Cereal crops are grasses cultivated for their edible seeds, or grain. Cereal grains are grown in greater quantities worldwide than any other type of crop and provide more calories to the human race. (FIXME: FAO productions statictics to back this is would be nice. Anyone know if these may be had on the web and what theit copyright terms are?) In some developing nations, cereal grains constitute practically the entire diet of common folk. In developed nations, cereal consumption is more moderate but still substantial.
Cereal grains supply most of their calories as starch. They are also a significant source of protein, though the amino acid balance is not optimal. Whole grains (see below) are good sources of dietary fiber, essential fatty acids, and other important nutrients.
The cereal crops are (in approximate order of popularity):
- wheat, the primary cereal of temperate regions
- rice, the primary cereal of tropical regions
- maize, a staple food of peoples in Mexico, South America, and Africa and of livestock worldwide
- millet, which has been largely replaced by rice but remains popular for livestock
- sorghum, important in Africa and popular worldwide for livestock
- rye and triticale, important in cold climates
- oats, formerly the staple food of Scotland and popular worldwide for livestock
- barley, grown for malting and livestock on land too poor for wheat
- teff, popular in Ethiopia but scarcely known elsewhere
- wild rice, grown in small amounts in the USA, where it is traditionally served on Thanksgiving
In addition, several non-grasses are grown for their seeds. These pseudocereals include (in no particular order):
Rice is eaten as cooked entire grains; oats are rolled or cut into bits (steel-cut oats) and cooked into porridge. Most other cereals are ground into flour or meal. If the intended consumers are animals, the meal is mixed into a prepared feed.
Most grains destined for human consumption are milled: the outer layers of bran and germ are removed (see seed). This damages the nutritional value but makes the grain more appealing to many palates. Milled grains also keep better because the outer layers of the grains are rich in rancidity-prone fats. The waste from milling is sometimes added to feed. Overconsumption of milled cereals is sometimes blamed for obesity. Health-concious persons often prefer whole grains, which are not milled.
In American English speech, cold breakfast cereals and porridge are often called simply "cereal".