Cereal, the most dominant and important part of our meals, are the staple foods in the diets of most population groups. So much so that the days when cereal is not added to a meal, the meal seems incomplete. The word cereal is derived from ‘ceres’ the Roman goddess of grain. The principal cereal crops are rice, wheat, maize, jowar, ragi and bajra.
80% of cereal constitutes of carbohydrates; including both fibre as well as starch. Of all the cereals whole wheat, ragi and bajra contain high amount of fibre. The protein content of different cereals varies. Rice contains less amount of protein compared to other cereals. Cereals contain 6-12% protein but provide 50% of the total daily protein intake because their quantity consumed is quite high. Fat content is 1-2%. Cereals are not very good sources of minerals barring aside ragi which is a very good source of calcium and iron. Cereals are very important source of B-complex vitamins but refining and milling leads to destruction of these vitamins. Thus whole wheat flour has better B-vitamin content compared to maida.
Various cereals and their products at a glance
Wheat: the most commonly consumed cereal along with rice boasts for the maximum number of products.
- Whole wheat flour: the flour which we use to prepare our delicious chapattis, paranthas and poories.
- Maida: a finer and whiter version of whole wheat flour which is used to prepare various delicacies like mathris and gujias. Even the mere mention brings water in my mouth.
- Semolina: the coarsely grounded form of wheat which has the ability to hold good amounts of water and thus has various culinary uses.
- Pasta: include macaroni, spaghetti, vermicelli and many other textured wheat products made from a special variety of wheat called ‘durum’. These are used in salads, soups, side dishes, main dishes as well as desserts.
Rice: is a staple diet for more than half of the world’s population. It can be safely consumed by gluten intolerant people as it doesn’t contain the protein. Rice is milled to remove its bran (the outer covering) and then polished. Unpolished or brown rice is gaining popularity nowadays because of its better nutritive value compared to brown rice. Products of rice:
- Rice: comes in various sizes and is considered best when aged.
- Puffed Rice: also called murmura finds great usage as a snack along with usage in a number of sweet preparations.
- Flaked rice: chirwa is thin and papery which is used rampantly as a breakfast preparation.
- Rice bran oil: oil extracted from the bran of rice is rich in vitamin E and oryzanol which has a number of heart protective effects.
These are special alternative cereal crops which can be grown easily in areas of poor rainfall. These include maize, ragi, bajra and jowar.
Maize / Corn: popularly called makka is most famous for popcorns, THE snack while watching a movie and corn flour. Corn flour/starch is extensively used for thickening purposes in sauces, gravies and soups.
Jowar / Sorghum: is rich in carbohydrates, B-complex vitamins and dietary fibre. Its flour is consumed as a part of various multi-grain preparations.
Ragi / Finger Millet: nutritionally it is considered better than rice or wheat. It is consumed as porridge and in various multi-grain preparations.
Bajra / Pearl Millet: rich in iron, protein and B-complex vitamins. Bajra can be used for khichri or popped as corns and its flour can be used in preparing bhakri.
Nature has given us lots of tasty and nutritious cereals to choose from. It is up to us to add them in correct proportions in our diet to prevent their deficiency or to prevent our progression towards obesity.
Srilakshmi, B. (1997). Food Science. India: New Age Publishers
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