What Is Wheat?

Wheat is a type of grass plant that produces ears of grains—rows upon rows of seeds wrapped in papery husks (the chaff), which, over the last 10,000 years, humans have learned to cultivate, harvest, process, and transform into bread, noodles, fried doughs, and so much more.

Wheat plants are considered mature when they turn a golden colour, similar to straw. At that point, the stalks are cut and gathered into sheaves, or bunches, to dry as they ripen. Once dry, the stalks are threshed, loosening the grains, then winnowed, using air movement to separate the grain from the chaff (some less common varieties of wheat, like spelt, emer, and einkorn, have an inedible hull that also needs to be separated from the grain and removed). The resulting grains can be eaten whole—the stuff you’ll find in a wheat berry, farro, or spelt grain bowl, for instance—or they can be processed further.

How Wheat Becomes Flour

Though evidence exists that hunter-gatherers were bashing seeds into flour at least 32,000 years ago using a rudimentary process akin to pounding ingredients in a mortar and pestle, we can generally say that there are two prevailing methods for milling wheat into flour:

  • Stone milling.
  • Roller milling.

Common Types of Wheat Flour

This write-up will just focus on the most widely available bread and durum wheat flour.

  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Bread Flour
  • Durum
  • 00 (Doppio zero) Flour
  • All-Purpose Flour
  • Instant Flour
  • Pastry Flour
  • Self-Rising Flour
  • Cake Flour

Flour and Protein Content

It’s crucial to take protein level into consideration when considering the perfect flour for a recipe.* Bread flour typically has a protein content of 12-14%, all-purpose ranges from 9-12%, pastry flour contains 8-9%, and cake flour has about 7-8%.

These protein percentages are an indicator of the gluten potential of any given flour. Gluten, formed when wheat flour is mixed with water, accounts for the structure and texture of baked goods and bread.

Type of Wheat Flour 

Protein Content 

Whole Wheat 

11-15% 

Bread 

12-14% 

Durum 

13% 

00 (Doppio Zero) 

11.5-13% 

All-purpose 

9-12% 

Instant 

9.5-11% 

Pastry 

8-9% 

Self-rising 

8.5% 

Cake 

7-8%