Grains have been a staple food source for humans since the Agricultural Revolution. Also called cereals, grains are the edible seeds of plants in the grass family. Edible grains include wheat, rye, spelt, rice, barley, sorghum, corn, oats, millet and teff. The most common cultivated grains are wheat, corn, rice and oats.
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First cultivated in the fertile crescent 10,000 years ago, wheat production formed the base of the Agricultural Revolution and continues to be a dietary staple for hundreds of millions of people. Bread, pasta and pastries are some of the most common wheat products, and wheat flour is one of the most widely used ingredients in culinary traditions throughout the world. Wheat varieties include durum, hard red spring, bulgar and soft white.
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The Mezzo-Americans were the first to cultivate corn, and the Americas still lead the world in corn production. The large, sweet grain can be served whole or ground into a flour. Food products made from corn flour include bread, tortillas, breakfast cereals and grits. Processed cornflour is used as a thickener in a wide variety of products, and corn syrup is the most widely used sweetener in the United States.
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Mankind first began growing rice in Asia more than 6,500 years ago, and today the grain is the primary source of nutrition for thousands of millions of people. Grown in flooded paddies, rice production is the economic backbone of many South Asian nations. Steamed, whole rice is the most usual form of consumption, and bread, cakes and noodles made from rice flour are common food items in cultures around the world.
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Oats are a hearty grain best-known as a hot breakfast cereal. Oat cultivation began much later than wheat, corn and rice. The first references in literature to oats as a food crop appear around the beginning of the Christian Era. Oats are high in fibre and a good source of several vitamins and minerals. Only about 5 per cent of oats grown in the United States are a food crop; the vast majority of harvested oats feed livestock.