Grains are generally classified as the seeds of cereal plants. They are characterized by their smallness, hardness ad low water content. Most of them belong to the family of grasses, known scientifically as the family of gramineas.
The ancient Romans called Demeter, the Greek goddess of the grains and harvests, ceres. The word cereal is derived from her name Cereals have been the staple of human diet since prehistoric times because of their wide cultivation, good keeping qualities, blend flavour and great variety. Each of the cereals has characteristic properties and uses.
The cultivation of cereals for human consumption signified a new beginning for human civilization. It started the era of stable settlement from the previous primitive unsettled nomadic life. Ground cereal converted into bread for meal revolved soon thereafter. Cereals have been modified and improved by centuries of cultivation and selective breeding.
Cereals consist of four essential parts, namely –
- Husk, hull or chaff – the outer covering loosely attached to the grain
- The bran or the outer coat of the grain itself
- The germ or embryo
- The endosperm, which contains nutrients comprising a considerable volume of starch, a small amount of protein and a little fat.
There are many varieties of cereals of which the most important ones are rice, wheat maize, millets, oats and barley.
The whole grains of all cereals have a similar chemical compositions and nutritive value. They are classified as carbohydrate rich foods, for the average carbohydrate content is 70% per 100 gm. They provide energy and also some protein, which varies from 11.8 % for wheat to 8.5% for rice per 100 gm. Whole grains, are good source of calcium and iron but they are totally devoid of ascorbic acid and Vitamin A activity. They also contain significant amounts of B group of vitamins. Which is why for a balanced diet, cereals should be supplemented by other proteins, minerals and vitamins found in nuts, seeds, milk, fruits and vegetables.
Did You Know
- Of the more than 294 million people in the U.S, 49% start their day with a bowl of cereal.
- One bushel of wheat will make 53 boxes of cereal
- The 2005 Dietary Guidelines of the US urge people to consume at least three servings of whole grains per day.
- Astronauts from Apollo 11 boosted their brain power while in space with a cereal breakfast. The cereal was mixed with fruit and pressed into cubes since the lack of gravity kept the astronauts from pouring it into a bowl with milk
- A diet rich in whole grains may reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity
- Terms like "multi-grain," "100 percent wheat," and "stone ground" mislead consumers; these descriptors do not mean that the product is a source of whole grains.
It is a nutritious and an excellent body builder cereal. It is also a rich source of protein and B-complex vitamins. Barley cannot be used for leavened bread because of its low gluten content but it is the most important cereal used in the brewing of beer. Barley is also used widely as feed for live stock.
Natural Benefits -- Barley has many medicinal virtues. Pearled barley, which is the form the grain is largely eaten and consumed as a food by invalids. The malt prepared from barley is used in the preparation of malt extract for the incorporation in the diet of the infant and the invalid.
The pearl barley has been used by oriental traditional physicians for the healing and the rejuvenation of the digestive system. It has a soothing response and relieves the burning digestive actions. It also introduces a natural oily substance, which helps to protect the membrane of the digestive system.
Barley is also used in fevers and all inflammatory conditions on account of its soothing properties.
Barley gruel with buttermilk and lime juice is an excellent diuretic carbohydrate food. It is highly beneficial in the treatment of urinary disorders like nepthritis and cystisis.
Maize is unique among cereals because the grains are borne in separate inflorescences, which are completely enclosed as modified leaf sheaths or husks, so that it is incapable of dispersing its sheets.
Origins -- The name maize is derived from an Arawak- Carib word mahiz. The early American civilization were based on this crop and within a short time spread widely throughout the world and become an important source of carbohydrate.
Curative Properties -- The bread made from the maize flour is nutritious and palatable. It can be digested without difficulty. Taken at intervals, this bread helps keep the colon clean.
Maize is effective in cases on constipation. Maize taken in the form on popcorn acts as a laxative and provides bulk. It also promotes peristalsis i.e. wave like movements by its tendency to absorb moisture.
Uses -- Maize is prepared and consumed in various ways. It is usually ground and pounded. The meal may be boiled, baked or fried. The whole grain may be boiled or roasted and it may be fermented. Maize meal can be cooked with water to provide a thick mush or dough. It may be cooked with water to provide gruel, porridge or soup. Cornbread is made by mixing the meal with wheat flour. Immature cobs preferably sweet corn, are boiled and eaten as whole.
Rice is the most important tropical cereal. It is the staple food of half the human race.
Types of Rice
- Rice from which only the husk has been removed, but layers of bran and most of the germ retained, is known as brown rice.
- Rice from which husk, germ and bran layers have almost completely been removed by power machinery is known as milled rice.
- Rice milled to a high degree is known as white rice.
- Rice from which husk, germ, and bran layers have been partially removed without the use of power machinery, is known as hand pounded rice.
- Rice milled to a high degree and then coated with some foreign substance such as glucose or talcum is called polished rice.
- Paddy specially processed by steaming or soaking in water, then heated and dried is called parboiled paddy. It can then be milled to various degrees or home pounded. It is called parboiled milled or parboiled home pounded.
Food Value -- Starch constitutes the bulk of the rice grain. The protein content of the rice is lower than that of wheat but is of superior quality and utilized better by the body than the wheat protein. But it is brown rice that is most nutritious and beneficial. Oriental healers through traditional medicines have always advocated the use of natural brown rice as a key to youthful health building because the processing of rice removes many of the valuable B-complex vitamins and some of the minerals.
Natural benefits and Curative properties -- In many of the ancient literature of China, Thailand, Burma, rice is mentioned as a source of health. It was also revered as a food of divine health and used in religious offerings. Modern researches have confirmed the beliefs of ancient wisdom that brown rice is a source of serenity and tranquility. It has been shown to contain all the elements needed for the maintenance of good health.
Rice is about 98% digestible. It is one of the most easily and quickly digested of all foods. Rice starch is different from other grain starches as it contains 100% amylopectin, which is most completely and rapidly digested grain starch. Rice protein, which is about 8% of the grain, has a special benefit as it has eight of the essential amino acids in delicately balanced proportions. Rice proteins are metabolized into health building amino acids. These amino acids build resilient muscles, healthy hair and skin and clearer eyesight. It nourishes the heart and lungs, tendons and ligaments, brain, nervous system and glandular network.
The B-complex vitamins, especially thiamin, Riboflavin and niacin offered by natural brown rice help to nourish the hormonal system, heal wounds and regulate blood pressure. Rice also offers iron to enrich the blood stream and phosphorous and potassium to maintain internal water balance.
Rice has a low fat, low cholesterol and low salt content. It makes a perfect diet for those hypertensive persons who have been advised salt restricted diets. Calcium in brown rice, in particular, soothes and relaxes the nervous system and helps relieve the symptoms of high blood pressure.
Rice diet in combination with milk creates a marvelous body balance. The rice can be cooked in any way but no salt must be added. The two notable amino acids, isoleucine and lysine in the milk are greatly strengthened by rice proteins, thereby enabling them to form stronger body building blocks.
Rice has a very low fibre content, and is therefore extremely soothing to the digestive system.
Rice is useful in treating diarrhea in children. A tsp of powder of charred par boiled rice mixed with a glassful of buttermilk should be given in doses of an ounce every half an hour.
Rice can also be used externally in the form of powder or poultice. Rice powder helps in heat and irritation and has a soothing effect, if dusted over the body. It also makes for an excellent body scrub.
Wheat is one of the most common cereals used in the world and is a good source of energy. With time and technology, many high yielding varieties of wheat have been developed through research
Food value --
Wheat has become the principal cereal because of the quality and quantity of its characteristic protein called gluten. It is gluten that makes bread dough stick together and gives it the ability to retain gas. Wheat is usually ground into flour before use as food. If it is coarsely ground it is known as whole wheat and it is finely ground, it results in a waste of nutrients and is known as refined wheat flour
Natural benefits -- Wheat as produced by nature contains several medicinal virtues. Starch and gluton provide heat and energy; the inner bran coats, phosphates and other mineral salts; the outer bran, the much needed roughage; the germ, vitamin B and E; and protein of wheat helps build and repair muscular tissue. Whole wheat, which includes bran and wheat germ, provides protection against diseases such as constipation, ischaemic, heart diseases, obesity, diabetes, disease of the colon and appendicitis.
The bran of wheat is more wholesome and nourishing than the flour itself. It is an excellent laxative
Externally, whole-wheat flour, mixed with vinegar, boiled and applied outwardly removes freckles.
Wheat Grass Juice -- Wheat plant can also be used to produce wheat grass juice. The chlorophyll present in the juice acts as a body and blood cleanser, rebuilder and neutralizer of toxins. It furnishes the body with vital nourishment. It is also a rich source of vitamin A, B and C. It also contains minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, sulphur, cobalt and zinc.
It also acts as an excellent mouthwash for sore throats and Pyorrhea. It prevents tooth decay and tooth aches. Chewing wheat grass draws out toxins from the gums and checks bacterial growth.
Wheat grass therapy is also effectively used for skin diseases and ulcerated wounds by retarding bacterial growth and promoting cell activity. Thus it is also helpful for patients recovering from cancer treatments like chemotherapy. Wheat grass juice is also used as an enema to detoxify the walls of the colon.
The chlorophyll content present in wheat grass enhances heart and lung functions. And is prescribed for circulatory disorders
How to make wheat grass juice at home
- Soak a good variety of wheat for 8 to 10 hours.
- Drain the water and allow the grain to sprout for 15 hours.
- Earthen pots or wooden trays can be used to grow wheat grass. Fill them with compost manure.
- The wheat sprouts should be spread and the trays covered with a dark cloth or kept away from the sunlight. The trays should be sprinkled with water once or twice a day and they should be allowed to stay as such for six to seven days, until the grass grows five to seven inches high.
- Chewing wheat grass is the easiest method to drink wheat grass juice.
- An alternative is cut them finely and put in a grinder with some water. The juice should then be drunk within 10-15 minutes.
- In the early stages of wheat grass therapy about 100 ml to 150 ml should be taken daily. As the body gets used to the taste, the quantity can be increased to 300 ml.
- The juice should be mixed thoroughly with saliva before being swallowed slowly. This juice should be drunk an hour before a meal and two to three hours after a meal.
- Frequently Asked Questions
- How to Drink or Take Wheatgrass