Food grain

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For other uses, see Grain (disambiguation).
Food grains in a weekly market

Grains are small, hard, dry seeds, with or without attached hulls or fruit layers, harvested for human or animal consumption.[1] Agronomists also call the plants producing such seeds "grain crops". The two main types of commercial grain crops are cereals such as wheat and rye and legumes such as beans and soybeans.

After being harvested, dry grains have several advantages over other staple foods such as the starchy fruits (e.g., plantains, breadfruit) and roots/tubers (e.g., sweet potatoes, cassava, yams) in the ease of storage, handling, and transport. In particular, these qualities have allowed mechanical harvesting, transport by rail or ship, long-term storage in grain silos, large-scale milling or pressing, and industrial agriculture in general. Thus, major commodity exchanges deal in canola, maize, rice, soybeans, wheat, and other grains but not in tubers, vegetables, or other crops.[2]

Grains and cereals[edit]

In botany, grains and cereals are synonymous with caryopses, the fruits of the grass family. In agronomy and commerce, seeds or fruits from other plant families are called grains if they resemble caryopses. For example, amaranth is sold as "grain amaranth", and amaranth products may be described as "whole grains".[3] The pre-Hispanic civilizations of the Andes had grain-based food systems but, at the higher elevations, none of the grains was a cereal. All three grains native to the Andes are broad-leafed plants rather than grasses such as corn, rice, and wheat.[4]


Cereal grains[edit]

All Cereal crops are members of the grass family.[5] Cereal grains contain a substantial amount of starch, a carbohydrate that provides dietary energy.

Warm-season (C4) cereals[edit]

Maize kernels

Cool-season (C3) cereals[edit]

Pseudocereal grains[edit]

Starchy grains from broadleaf (dicot) plant families:

Grain legumes or pulses[edit]

Members of the (pea family). Pulses have higher protein than most other plant foods. They may also contain starch or oil.


Grains grown primarily for the extraction of their edible oil. Vegetable oils provide dietary energy and some essential fatty acids. They can be used as fuel or lubricants.

Mustard family[edit]

Aster family[edit]

Other families[edit]

Historical impact of grain agriculture[edit]

Because grains are small, hard and dry, they can be stored, measured, and transported more readily than can other kinds of food crops such as fresh fruits, roots and tubers. The development of grain agriculture allowed excess food to be produced and stored easily which could have led to the creation of the first permanent settlements and the division of society into classes.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Babcock, P.G., ed. 1976. Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Co. .
  2. ^ "Agricultural Commodities Products". 2012-07-13. Retrieved 2012-07-19. 
  3. ^ "Now Vitamins - Now - Organic Amaranth Grain 1 Lb". 2011-12-13. Retrieved 2012-07-19. 
  4. ^ "Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation". Office of International Affairs, National Academies. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press. 1989. p. 24. 
  5. ^ Vaughan, J.G., C. Geissler, B. Nicholson, E. Dowle, and E. Rice. 1997. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ Wessel, T. 1984. The Agricultural Foundations of Civilization. Journal of Agriculture and Human Values 1:9-12