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Bread wheat has been farmed by humans for over 10,000 years and is the most grown crop in the world.
It is used in countless foods, including cupboard staples like bread, pasta, and biscuits. Gluten is the secret to wheat’s versatility, giving dough its stretchy and malleable nature.
Bread wheat accounts for over 90% of global wheat production, which reached over 760 million tonnes in 2020.
Wheat is an annual, green to brown grass. It produces a spike or ear (the flowering and fruiting part) on each of its 1 to 5 hollow stems. The spikes grow up to 15 cm long, and are formed of 10 to 25 spikelets (complex arrangements of small flowers hidden within different kinds of modified leaves), depending on the variety of wheat. Each stem also has between 4 to 8 narrow, long leaf blades. Modern cultivars of wheat tend to be shorter (below 1m), but older varieties can reach 1.5m.
Food and drink
Wheat grain can be ground into flour, which is used in a huge range of foods including bread, cakes, pastry, pasta and sauces.
If left to sprout and dry, wheat grains become malt. Malt is used to create beer, whisky, vinegar, chocolates and malt loaf.
Bread wheat grain can be parboiled, dried, crushed and de-branned to create bulgur wheat, which is often found in soups and salads.
When bread wheat is milled to remove the husks, the by-product, wheat bran, is used to enrich breads and breakfast cereals.
Wholegrain bread wheat is rich in dietary fibre, manganese, vitamins B1, B3 and B6, and protein.
Materials and fuels
Straw from bread wheat is a common crafting material, used for thatching and weaving. It can also be used as an animal feed.
Did you know?
Wheat is a member of the grass family (Poaceae) which includes other staple cereals such as Asian rice (Oryza sativa), common oat (Avena sativa) and maize (Zea mays).
Bread wheat is a hybrid of an ancestor species of durum wheat, Triticum turgidum and wild goat-grass (Aegilops tauschii).
Bread wheat was first domesticated in Asia around 10,000 years ago in the Caspian region of what is now Iran.
There are about 5,000 cultivated varieties (cultivars) of bread wheat in current use, although historically about 35,000 cultivars have been developed.
Find it in our gardens
A botanic garden in southwest London with the world’s most diverse living plant collection.
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Wheat is under threat from the changing climate crisis. Extreme temperatures can stop the plants from growing, and an increase in humidity can lead to the spread of diseases.
To secure the future of our food in a world with a growing population and changing climate, we need to protect the wild cousins of crops like wheat.
These crop wild relatives are a source of valuable genetic diversity and useful traits which could help breeders develop new and improved crops that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
Kew scientists have been working alongside the Global Crop Diversity Trust on a global project, collecting seeds from the wild relatives of wheat, alongside other common crops, and storing them in our Millennium Seed Bank for future generations.