The World of Wheat

What is wheat?

Wheat is one of the oldest and most important grain crops in the world, with Russia, Canada, and the U.S. providing half the exported wheat across the globe. Besides being a key ingredient for the production of breads, cereals, and pastas, wheat can also produce starch, paste, dextrose, gluten, alcohol, among other products. Fun fact: Americans consume 53 pounds of bread each year. At 75-80 calories per bread slice, that’s a lot of dough.

Wheat first requires processing to make food products. The wheat’s grain must first be cracked and then it’s passed through a series of rollers. As the smaller particles get sifted through, the coarser particles pass through additional rollers for further reduction. About 72 percent of the milled grain becomes white flour. Nothing goes to waste, with most milling by-products added to livestock feeds.

Types of wheat

There are six major classes of wheat, mostly classified as “hard” or “soft”.

Hard types of wheat are mostly grown in dry climates, leading to higher protein and gluten content. This makes it ideal for breadmaking.

Soft types are grown in more humid conditions, creating a lower protein content and weak gluten. These flours are mostly used for sweeter breads like cakes and cookies.

Here are the six classes of wheat:

  • Hard Red Winter
    • Grown across the Midwestern U.S., it’s the most popular class of wheat, representing about 40 percent of U.S production
    • High in gluten, best for leavened breads
  • Hard Red Spring
    • Grown mainly in Dakotas, Montana
    • Known as the “aristocrat of wheats” for having highest protein content to produce high-quality breads, rolls, bagels, pizza crusts
    • Often blended with other wheat flours to enhance quality
  • Soft Red Winter
    • Grown in eastern third of United States
    • Has weaker gluten and lower protein, used primarily for cakes, cookies, crackers
  • Hard White
    • Mainly grown in Upper Plains, Montana, Idaho, and California, it’s the smallest class of wheat
    • Distinguished from Hard Red Wheat by its sandy-beige color,
    • Has a slightly lower protein content used for rolls, ‘softer’ breads
  • Soft White
    • Grown mainly in Pacific Northwest
    • Its white kernels and higher starch level make it good for cakes, pastries, muffins, snack foods
  • Durum
    • The hardest of wheats, with North Dakota and Upper Midwest dominating production
    • Best suited for pasts and semolina

Who is eating all this wheat?

Wheat historically has been the cornerstone of western diets, where climate and other growing conditions made the crop an easily available source of our daily bread. In the eastern world, conditions helped make rice the cornerstone commodity. Improved agronomics and global trade have helped open the door to greater access to both commodities for all.

Today, the taste for wheat-derived foods has spread around the world, nowhere more so than rice-consuming countries like China and India.

China relies on wheat as a major source of food for its 1.4 billion hungry citizens, making it the world’s top wheat producing and consuming nation. India is second.

But when it comes to simple per-capita wheat consumption, westerners are the undisputed champions. In the United States, we love hot, fresh bread and rolls, pasta, pizza, donuts, rolls, cakes and cookies and a great many other products that rely on wheat as the basic ingredient.

And for many in other less-affluent parts of the world, some type of bread remains a fundamental source of the daily nutrition needed for simple survival.

Global wheat production

What goes into a loaf of bread? Let’s start at the top. An average acre of wheat yields about 40 bushels, while corn yields about 177 bushels per acre and soybeans roughly 50 bushels per acre. Each 60-pound bushel of wheat can produce about 42 pounds of white flour, with about 16 ounces of flour in a 1.5-pound loaf of bread, making 42 1.5-pound loaves of white bread, or 90 1.0-pound loaves of whole wheat bread per bushel.

Wheat is the most-produced crop in the world, with corn and rice trailing behind. It’s the second-largest crop produced for human consumption.

Even so, more land worldwide is devoted to wheat production than any other crop – 221 million hectares, compared with 206 million for corn and 165 million for rice.

Wheat has a global production of 781 million metric tons, with U.S. producing about 45 million metric tons.

Since its 1981 peak, U.S. land planted for wheat has declined by more than 42 million acres, and production has decreased by more than 1.1 billion bushels.

However, Russian wheat production has grown from a 2012 low of 38 million tons to more than 80 million this year – and is projected to reach 91 million by 2030.

And here’s a fun fact to end with:

Processing, or milling, wheat is an ancient practice. Bread was a staple food even during the Neolithic time 10,000 years ago and since has been incorporated into religious rituals and traditions. In fact, folklore holds that eating bread crust makes your hair curlier. Want more fun facts about bread? Read more here!

Digging into GMOs: Mintel’s Megan Stanton

Listen in as Megan shares her expert insights about the meaningful benefits of genetic modification that so often become misunderstood in popular culture. She discusses how bioengineered crops and foods have the potential to feed a growing population, the truth behind their sustainable and regenerative benefits, considerations for developing nations, and what should really come to mind when you see “GMO” or “bioengineered” on a label.

Based in Sydney, Megan joined Mintel in 2018 with over 26 years experience in the food and drink industry. As Associate Director of Mintel’s Food & Drink division, Megan’s expertise gives her unique insight into consumer demands, industry trends and key market developments across the protein sector. She also specializes in the Mintel Purchase Intelligence tool helping clients understand what drives consumers to purchase new product innovations.

Immediately prior to joining Mintel, Megan worked for the global flavor and fragrance company Givaudan where she managed the Oceania flavor portfolio team and connected industry-leading flavor technology with global macro trends. Megan holds a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Food Technology from The University of Western Sydney Hawkesbury, and a Graduate Certificate in Marketing from The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Are snacks masking your body’s protein needs?

A year-long Australian study published in the latest issue of the journal Obesity showed eye-opening conclusions about our dietary habits: populations with a preference for highly processed foods like pizza, chips, and snack bars, lead to staggeringly high percentages of obesity.

According to a press release, the lead author of the study, Amanda Grech, Ph.D. stated that: “As people consume more junk foods or highly processed and refined foods, they dilute their dietary protein and increase their risk of being overweight and obese, which we know increases the risk of chronic disease.”

“It is increasingly clear that our bodies eat to satisfy a protein target,” said Professor David Raubenheimer, the Leonard Ullman Chair in Nutritional Ecology at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, “but the problem is that the food in Western diets has increasingly less protein. So, you have to consume more of it to reach your protein target, which effectively elevates your daily energy intake.”

Of course, unless you have been living under a rock, you already know this. But what is new news to us is that our bodies are searching for protein and instead reach for the easy to grab, tasty, highly processed foods.

Searching for Protein in Processed Foods

Studies over the years have found that more than half of our daily calories are coming from highly processed foods. An almost two-decades-long study published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that ultra-processed food consumption grew from an alarming 53.5% of daily calories in 2001-2002 to an even more worrisome 57% by the study’s completion in 2018. If the trajectory continued at this rate, it would trend towards 60% by 2035.

The work of these studies set the stage for the latest research on the “protein leverage hypothesis” which details that people eat more fats and carbs to satisfy their protein demand, causing unbalanced diets.

And we need protein for a reason. It fortifies our body in multiple ways.  Among just a few tasks, It helps build cartilage, tissues, repairs your body, carries oxygen through your body, and helps to digests your food.

Compounding research is building a case for the “protein leverage hypothesis,” which was first proposed in 2015 by University of Sydney researchers. To summarize, the hypothesis suggests that our body has a strong appetite for protein, and favors it over fat and carbohydrates. To quickly satiate that protein hunger drive, people unknowingly overeat fats and carbs.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended dietary allowance to prevent deficiency for an average sedentary adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.

For example, a person who weighs 165 pounds, or 75 kilograms, should consume 60 grams of protein per day.

Think of it like this—instead of seeking a lean piece of grilled chicken, the majority of westerners will instead seek something convenient, like a bag of chips, which you can break open the seal and pop in your mouth in an instant.

However, to satisfy that protein hunger, your body might signal to your brain that, even though you just ate a bag of chips, your hunger still remains, and off you go opening another processed snack until you feel full.

Substituting Highly Processed Foods for Protein Causes Obesity

According to the Institute of Food Technologists, 47% of American adults eat snacks at least three times a day. This has sent the snacks market skyrocketing, with snack food sales reaching over $25 billion in 2019.

Consumer research firm YouGov found America’s most popular snack foods to be Cheetos, Tostitos, Snickers, Fritos, Pringles, Lay’s, Oreos, Jif peanut butter, Planters nuts, Doritos, Ritz, Reese’s, Hershey’s, and M&M’s. According to Statista, we love our convenient, shelf-stable snacks. Most Americans reported having at least one bag of Cheetos per month in 2020, 3 out of 4 Americans eat at least a bag of Fritos per month, and Lay’s is the top dog with the best-selling chips in the U.S.

But at what cost are we consuming these low-protein, ultra-processed snacks? According to this new research, our body will continue to crave calories until that protein hunger is met, leading to a vicious cycle of increased snacking for many.

Let’s do a little protein density comparison, shall we?

  • A 3-ounce chicken breast contains 27 grams of protein and 128 calories. To get the same amount of protein, you would have to eat almost TWO full-size 8.5oz bags of Cheetos, totaling over 2,000 calories. 
  • A 3-ounce salmon filet contains about 17 grams of protein and 108 calories. To comsume the same amount of protein, you would need to eat over 50 Oreo cookies – that’s about 3,000 calories!
  • A 3-ounce cut of lean steak contains about 21 grams of protein and 100 calories. You could have that, or you could opt for a dozen Reese’s cups, about 1,300 calories.

Keep in mind that we’re only talking about protein here. When we choose convenience over protein-dense foods, our body doesn’t get essential nutrients like fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. What we get instead when we eat these foods are excess sugars, omega 6s, and other ingredients causing immune system suppression. There’s a reason why we call highly-processed foods “empty calories”.

Nutritional information stated above sourced from

But then why don’t we just eat the lean protein-dense options if we know the snack food is bad for us? CONVENIENCE! We live in an era where everything must be easy, quick, and at-your-fingertips. Food is no exception. If you can eat a bag of Fritos while simultaneously working or running errands, we will opt for that every time, as opposed to spending 20 minutes preparing a fresh meal like a grilled chicken breast with veggies.

According to the USDA, ready-to-eat foods like those listed above save time and money but at the cost of our health.

But the research emerging now is giving us some important warnings about these bad habits, AND most importantly, helpful tips like having a protein-dense breakfast, that can help solve a negative eating cycle of highly processed, high-fat, high-carb, low-nutrient snacking.

What you eat first every day matters most

The University of Sydney analyzed nutritional and physical activity surveys from 9,341 adults, known as the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey which was conducted from May 2011 to June 2012.

Researchers plotted calorie intake versus time of consumption and found that the pattern matched that predicted by the Protein Leverage Hypothesis:

People who ate lower amounts of protein in their first meal of the day went on to increase their overall food intake in subsequent meals, versus those who received the recommended amount of protein ate significantly less throughout the day than their counterparts.

According to Dr. Reubenheimer, we will innately eat more to get the protein our body craves, no matter what form it comes in.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to protein intake, however. Requirements can vary between 10 to 35 percent of our total amount of calories for the day.

It is also important to note that not all protein has to come from meat—sources like grains, legumes, eggs, and vegetables can also be well-rounded sources that are not highly processed.

A new take on the old shell game

Richard will introduce us to the wonderful world of peanuts – and the important role they can play in helping the world satisfy its hunger for more protein.

Listen to him explain the different kinds of peanuts, and the amazing nutritional benefits of this plant protein. Hear him describe how the peanut industry is working to find more ways to deliver peanuts to kids and adults around the world. If you still find comfort in a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you are going to love to hear Richard tell us about some of the imaginative ways that old favorite is being delivered in new and creative ways to accommodate our modern lifestyle.

Richard also will tell us about some of the opportunities for American peanut farmers in foreign markets – and how the industry is making sustainability one of its top priorities.

There’s something for everyone in this episode of Digging In. It’s a conversation you’ll find interesting and informative. So grab that handful of peanuts – or maybe a nice PB&J – and join us for what we believe is a very special podcast.

And maybe a glass of milk, too.