Zinc (Zn) deficiency associated with low dietary intake is a well-documented public health problem, resulting in serious health and socioeconomic problems. Field experiments were conducted with wheat to test the role of both soil and foliar application of ZnSO4 in Zn concentration of whole grain and grain fractions (e.g., bran, embryo and endosperm) in 3 locations. Foliar application of ZnSO4 was realized at different growth stages (e.g., stem elongation, boot, milk, dough stages) to study the effect of timing of foliar Zn application on grain Zn concentration. The rate of foliar Zn application at each growth stage was 4 kg of ZnSO4 center dot 7H(2)O ha(-1). Laser ablation (LA)-ICP-MS was used to follow the localization of Zn within grain. Soil Zn application at a rate of 50 kg of ZnSO4 center dot 7H(2)O ha(-1) was effective in increasing grain Zn concentration in the Zn-deficient location, but not in the locations without soil Zn deficiency. In all locations, foliar application of Zn significantly increased Zn concentration in whole grain and in each grain fraction, particularly in the case of high soil N fertilization. In Zn-deficient location, grain Zn concentration increased from 11 mg kg(-1) to 22 mg kg(-1) with foliar Zn application and to 27 mg kg(-1) with a combined application of ZnSO4 to soil and foliar. In locations without soil Zn deficiency, combination of high N application with two times foliar Zn application (e.g., at the booting and milk stages) increased grain Zn concentration, on average, from 28 mg kg(-1) to 58 mg kg(-1). Both ICP-OES and LA-ICP-MS data showed that the increase in Zn concentration of whole grain and grain fractions was pronounced when Zn was sprayed at the late growth stage (e.g., milk and dough). LA-ICP-MS data also indicated that Zn was transported into endosperm through the crease phloem. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that the timing of foliar Zn application is of great importance in increasing grain Zn in wheat, especially in the endosperm part that is the predominant grain fraction consumed in many countries. Providing a large pool of Zn in vegetative tissues during the grain filling (e.g., via foliar Zn spray) is an important practice to increase grain Zn and contribute to human nutrition.