the Northwest. In 1998, for instance, Montana led the nation in white wheat production – but this type of wheat made up only about 1% of American wheat.4 Now, with new varieties adapted to different conditions, white wheat can grow in virtually the same climate/geography as red wheat. Once a farmer has decided to plant hard winter wheat, he or she can then choose whether to plant red or white wheat.

According to the University of Nebraska, “The performance data on hard white winter wheat varieties shows that they are highly adapted and their grain yields and test weights are similar to those of hard red winter wheat. All production practices (seeding date, seeding rate, fertilization, and harvesting) are alike for hard white wheat and hard red winter wheat.

“The same equipment is used for both crops. However, extra attention is needed to avoid mixing the grain. A three to four year cropping interval may be need to completely control volunteer wheat when white wheat is to be planted after red wheat. Drills, harvesting equipment (combines, trucks, augers, grain-carts), and storage facilities must be cleaned carefully to assure mixture of the two classes does not occur. On-farm grain storage may be an indispensable aspect of white wheat production at its inception due to the fact elevators may not have sufficient demand to dedicate storage space for white wheat. Keeping grain of hard red winter wheat and hard white wheat separate is essential because of the substantially discounted prices paid for mixed grain.” 2

Q. With so much attention to whole white wheat, is our supply sufficient? Does demand threaten to outstrip supply, as it may with organic foods?

A. Because white wheat is also preferred in other countries – especially in Asia, where it is thought to make better noodles – the U.S. has been working hard to increase production of white wheat. In fact, a preference for white wheat products in Asia has contributed to a decline in the export of U.S. red wheat to this rapidly growing region of the world.5 Since farmers can switch fairly readily to white wheat, the forces of supply and demand should ensure that there is enough white wheat to make popular whole grain products.

White wheat, in fact, usually has a “higher extraction rate” than red wheat – meaning that a bushel of white wheat kernels will make slightly more whole wheat flour than the same amount of red wheat.6 This also helps ensure that the white wheat supply will be adequate.

This could change as white wheat becomes popular in the export market. However, different varieties of white wheat are grown for the U.S. market (where high-protein varieties are needed for bread) than for the Asian market (where lower protein varieties make better noodles.)

Q. What popular brand-name foods are now being made with whole white wheat? How can the consumer tell?

A. In the U.S., many breads are made with whole white wheat including: Wonder (IBC), Pepperidge Farm, Sara Lee, Mrs. Bairds (Bimbo), Stroehmann and Freihofer's (Weston), Nature’s Own and Cobblestone Mill (Flowers), Wholesome Harvest (Maple Leaf Bakery) and Aunt Millie's (Perfection).

Other products include Dr. Kracker crackers, Near East (Quaker) Pilaf and Tabouli mixes, Arrowhead Mills Organic Bulgur Wheat, and Fantastic Foods Tabouli Mix.

King Arthur Flour has a popular series of baking mixes including Whole-Grain Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie mix, Whole-Grain Soft Molasses Cookie mix, Fudge Brownie with Whole Grains mix, Whole-Grain Chocolate Fudge Waffle mix, and Holiday Herb Roll mix. They also have pancake, muffin, scone, biscuit, biscotti, cinnamon bun, and pizza crust mixes made with whole white wheat flour, and they sell fresh-baked croissants and cookies made with whole white wheat.

Both King Arthur Flour and Eagle Mills are widely distributed sources of whole white wheat flour in bags, sold in retail stores to home bakers. Farmer Direct Foods and Hodgson Mill both offer genuine stoneground whole white wheat flour.

Because savvy consumers may seek out whole white wheat, manufacturers may choose to specify it in the ingredient list of their product. Lacking that, if the product lists whole wheat flour as the first ingredient yet is light in color, it has very likely been made with whole white wheat.

Q. From a manufacturer’s point of view, are there advantages to working with whole white wheat over red?

A. Yes. Aside from the previously-mentioned advantages of milder taste and lighter texture, there is some evidence that breakfast cereals made with whole white wheat hold their crispness longer in milk. And because of the lack of phenolic compounds in hard white wheat, fresh refrigerated oriental noodles will not develop black specks as they can when made with red wheat. 7

Q. Is there any hard data on consumer preferences for whole white wheat?

A. Several research projects have studied this issue, and research is ongoing. One such study at Wichita State University compared hamburger buns made from whole white wheat, red whole wheat, and refined red wheat. Overall acceptance favored the whole white wheat over either alternative. In fact, 55% of respondents said they would “definitely” or “probably” purchase the whole white wheat buns, versus 46% for the red whole wheat and 40% for the refined wheat buns. 6

Comments from Manufacturers

Whole Grains Council members are offering a range of whole white wheat products. Following are some comments from selected members, to help consumers and the media get a sense of the whole white wheat products being offered today. (Media are invited to email us to get contact information for interviews with these companies.)

King Arthur says:

“As with all King Arthur flours, King Arthur Whole white wheat Flour is all-natural, never bleached, never bromated. It is also subject to our strict specifications for protein content, ash content, etc. - the strictest in the industry. We also offer King Arthur 100% Organic Whole white wheat Flour - our test bakers say it is the best flour they've ever baked with.”

Horizon Milling (Cargill) says:

“We think that our whole white wheat (WheatSelect) is an excellent product because it offers the following benefits:

  • The ability to state a whole grain claim
  • Premium baking performance (higher volume, mixing, and processing tolerance)
  • A lighter color, softer texture and milder taste that consumers enjoy
  • A superior wheat variety performance
  • An extensive selection and breeding process
  • A comprehensive supply chain, identity preservation and tracing systems.”

Sunnyland Mills says:

“Sunnyland Mills has made premium quality bulgur wheat from special varieties of white wheat since 1935. Our unique process turns this white wheat into a perfect light golden bulgur with exceptional cooking qualities and mild flavor. White wheat does not contain the tannic acid that is found in bulgur made with red wheat and that imparts a bitter taste. White wheat is typically called a "sweet wheat" for this reason. Sunnyland Mills bulgur wheat is guaranteed to be free of any rancid, bitter or other "off" flavors. Bulgur made from white wheat absorbs water when soaked or cooked at a uniform rate. This provides for predictable results and consistency in preparation of recipes. Sunnyland Mills' white wheat bulgur products can be found in Near East (Quaker/Pepsico) Pilaf and Tabouli mixes, Arrowhead Mills Organic Bulgur Wheat and Fantastic Foods Tabouli Mix.”

Dr. Kracker says:

“Dr. Kracker is just getting into the new [2006] crop of white wheat and we are totally excited by its baking and flavor characteristics. Our excitement owes to the lighter crust that it bakes with in our flatbreads, if you can call that a crust. And the yellow, almost orange, color is more pronounced this year. Flavor is better: richer and wheatier than ever. We may be able to completely phase out our use of white [refined] flour in two of our varieties. We couldn't be more pleased.”

George Weston Bakeries says:

"In April 2006, George Weston Bakeries introduced their first products made with whole white wheat. The “Made with Whole Grain” line was specially formulated to help increase whole grain consumption, while still maintaining the classic taste and texture of original white products. Whole white wheat flour is used in each product, and is an important ingredient in helping provide the flavor and feel of original white products with the additional benefit of whole grains. Products include:

  • Freihofer’s Soft & Tasty Made with Whole Grain White bread (8 grams of whole grains per two-slice serving)
  • Stroehmann Soft & Tasty Made with Whole Grain White bread (8 grams of whole grains per two-slice serving)
  • Thomas’ Original Made with Whole Grain English Muffin (6 grams of whole grain per serving)
  • Thomas’ Plain New York Style Made with Whole Grain Bagel (10 grams of whole grains per serving)"

Flowers Foods says:

"The two products [we offer] that currently use whole white wheat are Nature's Own Sugar Free 100 % Whole Grain Wheat bread and Cobblestone Mill 100 % Whole Wheat bread. Both product formulas have used whole white wheat since their introduction to the market. We have been using whole white wheat flour in our products since around 1999."

Rich’s says:

"Whole grain goodness is now available in Della Suprema pizza dough and crusts from Rich's. Available in three round sizes – 12", 14", and 16" – and in a 9" square flatbread, this convenient par-baked crust offers 14 grams of whole white wheat in each serving. Whole white wheat offers all the fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants of whole grain, with a lighter color, softer texture, and milder flavor that your customers will love."

Maple Leaf Bakery (Canada Bread) says:

"Launched in 2006, Wholesome Harvest made with Whole Grain White Sandwich Bread is the first bread available in the Retail In-store Bakery that combines the taste, look and texture of white bread that children like with the healthy goodness of Whole Grains that moms love. An excellent nutritional bread for the entire family. 0g Trans Fats, Low in Fat, Low in Saturated Fat and provides 10g of Whole Grains per serving."

Farmer Direct says:

"Natural s’Wheat® 100% Genuine Stoneground Whole White Wheat Flour is brought to bakers by a cooperative of farmer/members through our trademarked process, Identity Assured®. This process provides direct connection of our flour back to the farms and fields where the wheat was grown. As the first organization producing and marketing white wheat in the United States, Farmer Direct Foods has been providing whole white wheat flour for consumers since 1988. Our Identity Assured® flours remain the most consistent, best-performing flours available anywhere! Our farmers take great pride in passing their products From Our Hands to Yours®! Other Farmer Direct white wheat products sold under the Natural s’Wheat® (pronounced sweet) and Farmers Best® brands include Handcrafters® Flour, I Can’t Believe It’s Whole Wheat® Pizza Crust Mix, Multigrain Bread Base, I Can’t Believe It’s Whole Wheat® Bread Base, Heavy Bran and Clean Bran."

ConAgra Mills™ says:

"Debuting in 2004, Ultragrain® is a breakthrough, all-natural, 100% whole wheat flour. Starting with a unique variety of wheat, the flour is specially milled to deliver the clean taste, smooth texture and performance of white flour, while maintaining the nutritional advantages of whole grains. Many manufacturers have already tapped Ultragrain—in various inclusion levels—for bringing whole-grain nutrition to everything from snack crackers and frozen entrées to white and whole wheat bread, burritos and school lunch pizzas.

  • Ultragrain is available in Hard and Soft varieties for blending with your existing flour.
  • Ultragrain® Hard for whole grain formulation in breads, bagels, pizza dough, pastas, tortillas, coatings and biscuits
  • Ultragrain® Soft for whole grain formulation in cakes, cookies, crackers and pastries


Mixing Ultragrain with other flours has emerged as an effective, palate-pleasing strategy for encouraging consumers to purchase and eat more whole grains.

Healthy Choice All-Purpose Flour Blends with Ultragrain are blended with premium enriched white flour, giving bakers and product developers a flexible replacement for standard all-purpose flour which functions across all applications. It’s available in:

  • Healthy Choice All-Purpose Flour Blend T-1 includes 30% Ultragrain for a convenient 1:1 transition.
  • Healthy Choice All-Purpose Flour Blend T-2 includes 51% Ultragrain for higher inclusion of whole grain nutrition. (Recipe adjustments may be required with higher whole grain inclusions.)"

 

  1. USDA, www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Wheat/Background.htm
  2. Univ. of Nebraska Lincoln, www.hardwhitewheat.unl.edu
  3. Kansas Wheat Commission booklet, “Hard White Wheat”
  4. USDA, www.ers.usda.gov/publications/agoutlook/aug1998/ao253e.pdf
  5. North Dakota State Univ., www.ndsu.nodak.edu
  6. Kansas Wheat Commission, www.kswheat.com/general.asp?id=51
  7. American Institute of Baking, Technical Bulletin, Vol. XIII, Issue 4, April 1991.

 

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