Barley (Hordeum vulgare), cultivated for food and livestock feed, is a member of the Grass family. Probably originating in the highlands of what is now Ethiopia, modern barley is thought to have descended from wild barley (H. spontaneum), which is still found in the Middle East, and to be one of the first plants cultivated for food. There is some archaeological evidence of domesticated barley in Syria by about 8000 b.c.e., but the first recorded mention of barley is in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating from 5000 b.c.e. and Sumerian cuneiform tablets from about 3500 b.c.e. It was being grown in northwestern Europe and in the Indus River valley by 3000 b.c.e. The two “immortal sons of heaven” of the early Vedic literature are barley and rice, and a 2800 b.c.e. Chinese writing lists barley among the five sacred crops of China (the others being soybeans, rice, wheat, and millet).

The ancient Hebrews used barley extensively in bread-making. One of the plagues visited upon Pharaoh to convince him to let the Israelites leave Egypt was a rain of hailstones that ruined the barley (Exodus 9:31). Barley was one of the riches of the Promised Land that God held in store for the Israelites (Deuteronomy 8:8). Ruth arrived in Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi, at the beginning of the barley harvest and gleaned barley from the harvested fields (Ruth 1:22 and 2:17). Absalom destroyed Joab's barley fields to weaken his enemy (II Samuel 14:30). God instructed Ezekiel to make a bread with barley (Ezekiel 4:9). And Jesus took five barley loaves and fed 5,000 people, with such abundance that afterward his followers were able to collect twelve large baskets of leftover bread ( John 6:1–13).

Barley was the chief grain of the Greek Homeric epics, and it may have been the venerated grain spike of the fertility rituals of the Demeter (“Mother-Goddess' or “Bringer of Seasons,” sometimes known as “Barley-mother”) cult of the ancient Greeks, who also fermented barley grain into a mildly alcoholic beverage. The ancient Romans preferred barley bread over all others and at one point even demanded a barley tribute from Carthage. Barley remained the major bread grain in Europe until the 16th century c.e. Spanish colonists planted barley in South America, and English colonists brought it to North America, where it thrived in Pennsylvania (and was later fermented with limestone water to make whiskey).

Barley is low in gluten and does not respond to yeast, so it lost its popularity when leavened bread became the standard for bread-making. Nowadays barley is primarily used for feeding livestock and making beer, though where wheat is difficult to grow, barley remains an essential grain for the human table—in fact, it is the fourth most important cereal crop in the world. It is tolerant of both cold and salty conditions. Today, the major producers of barley are Russia, Canada, the Ukraine, Turkey, Spain, Australia, Morocco, the United States, Iraq, and Iran, in order of decreasing barley cultivation.

Three species of barley are widely farmed, differing by the number of rows of kernels in the barley head: two-row barley (H. distichum), four-row barley (H. tetrastichum), and the most common, six-row barley (H. vulgare). The species differ in both protein and enzyme content, with two-row barley having less protein but more enzymes.

Barley commonly is available in several forms:

  • Flakes (or flaked barley) are flattened grains.
  • Grits are barley grains that have been toasted and cracked into small pieces.
  • Hulled barley is barley that has had only the outer, inedible hull removed; the bran remains, so it is rich in dietary fiber and iron and other minerals.
  • Pearl (pearled) barley is barley that has been scoured during milling to completely remove the double husk and the bran layer. This process shortens the grain's cooking time but removes many nutrients. This is the form most commonly found in the supermarket.
  • Pot (Scotch) barley is barley that has been scoured, but not quite so thoroughly as pearl barley, and the bran layer remains intact.

Barley can be eaten alone or as a side dish, but it is often used in soups, casseroles, stuffings, stews, and salads. Chilled cooked barley can even be made into a pudding. In general, barley is high in calories and dietary fiber but low in fat and cholesterol. It provides vitamin B6, copper, folacin, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, thiamin, and zinc.

Barley Flour

The grains of barley (Hordeum vulgare) can also be ground into flour, which can be made into breads and porridge. Indeed, barley bread is a staple of many regions where wheat is difficult to cultivate, as barley is hardy and can be grown in land that is unfriendly to wheat.


Basmati is a small, long-grained variety of rice. Its name comes from Hindi and means “queen of fragrance,” and it is justly famous for its aroma and flavor. Basmati has been grown on the Indian subcontinent for centuries and is one of the rices popular in the Middle East today.

Bulgur Wheat

See wheat.

Chickpea Flour

Dried chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) can be ground into a versatile flour that can be used to make flatbreads and to thicken soups and stews. This flour can also bemixed with flours from other grains to create baked goods with different textures and flavors. Chickpeas are themain ingredient in hummus, a popular Middle Eastern dish.


Corn (Zea mays) is one of the most versatile and important grain crops in the world, as corn production (600 million metric tons in 2003) has recently surpassed that of wheat. Also known as maize, sweetcorn, and Indian corn, corn is native to the Americas, growing wild in what is now southern Mexico as long as 70,000 years ago. Some botanists believe that Native Americans may have begun to bring corn under cultivation as early as 10,000 b.c.e. The earliest archaeological evidence of corn cultivation comes from the Guila Naquitz Cave in the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico, where tiny maize cobs dating from about 4250 b.c.e. have been discovered. As the wild varieties of corn yield very small edible portions, many centuries of selective cultivation and hybridization and perhaps many chance mutations must have been required to produce plants with ears large enough to be worth cultivating. By the time of Christopher Columbus' voyages, Native Americans from present-day Massachusetts to present-day Argentina were farming corn in silty river valleys, cutting and burning trees to clear the forests. In North America they tended to grow corn, squash, and beans in tandem; these plants worked together and were known as the Three Sisters: the corn provided support for the bean plants, and the squashes covered the ground and helped prevent weeds from taking over. Native Americans would use a particular plot for about a decade before allowing it to go back to the wild and moving on to another piece of land. In Central and South America, corn agriculture was the economic power base for the empires of the Toltecs, Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. In the early 17th century corn helped save the starving survivors of both the Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the Jamestown, Virginia, colonies.

Native Americans developed five different types of corn:

  • Sweet corn for eating
  • Flint (hard-grained) corn for feeding animals
  • Dent (dimpled-grained) corn for feeding animals
  • Popcorn, with kernels that explode when heated
  • Flour corn, with soft kernels used for baking

To mature properly, corn needs long hot summers and drying autumns. These types of corn (called maize in Europe) quickly made their way across the Atlantic, taking root in the Mediterranean region. North American settlers also took corn with them as they spread westward, planting it in the Ohio River valley and eventually converting much of the Great Plains of North America into cornfields. Now, about four centuries and many hybrids later, corn is farmed in places as diverse and widespread as France, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Australia.

Corn grows to a height of 7–10 feet. At the top of the plant is the flower, called the tassle, which drops pollen onto the tufts of silk that grow out from the joints where the leaves meet the stem. Pollinated silk develops the corn cobs, or ears, The Lore of the Ingredients each pollinated strand leading to a developed kernel of corn. Each kernel is about the size of a mature pea and is usually yellow or yellowish in color, though different varieties of corn may produce red, white, orange, and even blackish and brownish kernels. A single corn stem can produce half a dozen ears of corn, though modern hybrids can yield much more.

Native Americans in Mexico used corn meal or corn flour to create tortillas and cornbread and used corn husks to make tamales. Farther north, local tribes baked corn paste into flat cakes called corn pones. North American pioneers called these cakes “journey-cakes,” or “johnny-cakes,” because they ate them on their way over the Appalachian Mountains. Farmers in Bourbon County, Kentucky, developed corn alcohol and used it to make bourbon whiskey. Nowadays, corn has many additional uses. Bleaching corn kernels with lye yields hominy. Coarsely grinding the kernels produces grits. Popcorn and cornflakes have become popular snacking and breakfast foods, respectively. Corn syrup is used in sweetening other prepared foods. Some corn is processed into ethanol, which is added to gasoline. Corn cobs and even corn kernels are used as heating and cooking fuel. Dried corn cobs are hollowed out into pipes, and some multicolored corns are grown for decorative purposes. Primarily, though, corn is grown to feed livestock. For example, in recent years U.S. livestock consumed 5.6 billion bushels of corn—57 percent of all the corn grown in the United States. In fact, 80 percent of all U.S. corn was fed to livestock around the world.

But for the human table, corn has an incredible number of uses. Corn can be eaten fresh off the cob, or it can be made into soups, added to salads and salsas and vegetable dishes, pickled, creamed, used in casseroles and meat loaves, turned into relish, mixed in with muffin and bread batter, and prepared into puddings and custards. It can be barbecued, grilled, roasted, baked, boiled, fried, stir-fried, and steamed. It can also be ground into flour or pounded into paste and used in baking breads.

Corn is relatively high in vitamin C, folacin, magnesium, phosphorus, and thiamin. It has no cholesterol, is low in fat, and provides a good amount of dietary fiber.

In many parts of the world, the word “corn” is used to name the most common cereal grain, and the word “maize” is used to name what people in the Americas think of as corn.

It is interesting to note that the King James Version of the Bible often refers to corn; however, corn is a uniquely American plant and would not have been known to the peoples of the Bible. Where it does appear, it should be properly translated as grain (barley, wheat, or some other type).


Also known as masa harina, mealie meal, and farina di granturco, cornmeal is made from corn (Zea mays) that is dried, then ground, either by hand with a stone or in a steel gristmill. Cornmeal that has been stone-ground includes the hull and germ and thus has a bit more flavor and nutrition than steel-ground cornmeal, for which the hull and germ have been removed. Stone-ground cornmeal is, however, more perishable. Blue cornmeal is made from grinding blue corn or by adding coloring to the cornmeal.

Usually mixed with boiling water to form a thick mush, cornmeal becomes grits in the southern United States, polenta in Italy, and ugali, nsima, sadza, and mealie pap in different parts of Africa. Cornmeal is also the basis for cornbread, muffins, pancakes, johnny-cakes, hoecakes, cornpones, hush puppies, dumplings, waffles, biscuits, and even cookies, cakes, and puddings.


Couscous has been popular in North Africa since biblical times. It is a fine meal made from semolina, which is a coarsely ground durum wheat product. The name couscous comes from the Maghreb Arabic (north of the Sahara and west of the Nile River) kuskusu, which in turn comes from the Berber (of Algeria and Morocco) seksu. In northern Africa, parts of the Middle East, and France, couscous is usually served as a bedding beneath a spicy meat (chicken, lamb, or mutton), fish (or squid), or vegetable (such as carrot and turnip) stew. Couscous grains are usually about 1 /16 inch (1 millimeter) in diameter when cooked. Traditionally made by rolling the semolina grain by hand and then sieving the pellets to produce a batch of the proper size, couscous needs to be steamed rather than boiled to prevent it from sticking together in a large mass (though packaged couscous available in the United States has been pre-steamed and dehydrated so that only the addition of boiling water is required to make it ready to eat).

Cream of Wheat

Also known as farina, cream of wheat is the finely milled endosperm of the wheat grain. While milling removes the bran and much of the germ of the wheat, cream of wheat is usually enriched with vitamins and minerals. It is consumed as a breakfast cereal or cooked like polenta.


Also known as phyllo (from the Greek word phyllon, which means “leaf”), filo is a dough that is made in extremely thin layers, often leaf-thin or paper-thin. In traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, this dough is used to make pastries, such as bo¨rek in Turkey, byrek in Albania, sometimes pita in Greece, and strudel in Austria, Germany, and Hungary. Layers of filo can be stuffed with apples (apfelstrudel), cheese (peynir bo¨rek and tiropita), chicken (tavuklu bo¨rek and kotopita), meats (kiymah bo¨rek and kreatopita), nuts and syrup (baklava), potatoes, cherries, or spinach and feta (ispanak bo¨rek and spanakopita). It can also be served sprinkled with powdered sugar (sekerli bo¨rek).


“Flour” is a term used to describe any soft, dry powder that comes from the grinding of grain, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, even fish—though “flour” usually signifies a grain product. Finely ground grain has been used since prehistoric times, and for most of that time grain kernels were ground between stones. Nowadays, mechanical rollers are used to mill flour.

Because of the importance of wheat in agriculture and cooking, and because of its gluten content, which gives wheat dough strength, elasticity, and the ability to rise, wheat flour is processed into a wide variety of products. There are two main types: refined wheat and whole wheat.

Refined wheat flour, sometimes called white flour, represents the vast majority of flour available today. To make this flour, only the endosperm of the wheat kernels is milled. The result is a very light flour with an unequaled ability to rise. However, loss of the bran and germ from the kernels before milling means a significant decrease in the amount of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals present in the flour, so white flour is often enriched with iron, thiamin, niacin, calcium, vitamin D, and riboflavin. Some of the kinds of white flour available are:

  • All-purpose flour (also called family, plain, white, or general-purpose flour), which is made from blending soft and hard wheats. This flour usually comes presifted, which means that it has been milled to a very fine level and aerated to make it lighter.
  • Bleached flour, which is treated with chemicals to turn the naturally yellow flour a white color. This process also accelerates the flour's gluten-making capability (natural aging of flour does the same at a slower rate).
  • Bread flour, which is made from hard wheat with a high gluten content that promotes the quick rising of bread dough.
  • Bromated flour, which contains a maturing agent that develops the gluten in the flour. Maturing agents include bromate, phosphate, ascorbic acid, and malted barley.
  • Cake flour, which is made from soft wheat. It is an extremely fine flour with a low gluten content.
  • Durum flour, which has the highest protein content of all flour and, thus, produces the most gluten. Durum flour is often used to make pastas.
  • Farina, which is used in pastas and cereals.
  • Gluten flour, which has about twice the gluten potential of other flours. It often
  • strengthens other low-gluten flours.
  • Instant flour (also called instant-blending, quick-mixing, or granulated flour), which has a very powdery texture and high starch content. It mixes quickly with liquids and serves to thicken sauces and gravies.
  • Pastry flour (also called cookie or cracker flour), which is suitable for light pastries because its gluten content lies between that of cake flour and that of all-purpose flour.
  • Self-rising flour, which contains salt, leavening (such as baking soda or baking powder), and a substance to start the process. It is made from soft wheat.
  • Semolina, which is milled from durum wheat. It is high in protein and is used in pastas and breads.

Whole wheat flour is made by recombining the ground bran and germ with the milled endosperm of the wheat kernels. Sometimes called graham flour, whole wheat flour has more fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins, minerals, and proteins than even enriched white flour. However, the bran decreases the flour's ability to develop gluten, so whole wheat flour produces baked goods that are denser than those made with white flour.

There are many types of non-wheat flours, which generally have little or no gluten and so will not rise. Some of these flours include:

  • Amaranth flour, which is ground from amaranth (Amaranthus genus) seeds. It has more fiber than wheat and rice flours and more protein than most others. Amaranth flour is good for making cookies, cereals, and crackers.
  • Arrowroot flour, which is milled from the roots of the maranta plant (Maranta arundinacea). This tropical plant's roots are extremely high in starch, and the flour is very easy to digest.
  • Buckwheat flour, which is ground from buckwheat. It is used for pancakes and Japanese soba noodles.
  • Cornmeal flour, which is made from corn.
  • Oat flour, which is milled from oats.
  • Potato flour, which is also called potato starch. Made from steamed, dried, and ground potatoes, it is used to make breads, cakes, and pancakes and to thicken sauces.
  • Rye flour, which is ground from rye grains (Secale cereale).
  • Soy flour, which is used to increase the protein content of baked items. It is made from ground, defatted soybeans (Glycine max).
  • Tapioca flour, which comes from ground cassava (Manihot esculenta) root. It is used to thicken puddings, pies, and soups.
  • Triticale flour, which is made from triticale (X Triticosecale), a wheat-rye hybrid.

In general, flour does not store very well. It absorbs moisture from the air and can develop strange flavors and yield unpredictable results. If flour is to be stored for longer than a month or two, it can be frozen to keep it fresh.

Grain flours are basic to many biblical meals, though “flour” is specifically mentioned only a handful of times in the scriptures.


Matzoh, also known as matzo, matzah, and matza, is an unleavened bread (bread that does not rise; made without yeast or any leavening) made from flour and water. It is one of the main foods of the Jewish Passover meal. According to the account in Exodus (chapters 11 and 12), God sent several plagues to Egypt to convince Pharaoh to allow Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage. The final plague, the death of the firstborn males of Egypt, was a frightful curse that caused Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave his land. God spared the Israelites from this plague by instructing them, through Moses, to mark the doors of their homes with the blood of a newly slaughtered lamb, to prepare a quick meal of roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread, and to eat the meal with their sandals on and their belts around their waists, in preparation for a hasty departure. The unleavened bread used at Passover (for the plague “passed over” the houses of the Israelites) has come to be known as matzoh.

According to some Jewish traditions and laws, Passover meals may not include any wheat, barley, spelt, rye, or oats unless they are dry-roasted or made into matzoh. Any dough made from these five grains during Passover must be baked or otherwise used within eighteen minutes (eighteen being a sacred number) of the time the dough is moistened or it cannot be considered unleavened. Matzoh can be ground into meal, which can be substituted for flour during Passover cooking.


“Millet” is a name used to denote a number of small-seeded species of cereal crops grown world-wide for food and fodder (both for livestock and for pet birds). This group includes pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), foxtail millet (Setaria italica), proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), finger millet (Eleusine coracana), barnyard millet (Echinochloa spp.), kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum), little millet (Panicum sumatrense), guinea millet (Brachiaria deflexa), browntop millet (Urochloa ramosa), teff (Eragrostis tef), and fonio (Digitaria exilis). Sorghum (Sorghum spp.) and Job's tears (Coix lacrima-jobi) are sometimes included among the millets.

Some botanists believe that the various millets probably originated in northern Africa; others believe millets are native to Asia. Wherever they first sprang up, millets have been a staple in Asia, India, parts of the Middle East, and parts of Africa for millennia. In fact, some archaeologists speculate that millet in some form may have been the very first cultivated cereal (though others give that distinction to wheat). The first written record of millet dates from a 2800 b.c.e. Chinese writing that lists millet among the five sacred crops of China (the others being soybeans, rice, wheat, and barley). Millet was grown in India during prehistoric times, and millet remains have been found in Swiss lake settlements of the 3rd millennium b.c.e., though millet did not become common in Europe until the 1st millennium b.c.e. It seems that millet migrated to Europe via the Eurasian steppes and not by the Mediterranean sea routes. Millet was among the plants in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (about 2300 b.c.e.) and is mentioned in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 4:9), so it was known to the peoples of the Bible. The ancient Gauls and Etruscans were growing millet before the arrival of the Romans. Charlemagne (8th century c.e.) had millet stocked as a food for Lent, and Marco Polo (13th century) reported vast quantities of millet in China. Europeans grew more millet than wheat during the Middle Ages.

Millets are extremely hardy cereals, thriving in the wild but also responding well to cultivation. In general, they go dormant during times of drought but grow quite fervently when water returns. Millets thus manage very well in monsoon climates, from the Arabian Sea to China. All of the millets have tiny seeds, which are spread and sown easily by small birds or the wind. Millet seeds store well (some can keep for up to five years if unthreshed), making any of the millets the perfect grain to keep in reserve against times of famine. However, the tiny seeds are somewhat difficult to handle and contain no gluten, so millet flour will not rise and is suitable for flatbread only. Many people also consider millet grain to taste inferior to other grains.

Millet grain can be cooked or prepared in the same way as other grains. It can be simmered like rice, prepared as a pilaf, or steamed like couscous. If prepared as a hot cereal, it blends well with milk, fruit, and yogurt. It can be added to hamburger and meatloaves, casseroles, and soups. Mixed with cucumbers and tomatoes, millet grain makes a light side dish. It can even be added to cookies or mixed with honey and fruit as desserts.

Millet grain is high in phosphorus, magnesium, thiamin, folacin, iron, manganese, and copper. It has no cholesterol and is low in protein but rich in carbohydrates.

Oat Bran

Oat bran is the outer layer of oat groats (see oats). Available in bulk or as a cereal, oat bran has fewer calories than whole oats but more dietary fiber and higher concentrations of magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and thiamin.


Oatmeal is made from processed oats. In most of the English-speaking world, oatmeal refers to any coarsely ground grain such as cornmeal, wheatmeal, and peasemeal. In North America, however, oatmeal means crushed, rolled, or cut oats, as well as the porridge made from these oats.

Oatmeal has many uses in the kitchen: as an ingredient in cookies and cakes, as a poultry stuffing, even as a cheese coating. Oatmeal has also been used in alcoholic beverages, in cosmetics, in soaps, and in topical medicines. Oatmeal as a porridge, combined with brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, or maple syrup; butter or margarine; milk, cream, or yogurt; raisins, apples, or other fruits, makes a filling and tasty breakfast.

Certain medical studies have indicated that eating a bowl of oatmeal daily can help lower cholesterol. Other studies have shown that oatmeal may help reduce the risk of heart disease. In both cases, a low-fat diet is recommended as well.


Oats (Avena sativa) are a plant of cool climates and probably originated in the greater region of northern Germany. They do not require much summer heat (in fact, they go dormant if it gets too hot) and are tolerant of rain, cold, and even late frosts or snow. An annual, oats are planted either in the fall for late summer harvest (or plowed under in the spring to serve as green fertilizer) or in the spring for early autumn harvest. Some archaeologists claim that oats did not enter cultivation until the 1st century c.e.; others assert that oats were being grown in Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland by 1000 b.c.e., and perhaps even earlier. Although both the ancient Greeks and Romans knew of oats, they used this grain sparingly, and oats never established firm roots in the Mediterranean region. Oats would not have been known to the peoples of the Bible (though modern Middle Eastern cooks sometimes use oats in their recipes).

Though many peoples have readily used oats as livestock feed, just as many have disdained oats for human consumption. Oats were particularly favored in Scotland and other Celtic lands and in Germany, and cooks of the Middle Ages placed bags of oatmeal in kettles while cooking salted foods, as the oats would absorb enough of the salt to make the rest of the meal palatable.

Oats are generally available in only a few forms: as oat groats, which are whole kernels that can be cooked like rice; steel-cut oats, which are groats that have been sliced lengthwise and so require longer cooking times (about twenty minutes); and rolled oats, which are flattened kernels that cook relatively quickly (about five minutes). Oat bran, the outer layer of oat groats, is also available in bulk or as a cereal. While oat bran has fewer calories than whole oats, it has more dietary fiber and higher concentrations of magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and thiamin.

Oats are one of the main ingredients in granola and muesli. Groats can be prepared like a pilaf and resemble the taste of wheatberries; they can be added to steamed or grilled vegetables, soups, stews, stuffings, poultry or fish breadings, wheat breads and muffins, cookies, cakes, and even pancakes.

Oats do not contain gluten and so constitute a safe grain for people who are wheat- or gluten-intolerant.

Potato Flour

Potato flour is made by steaming, then drying, then grinding potatoes (Solanum tuberosum). Breads, biscuits, pancakes, and cakes can be made using potato flour, which is also used as a thickener for sauces.


Rice (Oryza sativa) has been the staple food of more than half the world's population since prehistoric times. Rice is native to Asia (probably northern Thailand, where rice grains have been found at an archaeological site dating to 3500 b.c.e.). Rice was named one of the two “immortal sons of heaven” in the early Vedic literature (along with barley) by about 3000 b.c.e., though the documents themselves, along with carbonized rice grains found in Uttar Pradesh, date from about 1000 b.c.e. A 2800 b.c.e. Chinese writing lists rice among the five sacred crops of China (the others being soybeans, barley, wheat, and millet), and rice husks mixed with potsherds (pottery fragments) dating from 2000 b.c.e. have been found in China. Rice was also the basis for an ancient Chinese dish called the Eight Marvels, made from rice, oil, onions, mushrooms, pork, ham, eggs, and soybean sauce. Rice made its way to Japan by the 1st century b.c.e., though it had reached all of southeastern Asia, the Philippine islands, and Indonesia much earlier. Moving westward, rice became one of the most important foods of the Middle East. Brought to Spain by the Moors in the 8th or 9th century c.e., it became the basis for paella. From there it made its way to Italy, certainly by the 15th century, and became the famous Italian risotto. It arrived in North America in the late 17th century and is now a major export of the United States. It is also an important crop in the West Indies, parts of Central America, and Brazil.

Needing warm, wet climates to thrive, rice can be divided into two types: paddy rice and upland rice. Paddy rice is grown in fields that are flooded for most of the growing season; the water prevents the growth of weeds, and the fields are drained when it is time to harvest. Upland rice does not require flooding but does need wet soil, and this rice is often grown in terraced fields.

Rice is either long-grain, medium-grain, or short-grain and is available in four forms: brown, white, aromatic, and glutinous:

  • Brown rice is the most nutritious because only the husk is removed during milling; the bran is left intact, so brown rice has more fiber, folacin, iron, riboflavin, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese than white rice. It also has vitamin E, which is absent in all the other rices.
  • White rice, also called milled rice, is the more popular type of rice. White rice has had the husk, bran, and most of the germ removed during milling. It is worth noting that much white rice is enriched after milling to replace the nutrients lost in the milling process.
  • Aromatic rices are long-grained and have a nutty or toasty flavor. These include basmati, jasmine, texmati, wehani, and wild pecan rices.
  • Glutinous (sweet) rice is short-grained, starchy, and sticky; it turns translucent when cooked.

Rice, in general, is high in calories; it also has significant amounts of vitamin B6.

Rice dishes can be plain or elaborate. Cooking rice in broth or adding spices and herbs to the water will add a great deal of flavor. Any number of vegetables, nuts, fruits, spices, sauces, and dressings can be added to rice after it is cooked. Rice has become a necessary part of curries, gumbos, goulashes, stews, and stirfries and can replace pasta in many dishes. It can also be added to soups, stuffings, and salads. Rice pilaf and risotto are specialty dishes that are relatively easy to prepare. Rice can even be made into a dessert pudding.


Closely related to wheat, rye (Secale cereale) is thought by some to be native to Asia and to have spread westward as a weed, and by others to be native to northern Europe and to have spread southward and eastward. Wherever it originated, it was being cultivated in Britain, Germany, and central Europe by 1000 b.c.e. It was known in ancient Greece, but not in ancient Rome, Egypt, or India. In the Middle Ages, rye was the principal cereal crop in north-central Europe and Russia. Although some versions of the Bible incorrectly identify a certain rough-grained wheat as “rye,” it is unlikely that what we know as rye was known to the peoples of the Bible. Rye, however, is commonly used by Jews of the Diaspora, particularly those who settled in Eastern Europe and Russia. Rye proliferates under conditions that are too wet or too cold for other grains, so it became a staple of Scandinavia, Russia, and northeastern Europe. Another reason for its prevalence is that rye breads have a much longer shelf-life than wheat breads; like wheat, rye contains gluten (which makes bread rise) and other grains do not. French colonists were probably the first to plant rye in the Americas—in Nova Scotia in 1606. Dutch and English colonists also brought rye to New England, where it grew much better than wheat and became a staple of breadbaking (such as Boston brown bread) and a cereal grain.

Whole rye is available as

  • Whole rye berries, also called whole kernels or groats, which resemble wheatberries;
  • Cracked rye, which are whole groats cracked open; and
  • Rye flakes, which are made by heating and then pressing the berries.

Whole rye can be prepared as a casserole or added to soups. Rye flakes can serve as a hot breakfast cereal, like oatmeal. Cracked rye can be added to soups or prepared as a pilaf or hot cereal.

Rye is very high in dietary fiber, calories, and carbohydrates, high in protein, and very low in cholesterol. It provides significant amounts of vitamins B6 and E, copper, folacin, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, thiamin, and zinc.

Unfortunately, rye sometimes gets sick with ergot (contamination by the parasitic fungus Claviceps purpurea), which causes uncontrollable and violent muscular fits and hallucinations, and sometimes death, in humans who consume it. Over history, instances of ergot poisoning have often been attributed to spells cast by witches or to demon possession, and many historians believe that the citizens of Salem, Massachusetts, who were hanged as witches in 1692 were convicted because the town's rye had been contaminated and caused the townspeople to exhibit odd behaviors.

Rye Flour

Rye flour is made by grinding rye seeds (Secale cereale). There are three types of rye flour:

  • Light, sometimes called “bolted,” which has been sifted to remove the germ and bran
  • Medium
  • Dark, which is unsifted and has more fiber

Rye flour is most often used to make bread and crackers.


Also known as tehina in Hebrew, tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. In Middle Eastern markets, tahini is available fresh, in cans, in jars, or dehydrated. The sesame seeds are also available, either hulled or unhulled. Tahini made from unhulled seeds is bitter but it has more vitamins, calcium, and protein than tahini made from hulled seeds.

Tahini is a major ingredient in hummus and other vegetable and meat dishes. It is also used as a spread on bread, as the base for a sauce with lemon juice and garlic, or as a side dish by itself.


It might easily be said that wheat is the most important cereal crop in the world, for wheat nourishes more people than any other grain. One of the oldest cultivated grains—and perhaps the first crop deliberately planted and raised for harvest—wheat is believed to be descended from a wild grass, probably einkorn, native to Asia Minor, somewhere between modern-day Afghanistan and Ethiopia. Stone Age people began growing wheat before 6000 b.c.e., and it has been found in archaeological sites dating from that era as far from its origins as the French Pyrenees. Wheat kernels have also been found at a site in Turkey dating from 5500 b.c.e. Sumerian writings of 3100 b.c.e. (Sumerian being the oldest known written language) describe how wheat was used for making bread and beer. Thereafter, the cultivation of wheat was recorded in ancient Babylonia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. Egyptian pictorial representations of wheat date from earlier than 2600 b.c.e. Wheat was cultivated in India by 2500 b.c.e. and in China perhaps by 2800 b.c.e. Wheat is frequently mentioned in the Bible, and the Israelites would probably have learned how to leaven bread dough from the Egyptians, though the escape from Egypt may have happened so quickly that there would have been no time to take the leavening mixture with them. This would explain the commemorative meal of unleavened bread. When they finally reached the Promised Land, the Israelites may have begun to cultivate “yeast,” by which was meant the froth of any fermenting liquid. This froth would have been used in making raised bread, though the entire process by which real yeast causes dough to rise was not understood until the 19th century when Louis Pasteur discovered that yeast is a living organism. The ancient Greeks imported most of their wheat from Egypt and Sicily and the Black Sea lands. Carthage, Malta, and Gaul were very important regions of wheat agriculture during the Roman Empire.

Wheat agriculture continued to spread north, to Britain by the 7th century c.e. and to the Baltic by the 13th century. The Moorish colonization of Spain and southern Europe was nearly disastrous for European wheat production; the Moors brought barberry, which is an intermediate host for the parasite that causes black stem rust in wheat. In France, rye overran the wheat fields during Renaissance times, and the French could not separate the wheat from the rye until the 19th century. As a result, England became the primary supplier of wheat to Europe, with occasional help from Russia, which had become a great wheat-growing country. Christopher Columbus was the first to plant wheat in the Americas, at Isabela, Puerto Rico. Wheat did not grow well in the Caribbean, but Spanish conquistadors brought it to modern-day Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, and California. Native Americans of the southwestern United States began to cultivate wheat, and wheat came to New England and Virginia early in the 17th century with the Dutch explorers and the English settlers. But wheat did not truly flourish in these areas. Not until the early 18th century, when wheat was planted in the Mississippi Valley, did wheat agriculture really establish itself in the Americas. Wheat is tolerant and adaptable and is now grown virtually world-wide, though Australia, the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Russia grow the vast majority of the world's wheat today.

Although there are more than thirty thousand varieties of wheat grown world-wide, agronomists and botanists now divide wheat into six classes based upon their planting season, the hardness of their grain, and the color of their kernels. These classes are Hard Red Winter, Hard Red Spring, Soft Red Winter, Hard White, Soft White, and Durum. The winter wheats, planted in the fall, lie dormant until the spring and may be harvested in early summer. The spring wheats are sown in the early spring and harvested in late summer. The harder wheats have a greater protein-to-starch ratio than the others, and Durum is the hardest of all.

Bread and all-purpose flours are ground from the kernels of Hard Red Winter, Hard Red Spring, and Hard White. Baking flour comes from Soft Red Winter and Soft White. Pastas are made from Durum.

Aside from grinding and milling wheat into flour, there are numerous ways to process and use whole-wheat products. Bulgur, produced when whole-wheat kernels are steamed, dried, and cracked, is used for pilaf, cereal, and tabbouleh. Wheatberries (also known as groats) are whole, untreated wheat kernels; with a nutlike flavor, they often work as a side dish or an accompaniment to main dishes. Cracked wheat, made from ground wheatberries, is often served as a breakfast cereal; it can also be mixed into baking recipes and substituted for bulgur or rice or other grains in most dishes. Farina, milled from the endosperm of the wheat grains, is almost exclusively used as a breakfast cereal. Rolled wheat (also known as wheat flakes) is made by flattening whole wheatberries and can be used in baking or cooked as hot cereal. Wheatena, a finely cracked wheat product, is used as a hot cereal.

Simmering is the usual way of cooking wheatberries, cracked wheat, and bulgur. Whole wheatberries can be sprouted, and the sprouts can be used like bean sprouts, or allowed to grow longer and used as wheat grass. Bulgur, rolled wheat, farina, and wheatena can be cooked by steeping.

Whole-wheat products are high in dietary fiber and can be beneficial to those with a family history of colorectal cancer. Whole wheat is also a good source of protein, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and manganese.


See wheat.

Wild Rice

Contrary to common belief, wild rice is not a type of rice but a type of grass that grows in shallow water, in lakes, ponds, and streams. There are four main species of wild rice:

  • Northern wild rice (Zizania palustris), native to the Great Lakes region of North America; it is an annual plant.
  • Wild rice (Z. aquatica), native to the Saint Lawrence River and the North American Atlantic and Gulf coasts; it is also an annual plant.
  • Texas wild rice (Z. texana), limited to the San Marcos River in Texas; it is a perennial plant.
  • Manchurian wild rice (Z. latifolia), native to China; it is a perennial.

Now cultivated primarily in Minnesota, wild rice is relatively expensive, but it was once a staple of the diet of the Chippewa and the Dakota. It is high in calories and higher in protein and iron, zinc, thiamin, niacin, and vitamin B6 than true rices.

Wild rice is cooked in much the same way as true rices, though it may have a somewhat chewy texture. It also has a nutty flavor that makes it enjoyable to eat. It is a nutritious substitute for traditional rice, though it would not have been known by the peoples of the Bible.