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For other uses, see Grain (disambiguation).
Food grains at 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. Ubiquity of grain as a food source encouraged use of the term to describe other particles with volume or mass similar to an individual seed.

After being harvested, dry grains are more durable than other staple foods such as starchy fruits (plantains, breadfruit, etc.) and tubers (sweet potatoes, cassava, etc.). This durability has made grains well suited to industrial agriculture, since they can be mechanically harvested, transported by rail or ship, stored for long periods in silos, and milled for flour or pressed for oil. Thus, major global commodity markets exist for canola, maize, rice, soybeans, wheat, and other grains but not for tubers, vegetables, or other crops.

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". 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 (kaniwa, kiwicha, and quinoa) are broad-leafed plants rather than grasses such as corn, rice, and wheat.[2]


Cereal grains[edit]

Cereal grain seeds from left to right: wheat, spelt, barley, oat.

All cereal crops are members of the grass family.[3] Cereal grains contain a substantial amount of starch,[4] a carbohydrate that provides dietary energy.

Cool-season (C3) cereals[edit]

Rye grains.
Rice grains by the IRRI.

Pseudocereal grains[edit]

Starchy grains from broadleaf (dicot) plant families:


Pulses or grain legumes, members of the pea family, have a higher protein content than most other plant foods, at around 20%, while soybeans have as much as 35%. Proteins in pulses are typically incomplete, as they do not contain all the essential amino acids.[5][better source needed] Pulses may also contain starch or oil. Common pulses include:


Oilseed grains are grown primarily for the extraction of their edible oil. Vegetable oils provide dietary energy and some essential fatty acids.[6] They are also 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.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Babcock, P. G., ed. 1976. Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Co.
  2. ^ "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. 
  3. ^ Vaughan, J. G., C. Geissler, B. Nicholson, E. Dowle, and E. Rice. 1997. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Serna-Saldivar, S.O. (2012). Cereal Grains: Laboratory Reference and Procedures Manual. Food Preservation Technology. Taylor & Francis. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-4398-5565-2. 
  5. ^ Press, Lyons (2002). The Bean Book: Over Seventy Incredible Recipes. Lyons Press Series. Globe Pequot Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-58574-473-2. 
  6. ^ Lean, M.E.J. (2006). Fox and Cameron's Food Science, Nutrition & Health, 7th Edition. CRC Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-4441-1337-2. 
  7. ^ Wessel, T. 1984. "The Agricultural Foundations of Civilization". Journal of Agriculture and Human Values 1:9–12