Wheat is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East and Ethiopian Highlands, but now cultivated worldwide. In 2007 world production of wheat was 607 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize (784 million tons) and rice (651 million tons). In 2009, world production of wheat was 682 million tons, making it the second most-produced cereal after maize (817 million tons) and with rice as close third (679 million tons).
Wheat is grown on more land area than any other commercial crop and is the most important staple food for humans. World trade in wheat is greater than for all other crops combined. Globally, wheat is the leading source of vegetable protein in human food, having higher protein content than either maize (corn) or rice, the other major cereals. In terms of total production tonnages used for food, it is currently second to rice as the main human food crop and ahead of maize, after allowing for maize’s more extensive use in animal feeds.
Wheat was a key factor enabling the emergence of city-based societies at the start of civilization because it was one of the first crops that could be easily cultivated on a large scale, and had the additional advantage of yielding a harvest that provides long-term storage of food. Wheat contributed to the emergence of city-states in the Fertile Crescent, including the Babylonian and Assyrian empires. Wheat grain is a staple food used to make flour for leavened, flat and steamed breads, biscuits, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereal, pasta, noodles, couscous and for fermentation to make beer, other alcoholic beverages or biofuel.
Wheat is planted to a limited extent as a forage crop for livestock, and its straw can be used as a construction material for roofing thatch. The whole grain can be milled to leave just the endosperm for white flour. The by-products of this are bran and germ. The whole grain is a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals, and protein, while the refined grain is mostly starch.
Wheat is a type of grass grown all over the world for its highly nutritious and useful grain. It is one of the top three most produced crops in the world, along with corn and rice. Wheat has been cultivated for over 10,000 years and probably originates in the Fertile Crescent, along with other staple crops. A wide range of wheat products are made by humans, including most famously flour, which is made from the grain itself.
Today, wheat is a grass that grows between two and four feet (½ to 1 ¼ meters) tall. The physical appearance of the grain is familiar to most consumers, with a long stalk that terminates in a tightly formed cluster of plump kernels enclosed by a beard of bristly spikes. Wheat is an annual, which means that at the end of each year, fields must be plowed and prepared again to grow the grass.
Ancestral wheat’s probably looked very different, with much smaller kernels. The early domesticators of wheat obviously wanted to select for plants with particularly large kernels, since more nutrition could be eked out from each stalk. Because wheat is generally a self-pollinating plant, each plant tends to produce clones of itself. When farmers want to hybridize a wheat strain, they must physically pollinate the different plants. Farmers blending wheat for various purposes usually combine different seeds at harvest time and spread them evenly over the field.