Wheat is the raw material for the flour milling sector. Most flour is milled from common wheat (Triticum aetivum) which is the most widely grown arable crop in the UK. Some millers also usel other cereals such as spelt, rye or other grains.

Wheat is one of the first cereals known to have been domesticated, and its ability to self-pollinate greatly facilitated the selection of many distinct domesticated varieties. Archaeological records show that this first occurred in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ of Turkey, Syria and Israel, and the Nile Delta but by 3000 BC, wheat had reached England and Scandinavia.

There are five main species of wheat. These are: common or bread wheat (T. aestivum), durum wheat (T. durum), einkorn (T. monococcum), emmer wheat (T. dicoccum) and spelt (T. spelta).

Wheat is high in proteins which, when milled and mixed with water, produce gluten which allows the formation of the sponge-like structure characteristic of leavened breads. Wheat is gown in regions of extreme climatic variance, such as North and South America, Canada, Eastern Europe and Australia. ‘Hard wheat’ contains relatively large amounts of ‘strong’ protein used to make bread whereas ‘soft wheat’ has lower amounts of protein with ‘weaker’ gluten. Harder wheat types are grown in warmer climatic conditions such as North America and Australia whereas softer wheat types are produced in areas with milder climates. Traditionally the United Kingdom was known for soft and biscuit wheat varieties but UK hard wheats are now of similar quality to those grown in Germany.

The wheat genome is large and complicated compared with most other domesticated species. Common wheat has six (hexaploid) sets of chromosomes. The aim of plant breeders is to use knowledge of the genome to identify the parts (genetic loci) that may affect both agronomic and end-quality traits. The main problem is that because common wheat is a hexaploid there are often several genes that control the same physical phenotypic trait.

The UK has a thriving plant breeding sector with at least six major companies involved in the development of new wheat varieties. To be commercially successful in the UK wheat varieties must be listed on the Recommended List. To be listed a new variety must be at least as good as current varieties in terms of yield, agronomic performance, disease resistance and processing qualities. Currently, there are 42 winter and spring varieties on the Recommended List.

In the UK, wheat varieties are classified using the nabim system:



% of the 2015 UK wheat crop

nabim Group 1

Consistent bread-making wheats. 13% protein, 250s HFN and specific weights 76kh/hl.


nabim Group 2

Bread-making potential. Some are inconsistent, others suit specialist flours.


nabim Group 3

Soft wheats for biscuits, cakes etc. Low protein and an extensible but not elastic gluten.


nabim Group 4

Wheat for other uses.


 NB. Varieties not in the Recommended List are not included

You can download the nabim Wheat Guide 2016 here.