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About Durum Wheat

Durum is the hardest of all wheats. Its density, combined with its high protein content and gluten strength, make durum the wheat of choice for producing premium pasta products. Pasta made from durum is firm with consistent cooking quality. Durum kernels are amber-colored and larger than those of other wheat classes. Also unique to durum is its yellow endosperm, which gives pasta its golden hue.

When durum is milled, the endosperm is ground into a granular product called semolina. A mixture of water and semolina forms a stiff dough. Pasta dough is then forced through dies, or metal discs with holes, to create hundreds of different shapes.
Durum production is geographically concentrated to North Dakota and the surrounding area because it demands a special agronomic environment. North Dakota produces 68 percent of the U.S. durum crop. Many international and domestic millers prefer North Dakota durum for its color and strong gluten characteristics.

Quick Facts

  • U.S. wheat is grouped into six classes based on hardness, color and time of planting. The six classes are hard red spring, hard red winter, hard white, soft red winter, soft white and durum.
  • North Dakota farmers primarily grow hard red spring and durum, leading the nation in the production of these two specialty wheats. Durum is the key ingredient in pasta.
  • Hard red spring and durum "compete" for acreage in the Northern Plains, with farmers raising the class that offers the most yield and profit potential for their operations. Typically farmers need a premium to justify raising durum. Compared to hard red spring, durum has more agronomic challenges and market risk.

  • North Dakota has about 30,300 farms. About 19,200 grow wheat, according to the 2005 Census of Agriculture. Nearly 3,800, or 28 percent, grow durum.

  • Durum thrives in a climate characterized by cool summer nights, long warm days, adequate but not excessive rainfalls and a dry harvest - conditions typical of North Dakota. Durum is planted between mid-April and the end of May, and harvested in August or September.

  • The state's farmers annually plant about 1.6 million acres (650,000 hectares) of durum wheat. An acre is about the size of a football field.

  • North Dakota durum producers harvest an average of 50 million bushels (1.4 million tons), accounting for about two-thirds of the nation's average 85 million-bushel (2.3 million ton) crop. Arizona, California, and Montana grow durum.

  • The domestic market accounts for two-thirds of demand for U.S. durum supplies, while the export market accounts for one-third. About 20 countries purchase U.S. durum. Europe as a region is the single largest importer of U.S. durum, followed by African and Mid East markets, and Latin and South America. Customers in North African countries use durum wheat to make a granular, yellow, pasta-like product called couscous. Similar to rice, couscous is often served with meat and vegetables.

  • The better the durum, the better the pasta. The durum breeding program at North Dakota State University (NDSU), Fargo, is the United States' largest. Prospective durum varieties are evaluated on the basis of kernel, milling and semolina characteristics, including the ease of processing and the quality of the end product. The durum breeder's goal is a disease-resistant, high-yielding, strong-gluten, high-quality variety.

  • Durum - from the Latin word for hard - is an appropriate name for the firmest of all wheats. Durum's hardness makes it the wheat of choice for producing pasta. When most wheats are milled, the endosperm, or heart of the wheat kernel, breaks down into a fine, powdery flour, but the endosperm of durum is hard enough to hold together. The result is a granular product called semolina. Durum kernels are amber-colored and larger than those of other wheat classes. Also unique to durum is the fact that its endosperm is not creamy white, but yellow, which gives pasta its pleasing yellow hue.

  • Semolina is the principal raw ingredient in pasta. It's mixed with water to form a stiff dough. Pasta dough is forced through dies, or metal discs with holes, to create macaroni, spaghetti or another of the 350 pasta shapes available. A rotating knife cuts the extruded pasta into the desired lengths. Finally, the shaped and cut pasta dough passes through a series of automatic driers. Moisture content is reduced to 12 or 13 percent, allowing the pasta to be stored.

  • A bushel is actually a volumetric measure, but for all practical purposes, wheat is sold by weight. A standard bushel weighs 60 pounds. That bushel makes enough semolina for about 42 pounds of pasta. One pound of dry spaghetti makes five cooked, 8-ounce portions, so 1 bushel of durum can result in 210 servings of spaghetti. If you eat pasta three times a week, as suggested by the National Pasta Association, it would still take 70 weeks to eat all the pasta from only 1 bushel of durum!