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Grains are a principal source of human food, with wheat, rice, barley, oats, millet, rye and corn (maize) being the most widely consumed sources of grains around the world. Grains are the seeds of grasses. Buckwheat is mistaken for a grain, but is the seed of a herbaceous plant, not a grass. Wheat, millet and rice are the richest source of proteins.

Grains have served as a staple food for much of the world's population for thousands of years. In particular, the staples of rye, wheat, barley and oats have been temperate climate favourites, whilst rice, corn and millet have been favored in the tropics and sub-tropics. In modern times, affluent countries are able to enjoy a very wide range of grains that once used to be very localised. However, affluent countries have also taken to using grain to feed livestock to produce meat and less grains are eaten at the dinner table as staple produce as a result.

  • Dried beans and legumes

These are another staple in many diets around the world. Generally cheap to buy, dried beans and legumes tend to also have a long shelf life, making them good for seasons when food is more scarce. They are a high quality source of protein, although on their own they tend to be less tasty and need to be combined with other foods to make them palatable. Besides protein, they contain fibre, carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins needed by the human body. They don't have vitamin C unless sprouted and eaten as sprouts.

One well known food made from soybeans is tofu or bean curd, which is then used in thousands of different ways in varied dishes. Although tasteless, it takes on other flavours readily, and its texture makes it ideal to add in place of meat in many dishes.

Amaranth[edit | edit source]

Amaranths are plants of the genus Amaranthus widely cultivated around the world. They are used for many purposes including food, both leaves and seeds.

Barley[edit | edit source]

Buckwheat[edit | edit source]

Buckwheat is a member of the rhubarb and dock family. It is not a form of wheat. Indeed, it is not a cereal either. However, because it has a good balance of fats, protein and carbohydrates, it is often used in place of cereal grains in such areas as Russia, India and China.

It is thought to be a dynamic accumulator of phosphorus and potassium.[verification needed]

  • Description

The seeds (seed-fruits or achenes) of buckwheat are of a pyramid shape and are the size of peppercorns.

When raw, the seeds are green in colour. When toasted, they turn to a light brown colour.

  • Uses for buckwheat

Buckwheat can be made into a porridge, known as kasha in Russia and Eastern Europe. It can be added to stews and casseroles for thickening and texture.

Buckwheat flour is used to make pancakes. In Japan, the flour is turned into soba noodles.

When toasted, buckwheat flavour intensifies.

Buckwheat can also be enjoyed as a tea.

Corn[edit | edit source]

The variety of uses for corn include:

Flax[edit | edit source]

Kamut[edit | edit source]

Millet[edit | edit source]

Millet (Panicum miliaceum) is a grain and is a small seed. It is highly nutritious, being a good source of B vitamins and iron. It is related to sorghum. It is richer in protein and fibre than corn.

In the United States and other affluent countries, millet is most often used for chicken feed and bird seed. In Africa, Asia, northern China and other parts of the world, millet is a daily staple. Yellow-flecked millet is the millet most used in India and Africa.

If you're familiar with couscous, millet has a similar size and texture; when cooked, the grains are larger and softer than couscous but can be used in the same manner.

Growing millet[edit | edit source]

Millet is relatively easy to grow. However, there are different types of millet used for different purposes, so you need to know your end need before growing a particular millet variety. It can be grown for food, hay, bird seed or as temporary pasture.

To grow:

  1. Decide where to plant it. Make sure it has plenty of space, and use a paddock if it is been grown as pasture.
  2. Obtain quality seeds. You might need to send away for them if you don't have a local source.
  3. Add organic compost to the soil. Work this through well. Since millet draws a lot of nitrogen from the soil, consider using a nitrogen-rich fertiliser.
  4. Plant the seeds to a depth of about 2.5cm or 1 inch. Keep each seed approximately 5cm or 2 inches apart from each other.
  5. Water well. Keep moist but don't overdo it. Add mulch to help retain moisture in the soil. As the seedlings pop up, if you have average rainfall, that should be sufficient for growth.
  6. Harvest. The millet is ready for harvesting when the seeds turn a golden brown. It can be harvested by hand or with a mechanical thresher.

Using millet[edit | edit source]

Millet can seem bland to the unfamiliar diner but once it is added to other dishes, its value increases greatly. If you're sick of rice all the time, millet can make an excellent substitute. It has a similar nutritional content to wheat, but without the gluten.

Millet is great with stews, casseroles, soups and other dishes with liquid. Also, millet can be used in place of rice for dishes such as paella, risotto and rice pudding. It can also be made into a porridge.

Millet flour is commonplace in some African countries for making baked goods. It is usually made into unleavened breads and pancakes.

Millet flakes can be used as breakfast cereal.

Oats[edit | edit source]

Quinoa[edit | edit source]

Highland "grain", a traditional crop in the Andes. This pinhead-size seed originated in South America. It is pronounced "keen-wa". This grain contains a high level of protein and fibre. It is lower in carbohydrate than rice or couscous.

Quinoa comes in a variety of colours, including beige, red-brown or black.

Cooking quinoa[edit | edit source]

Rinse the seeds before cooking; they have a natural coating of saponin which is bitter tasting. Although this is usually washed off during processing for sale, it's a good idea to rinse prior to cooking.

To cook, place into a cooking pot filled with boiling water of double the amount of the quinoa to be cooked. It can be helpful to add a pinch of salt.

Cook at a simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. When the water has been absorbed by the quinoa and the seeds appear translucent, the quinoa is ready to be served or added to a dish of your choosing.

Ragi[edit | edit source]

Rice[edit | edit source]

Rye[edit | edit source]

A good source of the B group of vitamins, rye (Secale cereale) is a grain. It is also a good source of the minerals potassium and magnesium. It is dark in colour and contains gluten. This gluten is closely related to the gluten in wheat, meaning that people unable to tolerate wheat in their diet are often unable to tolerate rye either.

Rye is especially popular as a food source in northern and eastern Europe, and in parts of Russia. One of the most common uses is to turn rye into rye bread.

The gluten in rye will not leaven bread, so rye bread tends to require the addition of some wheat to ensure that the bread is leavened.

As well as the whole berries of rye, rye can be found in flour and flake form. The flour is used for baking, while the flakes can be used as part of a breakfast meal.

For cooking purposes, one cup of rye flour is the equivalent of one cup of wheat flour. This means that you can substitute rye flour for almost any recipe using wheat flour, remembering that the taste of rye is very distinctive and it will darken the resulting baked good.

Sorghum[edit | edit source]

Spelt[edit | edit source]

Teff[edit | edit source]

Triticale[edit | edit source]

Triticale is a grain, similar to wheat.

Wheat[edit | edit source]

Wheat comes in a number of different varieties. Each variety is more or less suitable for a given purpose based on its characteristics. The most common classifications for wheat varieties are spring or winter, hard or soft, red or white.

The hard wheats have kernels that tend to be small, and very hard and have a high gluten content. Gluten is the protein in grains that enables the dough made from them to trap the gasses produced by yeast fermentation and raise the bread. Low gluten wheat does not produce as good a loaf as high gluten wheat, though they can still be used for yeast breads if necessary. As a general rule, hard varieties have more protein than soft varieties.

The soft varieties have kernels tending to be larger, plumper and softer in texture than hard wheats. Their gluten content is less and these are used in pastries, quick breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals.

Winter wheats are planted in the fall, over winter in the field and are harvested the next summer. Spring wheats are planted in the early spring and are harvested in the fall. Red wheats comprise most of the hard varieties while white wheats comprise most of the soft. Recently, hard white wheats have been developed that are suitable for raised bread making. Some feel the hard white varieties make a better tasting whole wheat bread than the hard red.

The most commonly stored are the hard red varieties, either spring or winter, because of their high protein. They should have a protein content of no less than 12%, with higher the better. The hard white spring wheats are still relatively new and are not yet widespread. They have the same excellent storage characteristics as the hard red wheats.

Average yields nationally (on chemical fertilizer) are around thirty bushels per acre, but on good land it is quite possible to double that.

One part of the Mormon Basic Four

See also[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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Created April 11, 2006 by Eric Blazek
Modified May 24, 2023 by Irene Delgado
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