Used since the beginning of time to nourish both man and animals, cereals are now produced in enormous quantities. Which plants do they come from? How are they consumed ? Let’s find out a bit more about this subject.
A Bit of Botany
Botanically, cereals are part of the Poaceae or Gramineae family, commonly called “grasses”. They are herbaceous plants which grow in tufts and produce edible grains. The most common of these are rice, wheat, oats, spelt, wheat, barley, rye, corn and millet. Only buckwheat (Polygonaceae), quinoa ( Goosefoot) and sesame (Pedaliaceae) are not part of this big family.
In France, almost 10 million hectares are used to produce cereals, notably wheat, corn and barley. This is, however, way behind China, the U.S., and India, who are the world’s biggest producers.
The Most Widely Grown Cereals
Common wheat is one of the oldest cultivated cereals. It occupies almost half of the surface area used for cereals in France,
and for good reason : the famous French bread is made from it ! It is also used as animal feed and for the starch industry.
Durum wheat (Tritucum durum ) is very rich in protein and sensitive to cold weather, resists drought very well and can be grown in very dry conditions. The seed, which is very tough, can only be consumed when it is transformed into semolina, and then used for making pasta and couscous.
This Mexican plant, which was imported by the Conquistadors, was the basic food for pre-colombian civilizations. Today it is the world’s most cultivated cereal, grown for its ears of sweet grains, which are rich in starch. It is also much used for animal feed. It has been the object of many genetic modifications, often denounced, which are subject to regulation in France today.
This is the first cereal in the world to be grown for human consumption. Ninety percent of production comes from Asia, where the monsoon seasons provide optimal growing conditions. Wild rice, which is grown in the Camargue region in France, has a more pronounced taste. Rice is a basic foodstuff for much of the world’s population, especially in Asia, Africa and South America.
This plant, grown and consumed widely in the north of Europe, thrives in cold, humid areas. It is eaten in the form of flakes (in muesli, for example) or biscuits. It is the main foodstuff for horses.
Originally from the Middle East, this cereal is transformed into flour for human consumption. It is also much used for feeding animals. It is not very widely known that it is also used for thatching roofs and for stuffing furniture.
This name groups together several species of plants which have very small grains (pearl millet, common millet, sorghum, ..) and are grown in very dry regions of Africa and Asia. Eaten in the form of mash or pancakes, millet is a very nutritive and energy-giving food.
This is the world’s oldest cultivated cereal. It grows just as well in a tropical climate as in the high Tibetian plains, where it remains the basic foodstuff. It is grown for both human and animal consumption, but it is especially used in the brewing industry where, once malted, it is transformed into beer.
This cereal is suited to a moderate climate and poor soil. It is a basic foodstuff for central European countries where it is eaten in the form of flour (in pancakes and blinis) or just as it is. It is also a very melliferous plant, used in beekeeping. Once cut, it is used as animal fodder.