[door-uhm, dyoor-]
Durum wheat or macaroni wheat (also spelled Durhum;Triticum durum or Triticum turgidum durum) is the only tetraploid species of wheat of commercial importance that is widely cultivated today. It was developed by artificial selection of the domesticated emmer wheat strains formerly grown in Central Europe and Near East around 7000 B.C., which developed a naked, free-threshing form. Durum in Latin means "hard", and the species is the hardest of all wheats. Its high protein and gluten content, as well as its strength, make durum good for special uses.


Durum wheat is a tetraploid wheat, having twenty-eight chromosomes, unlike hard red winter and hard red spring wheats, which are hexaploid and have forty-two chromosomes each.


Durum wheat is thought to have originated in either Abyssinia or southern parts of the Mediterranean basin. Records show that it was in cultivation in Byzantine Egypt; however, there is not yet evidence that it was grown elsewhere, as it is not mentioned in late classical works on farming, natural history, geography or medicine.

With the rise of Islam, the crop diffused rapidly throughout the Middle East, the Maghreb of North Africa, and Muslim Spain. In some parts of the Muslim Mediterranean, durum was the only wheat grown. New varieties appeared in the Maghreb, Yemen and Central Asia. The wheat was also grown by Muslims during their habitation of medieval Southern Italy, particularly at Lucera during the thirteenth century. Durum was amongst the agricultural products that were exported from the Muslim world to the West.

Several medieval Muslim authors referred to the grain, noting it for its durability:

In his book, The government of Kings, Ibn Zafir [1117-1216] reports that the wheat of Maghrib could be stored for eighty years in silos, and then sown. the long period of storage increased its purity and quality.

After the Mongol invasions, many Persian and Turkic recipes from the Muslim world were adapted in Chinese cuisine, some of which included durum as an ingredient. An example is the paste of gullach, today produced from beans, which was originally made from durum.

In the United States, records indicate that durum wheat was grown in Montana as far back as 1841 and in South Dakota by the 1890s.


Husked but unground, or coarsely ground, it is used for semoules in the cous-cous of North Africa, and other parts of the Arab world. It is also used for Levantine dishes such as tabbula, kishk, kibba, bitfun and the burghul for pilafs. In Arab cuisine it forms the basis of many soups, gruels, stuffings, puddings and pastries.

When ground as fine as flour, it can be used for macaroni, pasta and bread. In the Middle East it is used for flat round breads, and in Europe and elsewhere it can be used for pizza, torte etc. It is not, however, good for cakes, which are made from soft wheat to prevent toughness.

The use of wheat to produce pasta was described as early as the tenth century by Ibn Wahshīya of Cairo. The Arabs called the product itrīya, from which Italian sources derived the term tria (or aletria in the case of Spanish sources) during the fifteenth century.

Another type of pasta, al-fidawsh (called "dry pasta"), was popular in al-Andalus. From there it was transmitted to Christian Spain and frequently appears in Hispano-Muslim cookbooks. From "al-fidawsh" was derived the Spanish word for noodles, fideos, and the Italian fidelli or fidellini.

In the American Great Plains, durum wheat is used almost exclusively for making pasta products such as spaghetti and macaroni.


Most of the durum grown today is amber durum, the grains of which are amber-colored and larger than those of other types of wheat. Durum has a yellow endosperm, which gives pasta its color. When durum is milled, the endosperm is ground into a granular product called semolina. Semolina made from durum is used for premium pastas and breads. There is also a red durum, used mostly for livestock feed.

The cultivation of durum generates greater yield than other wheats in areas of low precipitation (300-500mm). Good yields can be obtained by irrigation, but this is rarely done. In the first half of the twentieth century the crop was widely grown in Russia. Durum is one of the most important food crops in West Asia. Although the variety of the wheat there is diverse, it is not extensively grown there, and thus must be imported. Durum is grown widely in the northeastern regions, as well as the "desert" regions (i.e. Arizona, New Mexico and California) of the United States. West Amber Durum produced in Canada is used mostly as semolina/pasta, but some is also exported to Italy for bread production.

In the Middle East and North Africa, local bread-making accounts for half the consumption of durum. Some flour is even imported. On the other hand, many countries in Europe produce durum in commercially significant quantities.

Area under cultivation and production of durum wheat
Region Area (1000 ha) Production (1000 tonnes)
Western Europe 2,490 5,730
North America 2,960 5,756
South America 102 196
Middle East 4,462 6,950
North Africa 3,290 3,214
Others 3,756 3,540
World 17,060 25,360


Durum wheat is subject to four processes: cleaning, milling, tempering and purifying. First durum wheat is cleaned to remove foreign material and shrunken and broken kernels. Then it is tempered to a moisture content, toughening the seed coat for efficient separation of bran and endosperm. Durum milling is a complex procedure involving repetitive grinding and sieving. Proper purifying results in maximum semolina yield and the least amount of bran powder.

To produce bread, durum wheat is ground into flour. The flour is mixed with water to produce dough. The quantities mixed vary, depending on the acidity of the mixture. The dough is fermented for hours and then mixed with yeast and lukewarm water. The quality of the bread produced depends on viscoelastic properties of gluten, protein content and protein composition.

See also



  • A. H. D. Brown, O. H; Frankel, D. R; Marshall, J. T. The Use of Plant Genetic Resources. Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN 0521345847.
  • Bushuk, W; Rasper, Vladimir F. Wheat: Production, Properties and Quality. Springer, 1994.
  • Cohen, Daniel. Globalization and its enemies. MIT Press, 2006.
  • Griggs, C. Wilfred; Amitai-Preiss, Reuven; Morgan, David. The Mongol Empire and Its Legacy. Brill, 2000.
  • Kulp, Karel; Ponte, Joseph G. Handbook of Cereal Science and Technology, CRC Press, 2000.
  • Matz, Samuel A. Bakery technology and engineering. Springer, 1992.
  • Taylor, Julie. Muslims in Medieval Italy: The Colony at Lucera. Lexington Books, 2005.
  • Watson, Andrew. Agricultural innovation in the early Islamic world. Cambridge University Press.
  • Wishart, David J. Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

External links

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