Staple food

A staple food, food staple, or simply a staple, is a food that is eaten often and in such quantities that it constitutes a dominant portion of a standard diet for a given person or group of people, supplying a large fraction of energy needs and generally forming a significant proportion of the intake of other nutrients as well.[1] A staple food of a specific society may be eaten as often as every day or every meal, and most people live on a diet based on just a small number of food staples.[2] Specific staples vary from place to place, but typically are inexpensive or readily available foods that supply one or more of the macronutrients and micronutrients needed for survival and health: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, and vitamins.[1] Typical examples include tubers and roots, grains, legumes, and seeds. Among them, cereals, legumes, tubers, and roots account for about 90% of the world's food calories intake.[1]

Various types of potatoes
Unprocessed seeds of spelt, a historically important staple food

Early agricultural civilizations valued the foods that they established as staples because, in addition to providing necessary nutrition, they generally are suitable for storage over long periods of time without decay. Such nonperishable foods are the only possible staples during seasons of shortage, such as dry seasons or cold temperate winters, against which times harvests have been stored. During seasons of plenty, wider choices of foods may be available.

Staple foods are derived either from vegetables or animal products, and common staples include cereals (such as rice, wheat, maize, millet, barley, oats, rye, spelt, emmer, triticale and sorghum), starchy tubers or root vegetables (such as potatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, rutabagas or taro), meat, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese,[2] and dried legumes such as lentils and other beans.[3] Other staple foods include sago (derived from the pith of the sago palm tree),[4] and fruits such as breadfruit and plantains. Staple foods may also include (depending on the region) olive oil, coconut oil, and sugar (e.g. from plantains).[5][6][7]


Food energy consumption per person, per day, worldwide
Average daily food energy (kcal) per person, 1979–1981
Average daily food energy (kcal) per person, 2001–2003
  No data
Except for war-torn countries, the people of the world are getting more daily calories, despite a growing population globally.

The dominant staple foods in different parts of the world are a function of weather patterns, local terrain, farming constraints, acquired tastes and ecosystems. For example, the main energy source staples in the average African diet are cereals (46 percent), roots and tubers (20 percent) and animal products (7 percent). In Western Europe the main staples in the average diet are animal products (33 percent), cereals (26 percent), and roots and tubers (4 percent).

Most of the human population lives on a diet based on one or more of the following staples: cereals (rice, wheat, maize (corn), millet, and sorghum), roots and tubers (potatoes, cassava, yams and taro), and animal products such as meat, milk, eggs, cheese and fish. Regional staples include the plants rye, soybeans, barley, oats, and teff.

Just 15 plant crops provide 90 percent of the world's food energy intake (exclusive of meat), with rice, maize, and wheat comprising 2/3 of human food consumption. These three are the staples of about 80 percent of the world population,[8] and rice feeds almost half of humanity.

Roots and tubers, meanwhile, are important staples for over one billion people in the developing world, accounting for roughly 40 percent of the food eaten by half the population of sub-Saharan Africa. Roots and tubers are high in carbohydrates, calcium, and vitamin C, but low in protein. Cassava root, for example, is a major food staple in the developing world, a basic food source for around 500 million people.

With economic development and free trade, many countries have shifted away from low-nutrient-density staple foods to higher-nutrient-density staples, as well as towards greater meat consumption. Despite this trend, there is growing recognition of the importance of traditional staple crops in nutrition. Agriculture constantly seeks to identify better plant strains with superior nutrition, disease resistance, and higher yields.

Some foods like quinoa—a pseudocereal grain that originally came from the Andes—were also staples centuries ago.[9] Oca tubers, ulluku tubers and grain amaranth are other foods claimed to be historical Andean staples.[10] Pemmican made from dried meat and fat was a staple of the Plains Indians of North America.[11] In 2010, the global consumption of "speciality grains", such as quinoa, was very small compared to other staples, such as rice, wheat, and maize. These grains, once popular, are being reevaluated and reintroduced to certain markets.


Most staple food is currently produced using modern, conventional farming practices. However, the production of staple food using organic farming methods is growing.

Ten staple foods of global importance (ranked by annual production)[12]
World production,
Average world yield,
World's most productive countries,[14]
World's largest producing countries,


Rank Crop (metric tons) (tons per hectare) (tons per hectare) Country (metric tons) Country
1Maize (Corn)873 million5.111.1[17]United States 354 million United States
2Rice738 million4.39.5Egypt 204 million China
3Wheat671 million3.18.9New Zealand 122 million China
4Potatoes365 million17.245.4Netherlands 96 million China
5Cassava269 million12.534.8Indonesia 47 million Nigeria
6Soybeans241 million2.44.4Egypt 91 million United States
7Sweet potatoes108 million13.533.3Senegal 71 million China
8Yams59.5 million10.528.3Colombia 36 million Nigeria
9Sorghum57.0 million1.54.5United States 10 million United States
10Plantain37.2 million6.331.1El Salvador 9 million Uganda


Rice is most commonly cooked and eaten as separate entire grains, but most other staple cereals are milled into a flour or meal that can be used to make bread, noodles, pasta, porridge and mushes like mealie pap. Root vegetables can be mashed and used to make porridge-like dishes such as poi and fufu. Pulses (such as chickpeas, from which gram flour is made) and starchy root vegetables (such as canna rhizomes) can also be made into flour.


Consumed in isolation, staple foods do not provide the full range of essential nutrients. The nutrient-deficiency disease pellagra is associated with a diet consisting primarily of maize, while the disease beriberi is associated with a diet of refined white rice.[18] Scurvy can result from a lack of vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid. One author indicated that the nutritional value of some staple foods are negatively affected by higher levels of carbon dioxide, as occurs in climate change.[19]

Comparison of 10 staple foods

The following table shows the nutrient content of 10 major staple vegetable foods in raw form on a dry weight basis to account for their different water contents. Raw grains are not edible and cannot be digested, so must be cooked, sprouted, or otherwise prepared for human consumption. In sprouted and cooked form, the relative nutritional and anti-nutritional contents of each of these grains is different from that of the raw form of these grains, as shown. Potatoes also must be cooked, but should not be sprouted. Note that the highlighted values show the highest nutrient density among these 10 staples. Other foods, consumed in smaller quantities, may have nutrient densities different from these values.

Nutrient content of 10 major staple foods per 100 g dry weight[20]
Staple Maize (corn)[A] Rice, white[B] Wheat[C] Potatoes[D] Cassava[E] Soybeans, green[F] Sweet potatoes[G] Yams[Y] Sorghum[H] Plantain[Z] RDA
Water content (%) 10 12 13 79 60 68 77 70 9 65
Raw grams per 100 g dry weight 111114115476250313435333110286
Energy (kJ) 16981736157415331675192215651647155914608,368–10,460
Protein (g)
Fat (g)–77
Carbohydrates (g) 82918281953487938291130
Fiber (g) 8.11.514.010.54.513.
Sugar (g)
Minerals [A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [Y] [H] [Z] RDA
Calcium (mg) 832335740616130573191,000
Iron (mg) 3.010.913.673.710.6811.092.651.804.841.718
Magnesium (mg) 1412814511053203109700106400
Phosphorus (mg) 2331313312716860620418331597700
Potassium (mg) 319131417200567819381465272038514264700
Sodium (mg) 3962293547239307111,500
Zinc (mg) 2.461.243.051.380.853.091.300.800.000.4011
Copper (mg) 0.340.250.490.520.250.410.650.60-0.230.9
Manganese (mg) 0.541.244.590.710.951.721.131.33--2.3
Selenium (μg)
Vitamins [A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [Y] [H] [Z] RDA
Vitamin C (mg)
Thiamin (B1) (mg) 0.430.080.340.380.231.380.350.370.260.141.2
Riboflavin (B2) (mg)
Niacin (B3) (mg) 4.031.826.
Pantothenic acid (B5) (mg) 0.471.151.091.430.280.473.481.03-0.745
Vitamin B6 (mg) 0.690.180.341.430.230.220.910.97-0.861.3
Folate Total (B9) (μg) 2194476685164877063400
Vitamin A (IU) 23801010335634178460032205000
Vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol (mg) 0.540.
Vitamin K1 (μg)
Beta-carotene (μg) 108065200369962770130610500
Lutein+zeaxanthin (μg) 150602533800000866000
Fats [A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [Y] [H] [Z] RDA
Saturated fatty acids (g) 0.740.200.300.140.182.470.090.130.510.40minimal
Monounsaturated fatty acids (g) 1.390.–55
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (g) 2.400.200.720.190.1310.–19
[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [Y] [H] [Z] RDA

A raw yellow dent corn
B raw unenriched long-grain white rice
C raw hard red winter wheat
D raw potato with flesh and skin
E raw cassava
F raw green soybeans
G raw sweet potato
H raw sorghum
Y raw yam
Z raw plantains
/* unofficial


See also


  1. Su, Wen-Hao; He, Hong-Ju; Sun, Da-Wen (24 March 2017). "Non-Destructive and rapid evaluation of staple foods quality by using spectroscopic techniques: A review". Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 57 (5): 1039–1051. doi:10.1080/10408398.2015.1082966. ISSN 1040-8398. PMID 26480047. S2CID 40398017.
  2. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: Agriculture and Consumer Protection. "Dimensions of Need - Staples: What do people eat?". Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  3. "Around the world in dishes made with pulses". Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. 18 November 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  4. The Sago Palm: The Food and Environmental Challenges of the 21st Century. Kyoto University Press. 2015. p. 331. ISBN 978-1-920901-13-4.
  5. "African Food Staples". Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  6. "Olive Oil & Health - All Olive Oil". Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  7. "How Sugar Went From a Condiment to a Diet Staple". Time.
  8. "Dimensions of Need: An atlas of food and agriculture". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1995.
  9. E.A. Oelke; et al. "Quinoa". University of Minnesota.
  10. Arbizu and Tapia (1994). "Plant Production and Protection Series No. 26. FAO, Rome, Italy". FAO / Purdue University.
  11. John E. Foster. "Pemmican". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 29 May 2015. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  12. Allianz. "Food security: Ten Crops that Feed the World". Allianz.
  13. "Food and Agricultural commodities production / Commodities by regions". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2012. Archived from the original on 16 June 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  14. The numbers in this column are country average; regional farm productivity within the country varies, with some farms even higher.
  15. "FAOSTAT: Production-Crops, 2010 data". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2011.
  16. "Food and Agricultural commodities production / Countries by commodity (2013 data)". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  17. "USDA Crop Production" (PDF). Retrieved 20 February 2022.
  18. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: Agriculture and Consumer Protection. "Rice and Human Nutrition" (PDF). Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  19. Wernick, Adam (29 October 2017). "Global warming threatens nutrition levels in staple crops". Public Radio International (PRI). Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  20. "Nutrient data laboratory". United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
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