Flour Facts

When we talk “flour,” we are talking about wheat flour.  Because wheat is the most commonly distributed cereal grain in the world, a reference to flour is generally a reference to wheat flour.


Wheat Classifications:

And just as flour is not “just flour,” wheat is not “just wheat.”  Wheat can be classified by three major categories:  growing season (winter, spring), kernel hardness (hard, soft) and bran color (red, white).  These categories have a significant impact on the functionality of the finished flour.

Growing Seasons

Growing season is one of the major classification categories for wheat.  There are two distinct seasons: winter and spring.  Winter wheat is planted and begins growth in the early autumn.  As winter rolls in, the growth is halted and the plant remains dormant until spring when it resumes its growth.  This crop is harvested in late spring through early summer.  Spring wheat is grown in areas where the winters are too cold for winter wheat to survive.  Spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvested in late summer to early fall. Spring wheat will generally have a higher protein content than winter wheat.  Winter wheat flours, when compared to spring wheat, tend to have a more “mellow” protein structure.

Hard and Soft

Another major classification category for wheat is kernel hardness.  The wheat kernel, often called a berry, will either be of a hard or soft variety.  The terms are very self descriptive.  Hard wheat has hard kernels and soft wheat has soft kernels.  Although it sounds simplistic, this difference is critically important to the functionality of the finished flour.  Hard wheat flours have the correct protein structure for yeast-raised goods:  breads, bagels, pizza crust, etc.  Soft wheat flour protein will not support yeast fermentation, but is ideal for products using baking powder for the rising action.  Next,  the difference between soft and hard wheat proteins.

Bran Color

The third major classification category for wheat is bran color – red vs. white.  For many years, the difference in bran color between wheat types was viewed simply as a genetic trait and no more.  In recent years, however, the difference between white and red wheat has become news. The United States is seeing a switch from red wheat to white wheat.

The reason?  White wheat tends to yield better for the farmer, the miller can get more flour per bushel, and there are associated taste benefits for the consumer.  It is being predicted that our largest wheat crop, hard red winter, will be replaced by hard white winter within ten years.   

With the major classifications categories defined – Winter and Spring, Hard and Soft, Red and White – we can combine them to discover the range of wheat available.  The major classifications of wheat used in the U.S. are:  Hard Red Winter, Hard Red Spring, Soft Red Winter and Soft White Winter.  

As mentioned previously, we will be seeing the emergence of Hard White Winter and Spring Wheat over the next decade.  One other classification of wheat is Durum.  

Flour Classifications:

Now that we have identified the major wheat types, we can begin to discuss different flour types.  Because, just as wheat is not “just wheat,” flour is not “just flour.”

Hard Red Winter Wheat Flour

Hard Red Winter Wheat is the largest class of wheat produced in the U.S. Why? Well, when you go to the store to buy that 1 lb. loaf of fluffy white bread, or a bag of chocolate chip cookies, or a 5 lb. bag of all-purpose flour, you’re buying Hard Red Winter Wheat. This wheat type has its use across a wide range of baked goods; from pan breads to cookies, from pizza to pie crusts, from doughnuts to soft rolls. Hard Red Winter Wheat has enough protein strength for a good strong dough but is mellow enough to deliver a soft texture. Hard wheat can produce all-purpose flour with a protein around 10 percent up to a bread flour with a protein content of 12 percent. With the right ingredients, Hard Red Winter Wheat flour can make a wide variety of baked goods. This variety is what makes Hard Red Winter Wheat the largest class of wheat produced, accounting for 38 percent of U.S. production.

Kansas is the biggest producer of Hard Red Winter Wheat.  Kansas produces an average 371 million bushels, representing approximately 37 percent of U.S. Hard Red Winter Wheat acreage.  Other states that produce Hard Red Winter include Oklahoma (136 million bushels), Texas (91.3), South Dakota (85.7), Colorado (71.6), Nebraska (60.9) and Montana (139.2).  Most Hard Red Winter Wheat is consumed in the United States (54 percent).  Forty-three percent of the wheat ground by U.S. mills is Hard Red Winter Wheat.

Soft Red Winter

Soft Red Winter Wheat (SRW) is grown in the eastern third of the United States.  It is a high yielding wheat, but relatively low in protein, usually about ten percent.  SRW is used for cakes, pastries, flat breads, crackers and snack foods.  This fall-seeded wheat comprises about 14 percent of U.S. wheat exports.  

Hard Spring Wheat

This wheat contains the highest protein content of all the wheat classes averaging between 13.5-14.5 percent.  It has superior milling and baking properties and is used to produce bread products requiring strong gluten, including hearth breads and rolls, variety breads, bagels and thin pizza crust.  It is often blended with lower protein flours to improve their bread-making qualities.  The four-state region of North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and South Dakota grows approximately ninety percent of the Hard Red Spring Wheat in the United States.

High Gluten flour is a Hard Spring Wheat flour and are perfect “all-around” bread flours that provide excellent results in any type of yeast-raised product.  They are ideal for pan breads, rolls, buns, hearth breads and many specialty-baked products.  
  Description:   A high quality enriched, malted bread flour available in a variety of treatments, including bleached or unbleached, bromated* or unbromated.  
  Uses:  Variety breads, thick or thin crust pizza, sweet goods, hard and soft rolls.

*Bromated flour is available east of the Rockies only.   

Durum Wheat

Most of the durum wheat grown in the U.S. is produced in the northern Plains, with 70 to 80 percent grown in North Dakota alone.  Durum wheat is milled into a granular product called semolina, which is used primarily for pasta products in the U.S.  Other uses of semolina include couscous and bread products.  

Pasta products from durum are superior because of the desirable golden color and nutty flavor, and because they hold their shape and firm texture when cooked.  A by-product of semolina production is durum flour, which is used in breads and pre-cooked pasta products.

Hard White Wheat

Hard White Wheat is the newest class of wheat to be grown in the United States.  Closely related to red wheat (except for color genes), this wheat has a milder, sweeter flavored bran, equal fiber and similar milling and baking properties.  Hard White Wheat is mainly used in yeast breads, hard rolls, bulgur, tortillas and Oriental noodles.

Soft White Wheat

Soft White Wheat is primarily grown in the Pacific Northwest.  It is also grown in areas scattered throughout Montana.  Soft wheat flour is used in cakes, crackers, cookies, pastries, quick breads, muffins and snack foods.  The bulk of this wheat class is exported for use in flat breads, noodles and sponge cake.