Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

cereals are plants of the grass family whose seeds are used as food grains; they are named from the Roman corn goddess Ceres. Cereals include wheat, rice, barley, oats, rye, maize, millet, and sorghum, all of which have been used as food since prehistoric times, and cultivated since antiquity.

Mangelsdorf (1953) has given an eloquent description of their importance:

When he domesticated wheat, man laid the foundations of western civilization. No civilization worthy of the name has ever been founded on any agricultural basis other than the cereals. The ancient cultures of Babylonia and Egypt, of Rome and Greece, and later those of northern and western Europe, were all based upon the growing of wheat, barley, rye and oats. Those of India, China and Japan had rice for their basic crop. The pre-Columbian peoples of America—Inca, Maya and Aztec—looked to corn [maize] for their daily bread.