Is American Wheat Different Than European Wheat?

The differences in American and European wheat come down to the amount of gluten and selenium in each.

The European Union produces close to five billion bushels of wheat each year, while the United States produces about two billion bushels [source: Brester]. Unless you're a professional baker, you might think that all wheat is the same, but these two regions actually produce vastly different varieties of this crop.

Around 60 percent of U.S. wheat production is of the hard red wheat variety; just 23 percent consists of soft wheat [source: Brester]. In Europe, the principal strains of wheat are generally of the soft variety. So what's the difference between the two? Part of the difference lies in gluten, a protein blend found in wheat and other grains. Hard wheat has more gluten than soft wheat, and the gluten it contains is stronger than gluten found in soft wheat. This tough gluten is ideal for baking soft, fluffy bread that people are used to consuming in the United States.


Soft wheat has a very different consistency. It has less gluten — and less protein overall — than hard wheat, and what gluten it does have is weak and easily broken down. This softer wheat is generally preferred for making pastries, cakes, cookies and other non-bread products.

Due to soil and growing conditions, the differences between American and European wheat extend further than gluten content. American wheat contains about 10 times more selenium, a trace mineral, than European varieties [source: Shewry]. Levels of all proteins are lower overall in European wheat compared to American varieties [source: Gisslen], but many growers are working hard to increase protein levels to make this wheat more attractive to potential buyers.

Of course, this doesn't mean that all American wheat is high in gluten and all European wheat is low in gluten. Producers in each of these regions plant many different varieties of wheat, so you can find a blend to suit any purpose, no matter where you live. It's also important to keep in mind that while the U.S. imports little wheat, Europe imports about 1.1 million tons of American wheat each year, so you can find plenty of American wheat throughout the EU [source: Mufson and Branigin].

Interestingly, despite the difference in gluten between American and European wheat, rates of celiac disease between the two regions are identical, with 1 in 133 people believed to suffer from this gluten-related autoimmune disease [source: Gitig].


Types of Wheat FAQs

How many types of wheat are there?
According to research, there are 30,000 different variations of wheat of the 14 species grown around the world. These are further divided into six classes.
Which type of wheat is the best?
It depends on what you are using it for. Hard white and hard red wheat are considered the best for making yeast bread. Durum wheat is great for pasta and soft wheat is used in cakes and baked goods.
Is wheat good for the body?
Wheat is considered to be a rich source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. However, wheat also contains gluten, which is a protein that triggers a harmful response by the immune system in some individuals.
What is the healthiest whole wheat flour?
Quinoa flour is gluten-free and is widely considered to be a healthy whole grain. Since it is not processed, much of its original nutrients remain intact, giving the consumer more nutritional value.
What is the nutritional value of wheat?
Wheat is rich in protein and vitamins, especially vitamin B, phytochemicals, dietary fiber and has a fair share of starch as well.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Brester, Gary. "Wheat." Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. April 2012. (Oct. 26, 2014)
  • de la Hamaide, Sybille. "Seed Makers Gearing Up for French Wheat Protein Challenge." Reuters. July 3, 2014. (Oct. 26, 2014)
  • Gisslen, Wayne. "Professional Baking." John Wiley and Sons. 2012.
  • Gitig, Diana. "When, and Why, Did Everyone Stop Eating Gluten?" Scientific American. May 10, 2011. (Oct. 26, 2014)
  • Great River Organic Milling. "FAQ." 2015. (Oct. 26, 2014)
  • Mufson, Steven and Branigin, William. "European Union urges testing of U.S. wheat imports for unapproved strain." Washington Post. May 31, 2013. (Oct. 26, 2014)
  • Shewry, P.R. "Wheat." Journal of Experimental Botany. Feb. 13, 2009. (Oct. 26, 2014)