Taking Inventory: Wheat

Kinda corny!

A few weeks back I was shocked, SHOCKED, to find out that we’d never written about sugar in this column. We immediately righted this historic wrong. But then one of my colleagues tapped me on the shoulder and told me that we’d also never written about wheat. “Whaaaat?” I said. “No, wheat”, they said. So here we all are.

Wheat joined the Minecraft family back at the very dawn of time. Well, February 6, 2010, to be exact, which to be honest feels like a million years ago at this point. It was included in a patch released during the Indev phase of the game’s development that added the entire farming system, including the hoe, farmland, seeds, and bread. It also very slightly changed the texture of feathers. Important stuff.

There are quite a lot of ways to get your hands on wheat. The classic way is through farming - plant some seeds in tilled, irrigated farmland, wait a while, then bash it to bits (I believe the technical name for this is “harvesting”). If you wait long enough, then you’ll get wheat. But you can also find wheat in various chests, steal it from a village’s farmland, craft it out of hay bales, and even trade it from foxes for other food items.

Wheat is a versatile item. When you hold it in your hand, it’ll attract nearby cows, sheep, goats, and mooshrooms – and they’ll follow you as long as you don’t go too far away. You can use it to breed these same animals also, as well as heal horses and llamas. That’s not all – wheat is also an ingredient in bread, cake, cookies, and hay bales. You can trade it with farmer villagers for emeralds. And you can pop it in a composter to get compost.

In the real world, wheat is one of the most important plants on our planet. Wheat covers about 220 million hectares of the Earth’s surface, and the world trade in wheat is bigger than all other crops combined. Its popularity is down to its high protein content – which allows it to be fairly nutritious compared to other cereals, providing about 20% of the recommended daily intake of lots of valuable vitamins.

Technically speaking, wheat is a type of grass, but humans have been growing it for food since around 10,000BC, and it has changed dramatically in that time. Over the millennia, the grains have got much much larger and easier to harvest - and the protein content has increased.

That protein, which is called “gluten”, allows a mixture of wheat flour and water to get stretchy, which in turn allows for bubbles of gas to get trapped inside when it ferments. Bake that gassy, watery, wheaty mixture and you get something magical – bread! Wheat is also a major ingredient in biscuits, pancakes, pasta, noodles, pies, pastries, cakes, cereals, muffins, gravy, beer, vodka, and pizza.

Quite honestly, it’s hard to imagine a world without wheat. So let’s not do that. Let’s go play Minecraft instead.

Duncan Geere
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Duncan Geere
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