Tuesday, February 12, 2013
World Wide Wheat
A few weeks ago, a paper published in Nature revealed some of the hidden secrets of wheat's DNA and origins.
I don't know how they did it, because a single cell of a grain of wheat contains 17 billion DNA base pairs, 5 times more than in a Sumo wrestler, with each chromosome replicated 6 times, compared to only 2 in humans, wheat is a wonder plant in many ways.
Talking about wonders, I grew some Miracle wheat (Egyptian wheat, Pharaoh's wheat, Osiris wheat) when I was a teenager. This is probably what this Bible wheat drawing is trying to picture. When I received the precious seeds, it was explained to me that these seeds were discovered in the pyramids and that their precise location in the center of the pyramids had preserved the germs' vitality for 4,000 years! Of course, I learned later that it was just the plain wheat (triticum turgidum) grown in Egypt at the time (and still partially present today), although it was true that it was discovered by the French egyptologists of the 19th century and introduced to Europe at that time.
A variety known as Alaska wheat was later grown in the U.S.
This wheat belongs to the poulard family (from the French name for the castrated fattened chicken, as the grain looks like one of these fat chickens). Many of these wheats also have a strong tall straw, some almost reaching 6 feet (1.75 m). The particularity of this Egyptian wheat is that in rich soil, it grows several stems, with each stem having a head of several spikes.
No doubt the multiple spikes helped with the "Miracle" name, although of course yield does not compare with modern wheats.
Some of the ancient wheats have a gluten that is different from modern wheats', it is apparently more delicate and require more know-how from bread bakers, compared to the modern varieties whose elastic gluten is more suitable to mechanical kneading. This difference is what some authors say is responsible for the recent obesity and wheat allergies.