Whole wheat is used to produce a variety of foods. When wheat kernels are ground, the result is called whole wheat flour. It can also be called whole grain wheat flour. The two names can be used interchangeably. There are more than 30,000 varieties of whole wheat grain today, each with its own merits, according to the Wheat Foods Council.
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Definition of Whole Grains
The Whole Grains Council defines whole grains to be foods that contain all the essential nutritional parts of the whole grain kernel. That means the food must include the bran, germ and endosperm in the process of grinding, crushing, cracking or extruding the kernels. By definition the word "whole" in "whole wheat flour" means that the entire kernel has been ground into flour. The addition of the word "grain" does not change the meaning of whole wheat flour.
Whole wheat kernels are classified into groups based on their color, hardness and planting season. There are hard and soft wheats, spring and winter wheats, and red and white wheats. Each variety, when ground, produces a flour with a specific protein and carbohydrate content. Hard wheat has a higher protein content than soft wheat. The color is based on the pigment of the outer bran layer of the kernel, either reddish or white. The color does not affect the nutrition of the flour.
Hard Wheat Flours
Hard wheat has a high amount of protein that produces gluten -- the elastic part of dough that captures the carbon dioxide from the yeast -- which makes it a good choice for breads. Hard winter wheat is planted in the fall, weathers the snow and then is harvested in the late spring or early summer. It has approximately 10 to 12 percent protein, according to King Arthur Flour. Hard wheat planted in the summer and harvested in the fall is called hard spring wheat and contains a higher amount of protein than winter wheat -- about 12 to 14 percent.
Soft wheat does not have as much protein as hard wheat and has a higher percentage of carbohydrates. It is most often grown in the winter and can be red or white. Whole wheat flour made from soft wheat is most often used in cakes and pastries, and is sometimes called whole wheat pastry flour.
Whole wheat flour is available at most grocery stores. There are a number of brands that produce whole grain flours: King Arthur, Hodgson Mill and Bob's Red Mill are a few. If you buy a store brand and it is labeled whole wheat flour or whole grain flour, it will be comparable. Choose flours from hard wheat for breads, and soft-wheat flours for cakes and pastries.