Types of Cereal and Their Role in the Diet

Cereal grains are the seeds of cultivated annual species of the grass family (Gramineae). Cultivated cereal species have evolved with humankind and include a range of types differing widely in their environmental adaptation and their utility for food or other uses. Some cereals are adapted to tropical or subtropical regions, others are adapted to temperate climates, while some can withstand sub-zero temperatures. The type of cereal grown is largely determined by climatic and edaphic factors, although economic and cultural factors are also important. Total world cereal production is about 2 billion tonnes (Table 1). The major cereals produced are rice, maize (corn), wheat, barley, sorghum, millets, oats, and rye. Some of these are single species; others include a number of species with different agronomic and utilization characteristics. Each species comprises a range of cultivars (varieties or genotypes), which also differ in characteristics. Minor cereals include triticale (Tritico-secale; a wheat-rye hybrid), buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). Buckwheat and quinoa are not Gramineae and are thus pseudocereals. All cereals are used for human nutrition. However, the forms in which they are consumed and their dietary significances vary substantially across cereal types and regions.

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