Benvenuti to the Barilla Test Kitchen: Wheat Report

wheatToday we’re going to explore something a little bit different than our usual culinary topics, with a look “under the hood” at pasta’s signature ingredient, durum wheat.

Since pasta is made of just wheat and water, the type and quality of the wheat are critical to produce a high-quality product. Where lower quality pastas are often made with more common and less expensive wheats, top-quality brands like Barilla use exclusively Hard Amber Durum wheat, milled into semolina flour. Beyond the amber color of durum wheat, it’s preferred because of the grain’s higher protein content and subsequent gluten network, which gives pasta that al dente bite.

If you buy pasta in high volumes for your operation, you’ve probably noticed that prices have been going up along with seemingly every other commodity lately. That’s due to a number of factors, but the biggest one has to do with the market for hard durum wheat, which earlier this year had prices at their highest level since 2008[1]. Acreage and volumes in the US and Canada for hard durum are down, due to weather and competition with other crops, and have been in decline for a number of years (see chart). Not only that, but the quality of the crop was particularly poor this past year, mostly due to rains hitting right around the critical harvest time. Barilla buys and blends from only the top two tiers of quality, and in this past crop year just 5% of the US crop and virtually none of the usually reliable Canadian crop met the #1 grade standard.

So what does this mean for foodservice operators who buy pasta? In addition to price fluctuations, you may see changes in the quality and consistency of your pasta, especially if it’s not Barilla. When the new, lower-quality crop starts to make its way into the pasta supply chain of other brands – likely around May or June – you may notice poor performance in the form of breakage, mushiness, off-color and diminished hold time. At Barilla, we are unwilling to compromise on quality, so we pay the premium to produce our pasta in the consistent quality and quantity we require.

For more on the durum crop, click here.




Lorenzo Boni, Executive Chef, Barilla America




[1] Milling & Baking News, January 2015