A grain is a small, hard, dry fruit (caryopsis) – with or without an attached hull layer – harvested for human or animal consumption.[1] A grain crop is a grain-producing plant. The two main types of commercial grain crops are cereals and legumes.

Grains at a market

After being harvested, dry grains are more durable than other staple foods, such as starchy fruits (plantains, breadfruit, etc.) and tubers (sweet potatoes, cassava, and more). This durability has made grains well suited to industrial agriculture, since they can be mechanically harvested, transported by rail or ship, stored for long periods in silos, and milled for flour or pressed for oil. Thus, the grain market is a major global commodity market that includes crops such as maize, rice, soybeans, wheat and other grains.

Grains and cereal

Grains and cereal are synonymous with caryopses, the fruits of the grass family. In agronomy and commerce, seeds or fruits from other plant families are called grains if they resemble caryopses. For example, amaranth is sold as "grain amaranth", and amaranth products may be described as "whole grains". The pre-Hispanic civilizations of the Andes had grain-based food systems, but at higher elevations none of the grains was a cereal. All three grains native to the Andes (kaniwa, kiwicha, and quinoa) are broad-leafed plants rather than grasses such as corn, rice, and wheat.[2]


Cereal grains

A cereal is any grass cultivated for the edible components of its grain (botanically, a type of fruit called a caryopsis), composed of the endosperm, germ, and bran. The term may also refer to the resulting grain itself (specifically "cereal grain"). Cereal grain crops are grown in greater quantities and provide more food energy worldwide than any other type of crop[3] and are therefore staple crops. Edible grains from other plant families, such as buckwheat, quinoa and chia, are referred to as pseudocereals.

In their natural, unprocessed, whole grain form, cereals are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, oils, and protein. When processed by the removal of the bran and germ the remaining endosperm is mostly carbohydrate. In some developing countries, grain in the form of rice, wheat, millet, or maize constitutes a majority of daily sustenance. In developed countries, cereal consumption is moderate and varied but still substantial, primarily in the form of refined and processed grains.[4]

Warm-season cereals

Cereal grain seeds clockwise from top-left: wheat, spelt, oat, barley.

Cool-season cereals

Rye grains
Rice grains by the IRRI

Pseudocereal grains

Starchy grains from broadleaf (dicot) plant families:


Pulses or grain legumes, members of the pea family, have a higher protein content than most other plant foods, at around 20%, while soybeans have as much as 35%. As is the case with all other whole plant foods, pulses also contain carbohydrates and fat. Common pulses include:


Oilseed grains are grown primarily for the extraction of their edible oil. Vegetable oils provide dietary energy and some essential fatty acids.[5] They are also used as fuel and lubricants.[6]

Mustard family

Aster family

Other families

Historical importance

Because grains are small, hard and dry, they can be stored, measured, and transported more readily than can other kinds of food crops such as fresh fruits, roots and tubers. The development of grain agriculture allowed excess food to be produced and stored easily which could have led to the creation of the first temporary settlements and the division of society into classes.[7]


The complexity of the conditions of life in the 20th century may be well illustrated from the grain trade of the world. The ordinary bread sold in Great Britain represents, for example, produce of nearly every country in the world outside the tropics.[8]

The grain trade refers to the local and international trade in cereals and other food grains such as wheat, barley, maize, and rice. Grain is an important trade item because it is easily stored and transported with limited spoilage, unlike other agricultural products. Healthy grain supply and trade is important to many societies, providing a caloric base for most food systems as well as important role in animal feed for animal agriculture.

The grain trade is as old as agricultural settlement, identified in many of the early cultures that adopted sedentary farming. Major societal changes have been directly connected to the grain trade, such as the fall of the Roman Empire. From the early modern period onward, grain trade has been an important part of colonial expansion and international power dynamics. The geopolitical dominance of countries like Australia, the United States, Canada and the Soviet Union during the 20th century was connected with their status as grain surplus countries.

More recently, international commodity markets have been an important part of the dynamics of food systems and grain pricing. Speculation, as well as other compounding production and supply factors leading up to the 2007-2008 financial crises, created rapid inflation of grain prices during the 2007–2008 world food price crisis. More recently, the dominance of Ukraine and Russia in grain markets such as wheat meant that the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 caused increased fears of a global food crises in 2022. Changes to agriculture caused by climate change are expected to have cascading effects on global grain markets.[9][10][11][12]

Occupational safety and health

Those who handle grain at grain facilities may encounter numerous occupational hazards and exposures. Risks include grain entrapment, where workers are submerged in the grain and unable to remove themselves;[13] explosions caused by fine particles of grain dust,[14] and falls.

See also


  1. Babcock, P. G., ed. 1976. Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Co.
  2. Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation. Office of International Affairs, National Academies of the. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press. 1989. p. 24. doi:10.17226/1398. ISBN 978-0-309-04264-2.
  3. "IDRC - International Development Research Centre". Archived from the original on 9 June 2016.
  4. Mundell, E.J. (9 July 2019). "More Americans Are Eating Whole Grains, But Intake Still Too Low". HealthDay. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  5. Lean, M.E.J. (2006). Fox and Cameron's Food Science, Nutrition & Health, 7th Edition. CRC Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-4441-1337-2.
  6. Salunkhe, D. K. (1992-02-29). World Oilseeds. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9780442001124.
  7. Wessel, T. 1984. "The Agricultural Foundations of Civilization". Journal of Agriculture and Human Values 1:9–12
  8. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Grain Trade". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 322–325.
  9. Pei, Qing; Zhang, David Dian; Xu, Jingjing (August 2014). "Price responses of grain market under climate change in pre-industrial Western Europe by ARX modelling". 2014 4th International Conference on Simulation and Modeling Methodologies, Technologies and Applications (SIMULTECH): 811–817. doi:10.5220/0005025208110817. ISBN 978-989-758-038-3. S2CID 8045747.
  10. "Climate Change Is Likely to Devastate the Global Food Supply". Time. Retrieved 2022-04-02.
  11. "CLIMATE CHANGE LINKED TO GLOBAL RISE IN FOOD PRICES – Climate Change". Retrieved 2022-04-02.
  12. Lustgarten, Abrahm (2020-12-16). "How Russia Wins the Climate Crisis". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-04-02.
  13. "Frequently Asked Questions About Flowing Grain Entrapment, Grain Rescue and Strategies, and Grain Entrapment Prevention Measures" (PDF). Agricultural Safety and Health Program, Purdue University. April 2011. p. 1. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
  14. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "Combustible Dust in Industry: Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Fire and Explosions". Safety and Health Information Bulletin. United States Department of Labor. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
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