The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Whole Wheat and Whole Grains

Whole wheat bread has become a staple in many households, celebrated for its health benefits and rich, nutty flavour. As a dietary choice, whole wheat bread has gained popularity for its association with whole grains, fibre, and essential nutrients. Let’s talk about the definition of “whole wheat” and how it can vary across different countries.

Understanding Wheat

cross section of a whole wheat grain
This graphic is from a Book published in 1917 and written by Henry, W. A. (William Arnon), 1850-1932; Morrison, F. B. (Frank Barron), 1887-1958 https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/20608182530/

Whole wheat is a type of flour that contains all three parts of the wheat kernel – the bran, germ, and endosperm. This completeness distinguishes it from refined wheat, where the bran and germ are removed, leaving only the starchy endosperm. In the context of bread, using whole wheat flour means incorporating all parts of the wheat kernel into the dough, resulting in a denser texture and a more robust flavour. In Canada, when wheat is milled, parts of the kernel are separated and then recombined to make whole wheat flour. Under the Food and Drug Regulations, up to 5% of the kernel can be removed to help reduce rancidity and prolong the shelf life of whole wheat flour.

Nutritional Benefits:

Whole wheat bread is renowned for its nutritional profile. It is an excellent source of dietary fibre, which aids digestion, promotes satiety, and contributes to heart health. The inclusion of the germ ensures a higher content of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Whole wheat is also associated with a lower glycemic index, meaning it can help regulate blood sugar levels.

Cultural Preferences:

Cultural preferences influence the varieties of whole wheat bread available. In India, for instance, whole wheat bread may be prepared using a combination of whole wheat flour and other traditional flour, such as millet or sorghum, offering a distinct taste and texture. In Scandinavia, whole-grain rye bread is a dietary staple, providing a unique flavour profile. The Whole Grains Council has a list of the regulations in different countries about what constitutes whole wheat and whole grain products.

Examples:

In Canada, whole grain products must have at least 8 grams of whole grain in a serving. A serving is 35 grams or one slice.

A “whole–grain” product in the USA needs to have more than half of the ingredients as whole grains.

In the Netherlands breads have to contain 100% whole grain to be called “whole grain”.

In Germany, “whole wheat bread” must contain 90% whole grain for wheat and rye bread.

This seems very confusing to me. In my recipes, I call it “whole grain” if it has more than 50% whole grains (most of my recipes). You will see the whole grain percentage listed in the ingredient list.

Recipe screenshot

Conclusion

Whole wheat bread is a versatile and diverse food item enjoyed worldwide. However, the interpretation of “whole wheat” varies, leading to different regulations and bread compositions in different countries. Whether it’s a hearty slice of 100% whole wheat bread in the United States or a multi-grain loaf in Europe, understanding these global variations adds depth to our appreciation of this wholesome and nutritious food staple.

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