From a single seed Tracing the Marquis wheat success story in Canada to its roots in the Ukraine
- The Quality of Wheat, Flour, and Bread
The usual characteristics of wheat varieties, which include yield, height and strength of straw, and time of ripening, are more or less obvious to the farmer when he observes them in the field. Most farmers assess the worth of a particular variety under specific growing conditions on the basis of these known characteristics. However, the value of any given variety can only be determined after the grain has been milled into flour and the flour baked into bread. It is impossible to recognize this value from the outward appearance of the plants of a given variety, although preliminary conclusions can be drawn on the basis of a wheat grain specimen that has been softened by soaking in water. But the wheat grain is not the final product. It must be processed by the miller, made into bread by the baker and judged by the consumer, who gives the final assessment on the quality of this wheat.
Most North American grain farmers used to care far less about the quality of the flour than about the variety which produced the greatest yield. When wheat first began to be sown here, farmers worked hardest at producing as much grain as possible and generally accepted variable levels of bread quality. The quality of the wheat grain and the kind of bread it would produce began to be taken into account only after top-quality Ukrainian wheat arrived in North America.
Wheat quality begins with its constituent parts. The hard spring wheat kernel, on average, contains about 68% starch, 18% protein, 2% fats, 2% ash, and 2% cellulose. The proportion of these components varies. The starch, protein, and fats comprise the nutritive components. Cellulose is not digested so its nutritive value is zero.
When the word "quality" is used to describe the wheat kernel, it acquires more or less variable meaning. The grain may serve more than one purpose, so its value or quality depends on the particular purpose for which it is used. A miller who wants to produce high-grade semolina flour for pasta needs a wheat rich in gluten. A miller who wants to produce flour for cakes or crumbly products wants a wheat that is low in protein but high in starch content. In both cases the miller talks about a high "quality" that best meets his need to produce a particular product.
Most of the wheat grown in Canada is intended to meet the needs of bread baking. Its quality is defined by how suitable it is for the production of flour for baking bread. In other words, one must rate first the wheat's "milling quality," or its ability to create flour, and second its "baking quality,"or the quality of the bread made from its flour.
Flour made from the Ukrainian Halychanka (Red Fife) variety had been shown to have the best milling and baking qualities. These qualities defined the true value of this wheat and commanded the highest market price. That is why farmers in Western Canada grew it in the largest possible quantities.
The quality of wheat is a very complicated question defined by a number of independent factors. These are described by Charles Saunders in Quality in Wheat (18, p. 6-28) and later summarized by C.H. Bailey (19, p. 10, cited in 7, pp. 198-199). Buller notes the comprehensiveness of Saunders's research : "... he not only crosses wheats, selects their progeny, propagates the selections on plots and in fields, and records all their field characteristics, such as yield and earliness, but... he also carries out all the needful baking and milling tests himself in his own laboratory."
At that time British millers wanted Canadian spring wheat that had not only a hard red grain that produced a white flour and absorbed a lot of water but also one with the greatest strength, or elasticity, during baking. The Canadian wheat's strength of flour not only produced the best loaf but also had an unequalled capacity for mixing with other flours. British millers had a lot of their own soft wheat which produced a weak flour. The strong Canadian flour, when mixed into the weak British flour, improved the latter to the level of standard flour and at the same time raised its price. Halychanka (Red Fife) wheat was thus in great demand on the British market. (7, p. 200)
William Saunders, when sending new varieties for testing to the Canadian West, made sure that they met the British requirements: that is, a flour strength equal to or greater than that of the Halychanka (Red Fife) variety. (7, pp. 200-201)
The milling quality of wheat depended on two factors: the quantity of the flour produced and the colour of the flour. These factors were related. By separating as much of the flour as possible from the bran, the miller could obtain the greatest yield of flour, but the process would darken its colour. On the other hand, if the miller wished to produce the whitest flour, its yield would drop. The miller therefore had to balance these two factors to achieve the greatest gain from any given variety.
Some varieties of wheat produced both high yield and good colour when milled and so were said to be high-quality milling wheats. The flour yield was determined by testing during milling and was given as a percentage of the wheat milled, while flour colour was defined by a description or by a point scale. Colour was important to consumers, who demanded white bread. In general, the best flour had to be as white as possible, somewhat similar to the colour of cream.
The baking quality of a flour is defined by the elasticity (strength) of the gluten, the volume and crust of the loaf, and the quantity of water absorbed. The volume of the loaf and the strength of the gluten may be considered together, as loaf volume depends on the elasticity of the wet gluten in the dough. The yeast acts on the starch and produces carbon dioxide (CO2) and alcohol. The dough mass fills with CO2, the volume of the dough increases, and the dough rises. If the dough is not subjected to the baking temperature, the elasticity of the walls around the gas-filled spaces reaches its limit, the walls break, the gases are released, and the dough contracts and returns to its original volume.
During the bread-making process, however, the dough is placed into an oven before it reaches its greatest volume. At this point the walls of the gas-filled spaces begin to harden as the glutenstiffens, the yeast organisms die and gas production ceases. The gluten in the flour gives the walls of the spaces their elasticity, which keeps the accumulated gases from escaping. Obviously, the capacity of the membrane depends on the elasticity of the gluten. This capacity is usually determined by means of a baking test, which allows the membrane to expand while retaining its form, and by the uniformity of the membrane. The size of the baked loaf is a very important assessment factor: its quality is more difficult to define than its volume, however, because the important features here are the distribution of the spaces and the thickness of their walls (Figure 4).
During the mixing of the dough for baking, water is added to the flour until the dough becomes fully formed. The amount of water absorbed by the dough ball depends on the quality of the flour. The water-absorbing capacity is a very important factor for the baker because the greater the capacity to absorb water, the more bread can be baked from a barrel of flour. The weight of a loaf after baking is also very important to the baker: it defines the water-holding capacity of the flour, which defines the productivity of the bread.
The best definition of these terms is found in Quality in Wheat by Charles Saunders: "In analyzing the quality of wheat, one must understand this from two points of view, the miller's and the baker's. These two frequently confuse the terms 'milling quality' with 'baking quality.' The miller wants above all to obtain a high yield of flour, while the baker requires a flour with the appearance and strength for his particular purpose. Wheat of excellent quality, therefore, when milled, may produce flour that is utterly inedible, while a poor sample of some shrivelled wheat may produce a small yield of flour with excellent baking qualities.
"In speaking of flour, the terms 'quality' and 'strength' are frequently used as if they have the same meaning, which is not true. The term 'strength' has a very clear definition, although other meanings sometimes are added to this term. 'Quality'clearly defines its suitability for the intended purpose. a flour of high quality for pastries is a flour of low strength, while a flour of high quality for the production of very white bread or for mixing to improve the strength of a weak flour must be of high strength." (18, pp. 7-8)
The influence of the environment -- climate, especially the amount of rainfall during the last phases of plant development, elevation, soil composition, manuring -- on the chemical composition of the wheat kernel cannot be denied. The great producer countries of strong wheats with a rich protein content (Central and Western Canada, the Great Plains in the United States, Argentina, and Australia) are countries with a summer season that is warm and dry. Soft varieties, on the other hand, that have a high yield but are poor in protein (gluten), thrive in the countries of Western and Central Europe, Scandinavia, England, Holland, Belgium, Germany, and the greater part of France, where there is a marine climate that is humid and variable. But high protein (gluten) content in wheat is a varietal characteristic, specific and hereditary, which is only partly dependent on environment.
The wheats of Ukraine have the best qualities for both baking and milling. The quality of their gluten and thus their bread-baking value is clearly a specific, varietal, and hereditary characteristic. This has been established by W. and C. Saunders (20, 18 items) in Canada, F. B. Guthrie (21, 12 items) in Australia, and S. Ochnelle (22, 43 items, n/a) in Germany, among others.
The bread-baking value of the American varieties of Halychanka (Red Fife and White Fife) wheat has in no way degenerated over the course of 15 years of cultivation in England. E. Schribeax made the same observation about the Manitoba and Marquis varieties (23, 10 items) which were introduced into France during World War I.
Numerous tests in various countries have demonstrated the specific characteristics of "bread-baking value." It is therefore possible to create, through breeding, varieties with good bread-baking qualities even in climates that are not very favourable. For example, the Svea 2 (Sea II) variety, which has very good milling and baking qualities, was created at the Svalov experimental station. I believe that through the laws of heredity, Ukrainian wheats have passed on their excellence to all the best varieties throughout the world.
This is supported by V. Lathouvers (in the second volume of his L'Amelioration du Froment [24, p. 82], which is based on the work of J. H. Schollenberg and J. A. Clark). He writes:
"Among the best American varieties for bread-baking, both authors cite:
- T. vulgare, winter wheat - red grain, hard: Turkey, Kharkiv, Kenred; in Minnesota: Minturkey.
- Triticum vulgare - red grain, hard: Marquis, Red Fife; in rust-infested regions: KOTA.
- T. durum - Kubanka (in Minnesota).
- Mindum - in rust-infested regions: Monad Akme.
- T. vulgare - winter wheat, red grain, soft: Red Rock Minhardy, Odessa.
- T. vulgare - white grain: Bobs, White Federation."
All of these Ukrainian varieties have been crossed into the North American varieties.
The professional literature in the early years of the century includes numerous studies to determine flour and bread-baking quality and the value of different varieties. Wheat quality analysis had grown into a very large field of research. Factors studied included climate, the composition of soils at the time of sowing, time of harvesting and degree of ripening. The results of this type of research showed that Ukrainian wheats and the hybrids derived from them exhibited the most desirable characteristics. A number of examples follow.
Manley Champlin and C. H. Goulding (25, p. 287): "Red Fife wheat was tested along with Marquis, over a period of eight years. In two cases, in 1914 (Table 2) and in 1917 (Table 5), it scored somewhat better than Marquis but in no case was this difference significant." Ball and Clark (26): "Numerous tests present milling findings that Marquis is equivalent to or superior to samples of Red Fife and 'Bluestem' wheat." Similar results were published by Saunders ( n/a, p.) in North Dakota and A.C. Arny and C.H. Bailey in Minnesota. (27) In Winnipeg F. J. Birchard wrote: "These tests (1915 and 1916 harvests) were not able to establish any significant difference between Marquis and Red Fife wheat in terms of their milling and baking quality."(28, 2 items)
The work of Champlin and Goulding (25) in particular showed that Galician wheat had the best milling and baking qualities. Their tests analyzed six groups of spring wheats.
One group consisted of the Marquis, Red Fife, Kitchener, and Red Bobs varieties. Their genealogy shows that all four originate from Halychanka (Red Fife), with only Kitchener and Marquis of hybrid origin. Test comparisons of these four varieties showed that all of them were of the same quality, with very insignificant deviations.
A second group included White Bobs, White Fife, and Tailor's Wonder. These varieties represent a group of white wheats which are generally considered soft. In most cases, the white colour of the wheat is due to the fact that they do not have the red pigment in the bran, but this pigment has no relation to the internal composition of the grain. The white grain is generally soft and has a starchy structure which also gives it an opaque quality. There is less gluten in a white wheat and therefore its quality and price are lower. Even though the White Bobs and White Fife varieties were white, however, they had all the other characteristics of the red wheats: for example, they were more vitreous and were considered to be hard wheats. One minor difference was that White Fife had a somewhat rougher glume. Tests on these two varieties showed that white wheats were not all soft and that both varieties belonged with the high-quality hard red wheats.
In conclusion the authors wrote: "White Fife was tested over a period of six years (1914-1919) and proved itself equal to Red Fife. Indeed over the last three years its qualities were superior."(29, p. 290) This study affirms the great stability of the hereditary bank and high genetic value of the Halychanka (Red Fife) variety.
The wheat that grew in Canada's Prairie provinces was predominantly hard red spring wheat with a high protein content -- which was the reason it was in high demand on world markets. The average protein content in Canadian wheat was about 13.6%, although in some localities it could be as high as 20%, while the world average was only about 10%. The quality of its Ukrainian ancestors also gave Canadian wheat a high water absorption capacity. Its flour produced dough with excellent kneading qualities, suitable for great variations in fermentation and large substantial loaves of bread with an excellent crust.
Canadian flour produced excellent bread even when mixed with poor-quality flour. This allowed countries with similar but poorer-quality wheats to make their domestic flour go further and improve their bread. Thus Britain would buy flour from the whole world and its millers would mix it into the British flour to make it suitable for domestic baking and everyday use. Canada's task was to maintain a consistently high wheat quality standard, as more than 75% of our wheat was exported overseas.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has kept detailed information on the bread yield from different kinds of flour for many years. Their findings on the quantity of bread that could be baked from one 106-pound barrel of flour milled in various countries in 1956 are as follows (No. 256, p. 25):
Weight of bread in pounds
A British committee investigating the quality of baking different types of wheat placed them in this order:
|I Northern Canadian Spring||100|
|U.S. No. 1 Northern Spring||100|
|U.S. No. 1 Red Winter||85|
|Indian White Select Karachi||75|