From wild grass to world’s most important grain
A brief history of wheat
Wheat. It’s everywhere these days. From pasta to bread to mock-meats, wheat grows the world over. But where did it all start? Wheat has undergone quite a few changes over the years, making it easier to harvest and grow. The first wheat plants ever harvested were wild grasses within the Fertile Crescent around 23,000 years ago. Repeated harvesting and sowing of these wild grasses eventually led to domestication. Whether on purpose or by accident, varieties that had larger seeds and that were less likely to shatter became the new standard. Because these new varieties did not easily shed their seeds, they became entirely dependent on human intervention in order to grow back each year, although they proved much easier to harvest.
While how long it took for domestication is up for debate, most agree that domestication was complete and widespread across the Levant region 10,400 years ago. By 3,000 BCE, wheat was widespread, reaching the British Isles and Scandinavia. Within another thousand years, it had reached as far east as China. Later, early Egyptians began to develop bread and the use of ovens.
Looking later in human history, around 200 BCE, the Romans started to use animal power to grind wheat while also making improvements to baking ovens. As time progressed, wheat became more and more of a staple in people’s diets. Improvements in farm technology, like the seed drill, allowed farmers to grow more wheat with less effort. As plant breeding and genetics improved, yields grew, eventually leading up to today, where wheat is part of almost everyone’s daily diet.
Jump to today, and wheat grows on more land area than any other food crop, and global demand continues to increase. It is one of the world’s most favoured staple foods, likely because it is adaptable to so many climates. Wheat is able to grow from near arctic regions to the equator, and at elevations of 4,000 metres above sea level.
From thousands of years ago to today, wheat remains a staple in almost everyone’s daily diet. As one of the most versatile ingredients, it can be incorporated in to breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in so many different ways.