Bread lab blends state-of-the-art science with craft baking

MT. VERNON, Wash. – Scientists at WSU are breeding new varieties of wheat with farmers, millers, bakers, and chefs in mind. From more than 40,000 wheat varieties growing at the WSU Northwestern Research and Extension Center in Mt. Vernon, they’re evaluating the typical qualities wheat breeders look for such as yield and disease resistance. But they’re also analyzing how new varieties respond to milling, mixing, rising and baking.

“What we have in the breeding program that’s unique is our own bread laboratory,” said Stephen Jones, wheat breeder and director of WSU Northwestern Research and Extension Center in Mt. Vernon.

Scientists in the WSU Bread Lab work alongside resident baker, Jonathan Bethony-McDowell, to see if the varieties they’re developing will make a good pizza, pastry, or pasta.

Jones and his research team use traditional breeding methods to combine the best traits of modern and historic wheat varieties not only suited to the maritime climate of the Skagit River delta, but that offer unique flavor qualities that commodity grain production has left behind.

George de Pasquale of Essential Baking Company in Seattle describes the flour as having terroir, qualities that reflect the climate, soil and topography of where it was grown, in the Skagit Valley.

“I had never tasted wheat like that before,” de Pasquale said. “I had never tasted wheat that had so much complexity of flavor. Wonderfully complex flavors.”

de Pasquale and other bakers across the country are excited about the possibilities of making bread from wheat and other grains that have been bred to thrive in local conditions and that will impart unique and exceptional flavors.

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Source contact:

Stephen Jones, Director, WSU Mt Vernon Research and Extension Center