I get a lot of questions about the types of wheat and grains I use in my own cooking and food storage. Since wheat is such a versatile staple that lasts an incredibly long time, I wanted to provide you with some basic information about how to use wheat and how to decide which types to buy.
I store a larger quantity of whole grains like wheat instead of flour because of its shelf life. White, all-purpose flour has a shelf life of 5-10 years, but whole wheat, when stored in air-tight containers, has a shelf life of 30+ years.
First, find a good source of good wheat
To find the cheapest wheat in your part of the country, give the local LDS church or cannery a call. They will probably have wheat to purchase but will probably know of other local resources or farmers who deliver wheat to your area on a regular basis.
If you live near a large city, track down health food or “natural” food stores and tell them you’d like to buy it in bulk. What’s their best price?
Years ago when I lived in Phoenix, I searched for “wheat” on Craigslist, and lo and behold, there was a small family-owned farm in Idaho that made regular trips to Phoenix to deliver wheat and other home-grown crops. Craigslist or even Facebook groups for your town or city are worth a try.
If your only option is to purchase wheat from an online store, see if there’s a reduced shipping charge for larger purchases. Some of the food storage companies listed here sell wheat in bulk. Your best bet may be to ask around and see if you can get a group of friends together to place a bulk order as well as to compare prices vs. the shipping charge.
Along with wheat, you’ll need a grain mill/grinder. I recommend an electric mill first because grinding mill by hand is hard work. Brands to look for are Wondermill and Nutrimill are two brands I can personally recommend, and for a manual grinder, the Wondermill Junior is hard to beat. You can read my review of that mill here. Be sure to look once again on Craigslist, eBay and community buy/sell websites. I found my electric mill in a second-hand store.
Do you need to worry about pesticides on your wheat?
I wondered this myself as I began buying and using wheat, so I tracked down a wheat farmer in Idaho with my questions. I’d purchased a couple of hundred pounds of wheat directly from him and wanted to hear what he had to say about the use of pesticides and the storage of feed wheat. Turns out, he was quite talkative!
Not surprisingly, he said that farmers will only use pesticides when it’s absolutely necessary. It’s an additional cost that cuts into their profit margin. He told me about an incident a few years ago when grasshoppers invaded his farm, consuming 20 square feet of wheat every day for weeks. His only choice was to use a pesticide, which he limited to only the perimeter of his fields, hoping to kill any new grasshoppers intent on eating the ripening wheat. Ultimately, the insects consumed 40% of his crop.
He mentioned that some neighboring farmers chose to spray their entire fields with pesticides.
I asked about the use of fungicides, and again, this is an expense farmers want to avoid but often can’t. The farmer mentioned a problem with wheat leaf frost one year that required many farmers to spray fungicide over their fields. However, typically a fungicide is sprayed early in the season before the head of the wheat has had a chance to ripen. Once the wheat is ripe, any traces of the chemical is undetectable.
According to this farmer, the cost of cleaning wheat properly is very expensive. The equipment he owns cost more than $75,000. Not only is the equipment expensive, but the cleaning process takes a lot of time. Again, farmers have to be mindful of the costs involved with producing their wheat, so unless the wheat has to be thoroughly cleaned, it won’t be, and this is the wheat that ends up being sold as “feed wheat” for livestock. It’s not cleaned nearly as well as wheat intended for human consumption.
I’ve heard of preppers who buy feed wheat for their food storage because it’s less expensive. I asked the farmer about this, and he said, “People who do that are nuts!” Here’s his explanation.
Not only is feed wheat not cleaned nearly as well as wheat for human consumption, but it is also likely to be a combination of wheat from many different farms. It’s possible that a grain silo might contain a hundred or more different varieties of wheat. When it comes to actually using the wheat for food, there’s no way to guarantee what the make-up will be or how much protein or gluten the “blended wheat” contains. This is his pet peeve. He said that at least half of the companies who sell wheat in buckets and bags sell “blended wheat” and to look for that phrase on their labels.
If you’re looking for organic wheat and want to know the details of how it’s grown and treated, you might check out Azure Standard and search online for “organic wheat”. You won’t be paying $15 for 50 pounds, however.
So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of which types of wheat to stock up on and how to use them.
So, which type of wheat should you stock up on? Hard wheat is your basic bread flour. You can get both hard red wheat and hard white wheat. Both have a high gluten and protein content that’s necessary to give both elasticity and strength to your bread dough. Hard white wheat is lighter in color and flavor than hard red wheat. Hard red wheat is what most people think of when they think of a hearty loaf of whole wheat bread. It gives bread a strong wheat flavor and is darker in color. Red wheat is a little harder for the body to digest than white wheat. Which one you use is just a matter of preference.
Soft wheat is all-purpose flour. Sometimes it’s called pastry wheat. It’s used to bake everything except bread. Lower in both protein and gluten, it allows for a much lighter baked product than hard wheat. Whether you’re baking cookies, pie crust, or biscuits, soft wheat is the wheat to use. If you’ve been using store-bought all-purpose flour, just replace the flour with ground soft white wheat in any recipe.
Durum wheat is also known as semolina. It’s the hardest wheat of all and is used for making pasta. I store durum wheat because of its long shelf life of 30+ years versus the shelf life of store-bought pasta, two years or so. Large #10 cans of pasta purchased from a company such as Walton Feed will last up to 20 years if properly stored.
Other uses for wheat
If you’re storing wheat, it’s probably because you are using it to make homemade bread from scratch, meaning straight from the wheat berry. That’s great! It means you recognize the importance of knowing how to cook from scratch.
If that’s the only way you’re using wheat, though, you’re missing a lot. Here are six other uses for this most versatile grain.
1. Hot cereal: Cooked, wheat transforms into puffy and chewy kernels that make top-notch breakfast cereal. Top it with cinnamon, brown sugar, chopped apples, dried fruit, yogurt, or anything else you have on hand. It’s delicious! For more details, check out this post.
2. Wheat berries in salad: Cooked wheat berries are terrific mixed in with any green salad or in this delicious wheat berry salad. You get plenty of fiber and all the nutrition wheat has to offer. It’s a great choice for vegetarians but is just as good with a few slices of chicken or meat.
3. Wheat meat: Vegetarians have long made use of this simple “meat” made from the gluten of wheat. The end product can be flavored according to any recipe and formed into shapes such as meatballs.
4. Soup: Add cooked wheat berries to soup as an additional grain option. Cook the wheat berries as described in #1 and add a scoop or two to any hot soup while it cooks. They add great texture to any soup as well as nutrients.
5. Sprouting: If your attempts at gardening haven’t been something to write home about, you’ll probably have a lot more luck sprouting wheat. Once the wheat berry sprouts, its nutrients increase exponentially. Serve the sprouts on sandwiches, in salads, and toss them in any hot dish at the last minute in order to maintain their high levels of B vitamins, vitamin C, and folic acid.
6. Wheatgrass juice: If you allow your wheat sprouts to grow until they are 6-8 inches tall, you can harvest the grass, process it through a juicer, and have an amazingly nutritious drink. This juice contains chlorophyll, which is antibacterial, 90 different minerals, and 19 amino acids. One nutritionist told me that drinking just 4 ounces of the stuff every day would eliminate the need for any other fruit or vegetable. Whatever the benefits might be, wheatgrass juice is highly nutritious and one more reason to stock up on wheat.
For those of you who have been considering storing wheat (or any other food storage grains) as part of your long-term food storage, I suggest starting with small quantities of both soft and hard wheat. Before making a big investment in 45 lb. buckets, find a grocery store in your area that sells these wheats in bulk. Buy a couple of pounds of each, grind it, and bake up some goodies to see what you prefer. If you do purchase wheat in those big buckets, 45 lbs. of hard wheat will yield at least 50 loaves of bread. Happy baking!