Abstract: Wheatis one of the earliest crops humans used and domesticated in order to advanceas early agricultural farmers.
It was already an important crop when historywas first being recorded, so highly accurate information on its date of originand original naming is not available. We do know that it has been one of themost widely used and depended upon staple crops since man first began todomesticate food in their transition from nomadic hunter/gathers to settledfarmers. Since then, wheat has been used all around the globe, impactingeconomics, religion and many different aspects of society.
It can be argued asone of, if not the most influential crop in human history. Introduction: Thereare many different varieties of wheat, but we will be focusing on common wheat.This specific type of wheat is so important due to its high gluten content andits wide range of climates in which it can be grown.
It is used in the makingof pasta, cereals, and especially bread making. For this reason, it is oftenreferred to as bread wheat. Thescientific name for this species of wheat is known as Triticum aestivum L. Itis classified into the Plantae Kingdom, the Monilophyta Phylum, the LiliopsidaClass, and the Poaceae Family (USDA, 2017). Since it grows best in climatesalso suitable for humans, it is immensely popular around the world. Generally,between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit is best suitable for high yields of breadwheat.
It also needs plenty of sun light and water (35%-45% by weight) in orderto successfully germinate. These conditions are not unrealistic and are thereason approximately 95% of all wheat grown worldwide is bread wheat (Shewry2009). Without this valuable crop, life as we know it around the globe would beimmensely different. Origin and Domestication: Scientistsbest approximation on the approximate date of origin of wheat was about 10,000years ago during the Neolithic revolution. This was a time of global change inhuman lifestyle from a hunter and gatherer lifestyle of nomadic survival, tothe huge advancement of agricultural development and the cultivation anddomestication of specific crops that were of direct benefit to humans.
For thefirst time, as opposed to natural selection of species that survived in nature,artificial selection began to occur. Early humans began to seek out and selectspecific types of crops that benefited their needs and began to plant the seedsof these plants and cared for them as opposed to that natural survival andgrowth of the crops (Weisdorf 2005). This forever changed the natural growth ofwild plants around the world. The plants and crops that normally would havesurvived would have been the ones that had features and traits that would haveallowed them to survive on their own. These traits could be anything frompredator or consumer repellent, nutrient absorption or weathering and erosionprotection.
Now the species of crops that would survive would be the ones thatproduced excessive amounts of consumable features, were easy to cultivate andlacked any parts that would hinder the functionality for humans. Two of themost important traits passed down were the increase in grain size and thedevelopment of the non-shattering seed. The benefits of the large grain sizehave helped to ensure the successful germination and growth of seedlings infields cultivated by humans as opposed to naturally occurring fields. Thedevelopment of the non-shattering seed was even more beneficial to humans dueto the fact that it prevents natural seed dispersal and allows humans theopportunity collect and harvest the seed with optimal timing for use in humanconsumption (Eckardt 2010). After humans discovered not only all the positive usesof wheat but also how easy it was to grow and cultivate, it was used for theremainder of history and the methods of growing and cultivating became muchsmoother. Parts Used: Notevery single part of the plant is usable as food.
The main portions of theplant that are used are the wheat bran, the wheat germ and the endosperm. Partslike the roots and stalks are not of nutritional value but are still utilized.Farmers use these parts for straw in use of hay bails and animal feed. Butgenerally, the processing of wheat is used mainly to extract the bran, germ andendosperm.
The bran is essentially the hard outer covering of the wheat kernel.The germ is the nutrient rich wheat embryo that would eventually sprout andgrow into a new plant. The endosperms are the starchy insides of the kernel.The endosperms are also the largest part of the kernel and makes up about 83%of the entire kernel, and is filled with nutrients that the germ would use forfood (fig 1).
All parts have different benefits to humans as well. For example,the bran is immensely high in fiber as well as vitamins B6 and E but is not thetastiest part of the plant. Some Studies have also shown that wheat bran mayhave a beneficial effect on the prevention of certain diseases, including somecancers (in particular colorectal cancer), CVD, obesity and somegastrointestinal diseases, including diverticular disease, constipation andirritable bowel syndrome (Stevenson, Phillips, O’sullivan, Walton 2012). Thewheat germ takes up about 2.5–3.8% of total seed weight and is an importantpart of the wheat.
Although often overlooked as simply a biproduct of flourprocessing, the germ contains lipids (healthy fats), proteins, sugars, fiberand minerals such as magnesium, calcium and zinc (Hidalgo 2011). The endospermis the main nutrients part of the seed that is often separated from the otherparts and processed into white flour. This is the starchiest part of the wheatand the main reason it has been so useful in bread making throughout history.But separating the three main parts is not always necessary. Simply grindingthe whole kernels with the bran and germ still intact is the way whole wheatflour is made. Although usually tougher and more dense, whole wheat foods aremuch healthier due to the added nutrients and fiber from the bran and germ. Method of Harvesting/ Processing: Harvestingof the wheat has typically been the most labor-intensive part of thecultivating.
Though traditionally done with a sickle, scythe or a reaper, theharvesting process has been altered dramatically with the advancement oftechnology. Though the method of harvesting by hand with these tools is stillused today in some parts of the world, most crop harvesting done in the unitedstates is done with large tractors. When done by hand, the process can be verytime consuming and laborious. First a person uses a very sharp tool.
A scytheis a very long handled tool with a large curved blade on the end that is usedwith 2 hands. This type of tool is good for long wheat stalks. A sickle is muchshorter and used with only one hand on short stalked wheat. After using thetool to cut down a group of wheat stalks, the wheat is tied and bundled intogroups called sheaves. Usually the bundling process is done by a second personfollowing the cutter. The sheaves are then collected and stacked into pilescalled stooks. They resemble native American teepees. Stooks are carefullycreated in the fields so the wheat can continue to dry.
The wheat loses waterweight as it dries, and will store longer and better if it is the propermoisture content before it is stored or processed (Fig 2). These stooks allowair to circulate around the wheat heads, quickly drying the wheat. In anindustrial farming situation, none of this would take place. The entire processis done with one swoop by a tractor which combines all of the steps, includingthreshing and winnowing, all at once by the machine. In the machine, the wheatsheaves are fed into the thresher which beats the wheat from the wheat heads.Winnowing takes the wheat and separates it from the unusable husk thatsurrounds it. Once the wheat is removed it can begin being processed into itsedible parts (Pawar, Shirsat, Pathak 2008). The wheat is processed andseparated to increase its shelf life.
In its separate forms (bran, germ andendosperm) it can be packaged and stored for a very long time without goingbad. In ancient times, this process was mostly skipped, and the wheat wassimply washed, ground into a fine powder and used in bread making. Since aroundthe 1800’s, machines were used to help process the wheat. Before wheat can beground into flour it must be free of foreign matter. This requires severaldifferent cleaning processes. At each step of purification, the wheat isinspected and purified again if necessary. The first device used to purifywheat is known as a separator. This machine passes the wheat over a series ofmetal screens.
The wheat and other small particles pass through the screenwhile large objects such as sticks, and rocks are removed. The wheat nextpasses through an aspirator. This device works like a vacuum cleaner. Theaspirator sucks up foreign matter which is lighter than the wheat and removesit. Other foreign objects are removed in several ways.
One device, known as a diskseparator, moves the wheat over a series of disks with indentations thatcollect objects the size of a grain of wheat. Smaller or larger objects passover the disks and are removed. Othermethods used to purify wheat include magnets to remove small pieces of metaland scourers to scrape off dirt and hair. In more modern times, electroniccolor sorting machines are used to remove material which is not the same coloras wheat. The next step is preparing the wheat for grinding. The moisturecontent of the wheat must now be controlled to allow the outer layer of bran tobe removed efficiently during grinding. Usually this involves adding, ratherthan removing, moisture as it is much easier to add moisture to overly driedkernels due to the fact that large amounts of dried wheat will last mush longerthan moist wheat kernels.
When grinding the wheat, it moves between two largemetal rollers known as breaker rolls. These rollers are of two varied sizes andmove at different speeds. They also contain spiral grooves which crack open thegrains of wheat and begin to separate the interior of the wheat from the outerlayer of bran. The product of the breaker rolls passes through metal sieves toseparate it. The material now resemblesa coarse flour and is known as middlings.
Middlings are ground into flour bypairs of large, smooth metal rollers. Each time the flour is ground it passesthrough sieves to separate it into flours of different fineness. These sievesare made of metal wire when the flour is coarse, but are made of nylon or silkwhen the flour is fine. By sifting, separating, and regrinding the flour,several different grades of flour are produced at the same time. At this pointthe flour can be altered and changed in order to accommodate whatever needs it mustfulfil. currently, vitamins and minerals are added by law in order to produceenriched flour and leavening agents and salt can be added in order to makeself-rising flour (Sokolov 1994).
Marketing/Trade:Whenit comes to the marketing and trading of wheat, most all of it is used in breadmaking and the making and distribution of bread flour. There are however aseries of other uses as well. For example, wheat bran is a widely sought-aftercommodity in terms of breakfast cereals, and wheat germ is used in a variety ofplaces in food and ca be used as a more beneficial substitute for bread crumbsin many recipes as well as a topping for yogurt and other foods. With all ofthese, the production and distribution of wheat is a very important topic interms of global trade. As many nations may lack the available resources,climate or soil conditions to produce proper bread wheat, it is a commonimport.
Until recently, the U.S. was the worlds top exporter of wheat since thelate 1800’s, when properly documented data on actual import and export databegan to be recorded (O’Connor 1970). But as of very recently, Russia hasquickly become the worlds top supplier of wheat exports. Currently as of2017/2018, Russian wheat and barley exports account for one fifth of globaltrade. Russia’s ability to export has been assisted by beneficial exchangerates and low prices, compared to other traditional wheat and barley exporters.Another key advantage is their close proximity to rapidly growing markets inthe Middle East and North Africa.
This is immensely shocking because as earlyas the 200’s, Russia was a net grain importer. Even as its wheat productionbegan to grow, its ability to be an exporter was uncertain. But, as of recentyears production has expanded rapidly with much higher yields. Due to the newsurplus of production, the government is now supplying a much more supportivesystem for exports (USDA 2018).
In Religion:Theimpact wheat had on religion was seen across multiple religions. from classicaltimes, depictions of bread and wheat-ears were always religious symbols of lifeborn, reborn, sustained and protected by divine figures such as Osiris,Demeter, Ceres or Christ. It was also seen in many renaissance paintings of thevirgin Mary from the catholic religion.
She was often depicted dressed in agown or robes that were decorated with ears of wheat (Bjornstad 2016) (fig 3).In the catholic religion especially, bread is a major symbol used over and overagain. Even the term “breaking bread” was originated from the bible signifyingsharing of bread with those around you, but the term has stuck around and nowsimply means to share what you have or share time with those close to you.
Itwas also important in the catholic religion in terms of the symbolicconsumption of the Eucharist, which is small pieces of bread meant to symbolizethe body of Christ that is shared to all as a way of allowing Christ into thebody (Kramer-Rolls 2007). Besides Christianity and Catholicism, bread and wheathave always played a role in different religions. Due to the fact that manyreligions were simply a way for early humans to help explain their world aroundthem, it was believed that deities controlled events around them such asweather, wildlife and even the crop growing season.
Thus, many deities wereworshiped as gods of harvest as to ensure a good growing season. Harmful Effects/ Issues:Althoughwheat is an immensely beneficial crop that offers many vitamins and nutrients,there is a severe medical issue that arise. This is known as Celiac Disease andNon-celiac gluten sensitivity. These disorders are essentially immune relatedreactions to wheat and in some cases specifically gluten. Once believed to berelatively rare, particularly in the US, it is now thought that gluten-relateddisorders affect nearly 10% of the population.
Each gluten-related disorderexhibits a unique response to gluten ingestion. Some of the symptoms of celiacdisease include pain in abdomen or joints, burning in chest, indigestion,diarrhea, fat in stool, nausea/vomiting, bone loss, fatigue and development oflactose intolerance. These symptoms range from minor inconveniences to severissues that can affect overall health and well-being.
But non-celiac glutensensitivity symptoms can be very different. Many of the symptoms are similar toceliac disease such as abdominal pain, bone and joint pain and diarrhea. ButNCGS is different in the fact that it can also produce symptoms likedepression, ADHD like behavior and “foggy mind” and when tested medically thepatient will test negative for celiac disease. For these reasons both celiacdisease and NCGS have become increasingly difficult to diagnose early on andoften can be mistaken for other issues. When this occurs, the patient will notknow that it is simply their diet that is causing these issues.
One of theeasiest ways to diagnose a wheat allergy related disease is to simply stopeating wheat products and see if the symptoms subside. These diseases are oftengenetic and passed down from parents. Sadly, not many treatments are availableexcept for having a strict gluten free diet in order to ensure there are noissues. It is undeniable that gluten-related disorders are increasing in theUS. Despite the improvement in diagnostic testing techniques for celiac wheatrelated diseases it is still difficult to distinguish gluten-related disorders.
There are also an increased group of patients that complaints related to gluteningestion that test negative for any wheat related allergies (Leonard 2014).This group, along with a considerable number of people who feel gluten free ishealthier are contributing to the increased demand for the gluten free foodmarket. This can be seen in many new gluten free restaurants and restaurantsserving many gluten free options or having a separate gluten free menu.