Humans have cultivated wheat for hundreds of generations. When you think of wheat today, images of flat, Midwest fields come to mind. Although we like to think of wheat as an old-time product with no more use than as a component of bread, it actually has many current uses and some exciting potential in every field from brewing to biodegradable plastics.
The origins on wheat go back to the earliest periods of organized society, around 9,000 years ago in the Asian Southeast and what is now called the Middle East. Wheat has always been a vital crop for mankind, and early colonists brought it to the New World in the early 1600s due to the fact that it can survive harsh and cold climates .
Wheat's main function serves as a source of food for humans; we consume approximately 20 percent of our calories from wheat-based products. We sometimes use wheat as a source of food for animals, but not nearly as much as we eat it ourselves. Wheat is essential for most of your favorite foods, such as light breads, all types of pasta and doughnuts.
Beer drinkers probably know their favorite libations are usually made with barley. With wheat so cheap, why do most brewers choose more expensive barley? Barley has husks that act as a built-in filter during the mash process, watering the wheat or barley, to produce wort, the sugars that ferment to become beer. Without this filter, wheat malt turns clumpy and hard to exact the appropriate sugars. Switching to wheat beer could save brewers 90 percent of the cost of normal barley malt.
When filling up that tank, know that wheat could save hundreds on your gasoline budget. You can extract starch from anything to produce ethanol, a fuel additive that reduces carbon emissions. Although you can use wheat to produce ethanol, corn is the preferred source of starch because of the lower cost. Since most research funding goes to improve corn-based ethanol, the price for corn would have to rise significantly for wheat to achieve viability for use as a fuel additive.
The future for wheat looks brighter than ever. Modified wheat products of the future will allow bread products to stay soft for much longer periods of time. In the area of health, exploratory wheat research posits that one could create low-carbohydrate wheat products that those on an Atkins diet could consume. More efficiency in the process of starch plastics could use wheat to combat climate change.