About the Grains

Genus Aegilops has played an important role in the taxonomy of wheat. The familiar common wheat (Triticum aestivum) arose when cultivated emmer wheat hybridized with Aegilops tauschii about 8,000 years ago. Aegilops and Triticum are genetically similar, as evidenced by their ability to hybridize, and by the presence of Aegilops in the evolutionary heritage of many Triticum taxa.

During the Mesolithic era, 15-20K years ago, nomadic peoples found goatgrasses (Aegilops) growing wild, along with wild wheats and barleys, and harvested them using bone sickles inset with sharp flakes of flint. The harvested plants were left to dry for a few days, then the edible grains were separated out from the rest of the plant material by beating the plants with a wooden flail, or by rolling them against a hard surface. The seeds were then carefully singed in the embers of a fire to burn away the remaining non-edible plant material. Some grains were accidentally burnt, and since the burnt grains do not biodegrade some have been found by modern archeologists. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

The terms “Heritage” and “Ancient” are not synonymous with respect to grains. Here we attempt to define terms, clarify the different categories of wheat, list some of the over fifty varieties we have trialed to date, and the describe the characteristics of the varieties that we have taken to the stage of seed increase as of Fall, 2020.


HARD SPRING OR WINTER WHEAT has a high gluten content which creates the structure needed to trap air bubbles for bread making.  Bread flours usually have a protein content of at least 14 per cent.  Red wheats have a darker bran and have more flavor than white wheats which are lighter in color and milder in flavor.

SOFT RED OR WHITE WHEAT have a lower gluten and protein content and a higher starch content and are better for tender results in pastries, tortillas, cakes and cookies.

HERITAGE WHEAT (triticum aestivum) refers to varieties that were developed and grown prior to being displaced by dwarf, modern, industrialized wheat.

TURKEY RED WHEAT is a hard, red winter wheat that migrated with the Mennonites from Crimea to the great plains of the US in the late 19th century.  It was the dominant commercial wheat crop in Kansas through the 1940’s.  It has a robust wheat-y flavor and excellent gluten structure and starch quality for bread making.  It performed well in our NM grain trials.

RED FIFE originated in the Ukraine and was brought to Canada by David Fife in 1840.  It is a hard winter wheat with plump reddish kernels and rich wheat flavor.  It is excellent for bread making as well as all around baking.  Red Fife and Turkey Red wheats are included in the Slow Food Ark of Taste.

MARQUIS is a cross between Red Fife and Red Calcutta, developed in Canada in 1906.  It is a hard winter wheat with a milder wheat flavor than Red Fife.  It has a strong gluten structure and is good for bread-making.

SONORAN WHITE WHEAT originated in the Fertile Crescent and was introduced to the American Southwest by the Spanish missionaries for use in Christian ritual.  It is one of the first varieties of wheat cultivated in North America and it is drought and disease resistant and particularly adapted to the desert Southwest region.  It was widely planted commercially in California prior to modern wheat.  It is a soft white winter or spring wheat low in protein and gluten with a nutty and buttery flavor.  It is very extensible (stretchy) and makes a great pastry flour and excellent tortillas.

ROUGE DE BORDEAUX is a French heirloom that was very popular with bakers in the 19th century.  It is a hard, red winter or spring wheat with high quality, very elastic gluten.  The flavor is rich and nutty with hints of cinnamon.

in  Fall, 2019, we also trialed POLTAVKA, a landrace bread wheat collected in 1915 north of the Black Sea in the Ukraine;  SIRVINTA, an Estonian landrace that is making a comeback in Maine; excellent in long-fermented breads; and JAMMU wheat, sourced from Jammu region in India and perfect for cookies and pancakes;, and Black Emmer, which thrives in drought or heavy rain. Fusarium resistant. Savored in soups, breakfast cereal, flatbreads and pasta. Highly in protein. Collectd in the Carpathian Mountains.

Among the landrace heirloom wheats* we trialed in summer 2018 were

BAART EARLY distinguished from all others by the yellowish pear-shaped kernels. Baart Early is a spring growth-habit wheat with large, semi-hard, white-color kernels and white glumes. It reached heights of up to 48 inches in the Kusa Seed organization growouts. Baart Early was imported into Australia from South Africa in 1880 and came to the United States in 1900. It became well established in Arizona, then spread to the Pacific Coast states. About 500,000 acres were grown in 1919, while the 1939 records show 890,000 acres grown on the dry and irrigated lands of the West. A widely-grown, pre-modern bread wheat.

MIRABELLA (T. polonicum) is a landrace wheat of spring growth-habit from ancient Italy. Mirabella has “elephantic” length glumes and tremendous height potential. In Kusa Seed growouts, height varied from 30-84 inches with some stiff stems exhibited at times. The height expression depends on the soil, climate, growing-term.

SIN EL PHEEL (T. polonicum) This is a landrace wheat of spring growth-habit from ancient Iraq. Huge heads of grain; moderately stiff stems. Good for pasta, bread, other culinary items. Height in the Kusa Seed organization grow-outs ranged from 30-84 inches.

PACIFIC BLUESTEM This is a spring growth-habit wheat with hard, white-color kernels. It is a descendant from the legendary White Lamma variety of England. White Lamma was the leading wheat variety when wheat production began in Australia. It exhibited straw strength with average height of 60”. It survived multiple nights of 16° F. at 50 days of age. It reached California from Australia about 1850. One of the most popular wheats in California and the Northwest over 150 years ago, reputed to be the wheat used to make the famous San Francisco sourdough bread.

JAPHET (T. vulgare var. lutescens (Percival)) This is a spring growth-habit wheat with yellowish-red kernel color. It exhibited straw strength during the Kusa Seed grow-outs with a plant height of 35-45.” It is a British heritage variety. In England it was called “Red Marvel” and closely resembles Red Admiral. It was imported to England about 1904 from the famous seedhouse firm Messrs. Vilmorin in Paris, France, who selected it in 1892 for its good yields and other properties.

CLUB PIMA (T. compactum) an Old World native, wheat was introduced to the Southwestern U.S. by Father Kino as he moved north from Sonora. For the Pima, wheat filled an otherwise empty winter planting season.

MILAGRE (T. polonicum) This is a landrace wheat of spring growth-habit from Portugal. Milagre has very distinctive, long glumes and long, narrow kernels. Milagre belongs to one of the tallest races of wheat. In the Kusa Seed organization grow-outs, Milagre reached heights of 7 feet (84inches). Milagre has very large grain heads and broad, droopy leaves. This wheat has nice hollow stems, used for drinking straws in the old days. All are interesting and deserve a retest as a fall planted grain.

*Triticum vulgare unless otherwise indicated.

DURUM WHEAT (Triticum turgidum) is related to Spelt and has high protein and gluten.  Although it is high in gluten, the quality or strength of the gluten is not optimal for bread making. It is often used for pasta and flat breads. IRAQ DURUM is a bearded landrace variety with a golden color and sweet flavor.

ANCIENT GRAINS have remained unaltered for ten thousand-plus years. They tend to have a different gluten structure than modern wheat and may be easier to digest.  They also have more variety and concentrations of nutrients.

EINKORN or Farro Piccolo (Triticum boeoticum for wild wheat, or Triticum monococcum for domesticated species) is the oldest cultivated wheat variety and has never been hybridized.  It is a hulled wheat with small kernels and a lower yield than many varieties.  It has a sweet rich flavor and it is high in protein and many nutrients including Lutein, Vitamin E and Lysine.  Its flour is very stretchy and makes fine pastry and pizza crust.  Its gluten structure is different than that of modern wheat and may be more digestible for some people.  Einkorn tends to have a lower yield and so is higher in price.  We saw a good yield in our trials. We have trialed both White and Greek Einkorn.

EMMER or Farro Medio (Triticum dicoccum) is a hulled wheat originally from the Fertile Crescent.  It is high in antioxidants and protein.  All durum wheats come out of Emmer which was widely used in early Jewish, Egyptian and Roman cultures.  Free-threshing landrace wheat is a cross between Emmer and goat grass. It is drought tolerant and prefers a dry climate with a short, hot summer.  It is used for grain salads and stews (Farro) as well as baking, especially flat breads and pasta. We trialed both ETHIOPIAN BLUE TINGED and MOROCCAN EMMER.

SPELT or Farro Grande, Dinkle (Triticum spelta) is a cross between Emmer and goat grass.  It is very high in protein (13-14%) but low in gluten.  Spelt tends to be hardier and taller than wheat but shorter than rye.  It needs less nitrogen than wheat and does well following corn in rotation.  It requires vernalization to form seed heads as rye does and is fall planted.  Spelt matures 1-2 weeks later than wheat.  It is hulled and the kernels are softer and more fragile than wheat so it’s difficult to dehull.  It is higher in protein, vitamins and minerals than wheat.  The gluten structure is less strong and so is best not overworked in bread making. It has a delightful sweet and nutty flavor.

KHORASAN WHEAT or Kamut(R) (Triticum turanicum) most likely originated in the Middle East (Mesopotamia/modern day Iran) and so is well suited for hot, dry climates.  It is very tall with large seed heads and huge golden kernels.  It is high in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals and it may be more digestible than modern wheat.  It has a buttery, nutty flavor and a golden color.  The elasticity of Khorasan lends itself nicely to pasta making as well as general baking.

RYE (secale cereale) is very hardy and does well in marginal, low fertility soils.  It is super drought and cold tolerant. It is fall planted and requires vernalization to form seed heads.  It cross pollinates like corn so needs to be isolated from other ryes.  It is susceptible to Ergot (toxic fungus) especially in wet climates.  The crop needs to be inspected for ergot before harvest.  Rye is a great soil building cover crop. Rye is widely used in Eastern European and Nordic baking and is known for its rich flavor and sweetness, which is developed by fermentation such as in sourdough.  It has high enzymatic activity and so ferments vigorously and is often a component of sourdough starters.  Its gluten is weak and not elastic and so it is often mixed with stronger wheat flours for breads.  Rye is also used in general baking and as a porridge. SWISS MOUNTAIN performed very well in our 2019-20 trials. REBEL RYE was second in productivity in the 2019-20 trials. ULI HACHE delivered slightly lower yield but still quite robust. ABRUZZI RYE did well in in a very small trial.

TRITICALE (x Triticosecale) is a hybrid of wheat and rye.  It is as hardy as winter rye but more productive.  It is tasty sprouted or ground into flour and its high in protein, fiber and Lysine.  It does well in Northern New Mexico as an edible crop or a cover crop.

BARLEY (Hordeum vulgare) has been cultivated as a major food and brewing crop since ancient times from the middle east to Scotland.  There are many heirloom varieties that are highly adaptable to many different climates, elevations, and growing conditions.  Modern industrial barleys are mostly used for brewing and animal feed.  Some barley is hulled and has to be pearled (steamed and hull and bran scraped off) for human consumption.  Nutrients are lost in the pearling process.  Many heritage barleys are hull-less or free-threshing and so can be consumed as a more nutritious whole grain, as many of the bran’s vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are preserved.  Blue or black coloration in the bran of barley and wheats indicates antioxidants (anthocyanins).  Like oats, barley also contains high levels of beta glucans which lower blood cholesterol and reduce glycemic index. Barley has a hearty flavor and can be used as salad or risotto type grain dish as well as soups and stews.  It can be ground into flour and used in breads, flat breads and general baking. 

We have trialed mostly hull-less types of Barley:

TIBETAN PURPLE hull-less with big, showy, 6-row seed heads with weak hollow stems; iridescent violet ears, highly flavored, rare. Prone to lodging. Matured a couple weeks earlier than our wheat and rye crops.

MILAN Collected in Lombardy, Italy in 1904. Two-row, hull-less. 15% protein. Spring planted. Renowned for its drought tolerant abilities.  Large, light colored seed. Medium tall, early, 1st lodging.

ARABIAN BLUE Collected in Western Australia 1962. Protein Level 11%; beta glucan Level 5.8. Spring growth habit. 6-row, hull-less barley.

PURPLE DOLMA 6-row hull-less, low germination and susceptible to aphids.

SHEBA A hull-less landrace barley first collected in 1926 from Ethiopia. Six-rowed. 12% protein. Spring planted. Awned. Short in stature, but strong. No lodging noted. Beautiful, plump with long, golden awns. Growing to about 3ft. or 1 metre. 90 days.

FULL PINT A spring, 2-row hull-less barley developed at Oregon State University, Full Pint is a shorter plant with an erect habit and strong disease resistance. It can be fall-planted in mild, wet winter climates or can be spring planted in colder regions. Appreciated by craft brewers.

ETHIOPIAN 2-row hull-less. Long seeded spring type, awns.  Early, grows to about 3 feet high. Resists lodging. Heat resistant, can be sown later in spring; translucent hull; light barley. Great production.

ALBA winter planted 6-row and hulled; resistant to stripe rust and scald. Plump seed and high test weight. Very well adapted to high rainfall areas of the Pacific Northwest. Successfully malted by Skagit Malting and brewed at leading Seattle breweries. Successful organic feed production by Hummingbird Wholesale.

OATS (Avena sativa) are a spring-planted grain. They have a lot of soluble fiber or beta glucans which lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar. There are hulled and free-threshing varieties. PROVERA (A. nudo) is a hull-less variety grown in our spring 2018 trials. Poor germination.

PSUEDO GRAINS: Spring-planted and not frost tolerant.  Gluten free.

SORGHUM (Sorghum) Originally from southern Africa, Sorghum is drought and heat tolerant and does well in marginal soil.  Most sorghum in the US is used for animal feed, ethanol, and packing and building materials.  It is high in nutrients and fiber with an edible hull in some varieties.  Traditionally it is used for cous cous, injera, porridge, flour, syrup and brewing. BROWN DURA did well in our trials with an excellent yield. 

AMARANTH (Amaranthus) is native to North America and is very hardy and both heat and drought tolerant.  It is related to pigweed, orach and lamb’s quarters.  It has minimal pests although our trials had some flea beetle damage.  The seeds are high in complete protein (16-18%) and contain high levels of lysine.  It can be used in baking, grain-based dishes and can be popped like popcorn.  The young leaves are edible as well.  

BUCKWHEAT (Fagopyrum esculentum) is related to sorrel, dock and rhubarb.  It is drought tolerant and great for pollinators and is often used as a soil building cover crop. It matures quickly and can be worked in between other crops. Buckwheat is high in protein and the antioxidant rutin, which prevents LDL cholesterol from blocking blood vessels and improves circulation.  It is used for soba noodles, porridge, pancakes, crepes and baking. MADAWASKA is a softer hulled, easier to grind variety.

QUINOA (Chenopodium quinoa) is a native of high elevation South America and an important staple food.  It is traditionally dryland farmed with very little rain.  It is high in protein with complete amino acids.  The darker colored quinoas tend to have more robust flavor.

MILLET is related to sorghum and broomcorn.  It matures quickly like buckwheat.  Frost causes cyanide to build up in the leaves and is toxic for animals to eat. It can be cooked as a fluffy grain or used in stews and baking.

–Compiled by Alessandra Haines

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