Ever since the beginnings of agriculture, cereals have provided unlimited health benefits to mankind as a staple food in our diet. Cereals are rich in complex carbohydrates that provide you with ample energy, and help to prevent cancer, constipation, colon disorders, high blood sugar levels and also enrich your overall health with abundant proteins, fats, lipids, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes.
Cereals are enriched with niacin, iron, riboflavin and thiamine, and most cereals have abundant fiber contents, especially barley, oat, and wheat. Cereals also have soluble bran that aids in lowering blood cholesterol levels and keeping heart diseases at bay. Cereal consumption also means an intake of high amounts of protein; breakfast cereals are often eaten with milk that makes for a protein-rich meal. For infants, iron-fortified cereals are said to be the premium solid foods.
What Are Cereals?
Cereals or grains belong to the monocot families ‘Poaceae or Gramineae’ and are cultivated widely to obtain the edible components of their fruit seeds. Botanically, these fruits are called ‘caryopsis’ and are structurally divided into endosperm, germ, and bran. Cereal grains are cultivated in huge quantities and provide more food energy than any other type of crop, therefore, they are known as staple crops.
History Of Cereals
Be it world history, the growth of civilizations, or development in the human diet patterns, the cultivation of cereal grains has played a significant role. The word ‘cereal’ is derived from ‘Ceres’ – the name of the Roman goddess of agriculture and the harvest. It is said that almost 12,000 years ago, ancient farming communities dwelling in the Fertile Crescent area of southwest Asia cultivated the first cereal grains. The first Neolithic founder crops that actually initiated the development of agriculture include einkorn wheat, emmer wheat and barley.
Other than its superior nutritive value, cereals are popularly used in kitchens all over the world for their prolific growth and plentiful production in most countries. Different countries have different cereals as their staple food; the reason for this diversity is the production statistics. For example, wheat is the most significant cereal in the diets of most European countries and India. On the other hand, rice is the primary grain used in China, Japan, South East Asia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Brazil, Mynamar, Vietnam, and the US.
The staple food cereal in Northern, Central America and Africa is maize or corn, while millets and sorghum are widely consumed in India and Africa as well. Many factors like climatic differences, population choice, production quality, and others are responsible for such global differences of cereal consumption in tropical and subtropical regions. Cereals are also known as the “staff of life”. However, this name is not totally justified in a true sense because you probably cannot live on cereals solely for your lifetime and still retain optimum health.
What Is A Breakfast Cereal?
Breakfast cereal is actually the packaged breakfast food available in almost all commercial food stores. These types of cereals are sometimes eaten cold or else mixed with milk or water and then fruits are added for extra nutrition and taste. Corn flakes, porridges, and oatmeals are the best examples of breakfast cereal. Usually, these cereals are soaked or boiled to attain a softened structure, which makes them palatable. Sweeteners like honey, sugar or maple syrup are then added for a better taste. Breakfast cereals have become immensely popular in fast-moving countries, as they provide a bowl full of nutrients in a short and simple way.
Types Of Cereals
The most familiar grains used for making the category of cereals include rice, maize, corn, ragi, bajra, wheat, barley, sorghum, Italian millets and oats. Here we discuss about some of the most widely used cereal varieties.
Rice: Rice is probably the most common and popular cereal consumed all over the world; especially in tropical and temperate regions. Rice cannot grow in cold regions. It is used as the staple food in most of the countries and restaurants all over the globe have invented some lip smacking rice recipes that are truly appetizing. Read more
Brown Rice: Brown rice is another variety of rice that is rich in the vitamin B group, particularly thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and minerals like iron, potassium, phosphorous and magnesium.
Maize: It is the staple cereal in continents like Africa and South America and is used as animal feed worldwide. ‘Cornflakes’, as we know them, are nothing but the flaked form of maize. Popcorn is also a popular corn product, which has become a favorite snacks for all ages around the globe. Read more
Wheat: This is a prime cereal consumed in temperate zones, especially in Australia, North America, Europe and New Zealand. Wheat is a major ingredient in foods like bread, biscuits, pastries, porridge, cakes, crackers, pancakes, muesli, pies, cookies, rolls, muffins, doughnuts, gravy, and some breakfast cereals. New research suggests that eating white bread could benefit health by encouraging growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Wheat is grown in different forms all over the globe. Some wild species of wheat are now domesticated and are grown widely in specific agricultural zones. Some such species include ‘Spelt’, ‘Einkorn’ (wheat species with one grain only), ‘Emmer’, and ‘Durum’ (species of wheat used to make semolina). Read more
Barley: This cereal is popular and highly nutritious one that is usually grown for malting; livestock also thrives on it in lands that are not capable of growing wheat due to financial or climatic conditions. Read more
Sorghum: It is consumed widely in Africa and Asia; it is also considered a good livestock feed.
Millet: It is grown widely in Africa and Asia. Millet porridge is extremely popular in China, Germany and Russia. It is also used in alcoholic beverages and sometimes as bird and animal feed.
Oats: Oats were initially a staple cereal in Scotland, however now oats are very popular as breakfast cereals in almost all countries. Owing to its fiber-rich property, oats are considered vital for all ages and are used as livestock feed.
Rye: It is an important cereal grown in cold climates. It is used for making breads, beer, whiskeys, vodka and also as animal fodder.
Triticale: These are manually made crops that are crossbreeds of wheat and rye. Initially, it was harvested in Sweden and Scotland only, but FAO recently declared that in 2009, triticale was harvested by almost 29 countries across the world.
Fonio: It is a popular crop grown in western Africa and some remote areas of India. It grows easily in semi-arid regions with poor soil quality and in a short period of only six to eight weeks. Fonio is used in bread, porridge and beer.
Buckwheat: This cereal is popularly used in pancakes, noodles and porridge. It is popularly used like wheat cereal, but its characteristics are not related to wheat. This cereal is high in protein and amino acids.
Quinoa: This cereal is rich in dietary fiber, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. It is mainly grown in Andes; however it is also popular in North America.
Other types: Maize, rice and wheat together make up 87% of total grain production all over the world. There are many more cereals that are used in specific regions and are not as popular as the above mentioned ones. ‘Teff’ is one such cereal, grown widely in Ethiopia but hardly known elsewhere. It is rich in fiber and protein. It is often used as staple food, or sometime used as breakfast cereal. ‘Wild rice’ is grown moderately in North America; ‘Amaranth’ was initially a staple crop of the Aztec Empire and now it’s widely cultivated in Africa.
Composition And Nutrient Value Of Cereal Grains
Belonging to the complex carbohydrates food group, cereals are rich sources of minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, oils, proteins and fats. Whole cereal grains have an outer bran coat, a starchy endosperm, and a germ.
Bran: The outer layers of the kernel are called bran, which is made of about 5% of the kernel. The kernel is rich in fiber and minerals while the bran contains high amounts of thiamine and riboflavin.
Aleuron: While refining, the bran layer is removed and the aleurone layer is exposed, which lies just below the bran. This layer is also rich in phosphorous, proteins, fat and thiamin.
Endosperm: Unfortunately, this layer is also lost during processing. When the endosperm is utilized, this large central part of the kernel has high percentage of starch and protein and is low in vitamin or mineral content.
Germ: The small structure at the rear part of the kernel is known as the germ. Rich in protein, fat, minerals and vitamins, this germ is the storehouse of nutrients for the seed while germinating.