With lots of time to kill due to our current pandemic, I like to spend my time browsing the questions posed of Quora, mainly because I find the answers interesting, but occasionally because I am unsatisfied with the answers provided, and that awakes the investigative reporter in me, so I go out and start researching, which after all is something I’ve been doing now for more than 50 year!
One question that triggered my hunter and gatherer instincts was this one: „Why aren’t all grains called ‚grains‘?“ Why indeed?
Because there are just so darn many of them. All grains are hard, dry seeds, with or without an attached fruit layer. But things start to get complicated fast.
Grains are divided into cereals and legumes. A cereal is any grass cultivated for the edible components of its grain. A legume is a plant of the family Leguminosae (or Fabaceae), a family of flowering plants. It includes trees, shrubs, and perennial or annual herbaceous plants, which are easily recognized by their fruit (legume) and their compound, stipulate leaves. Grain legumes include beans, lentils, lupins, peas, and peanuts.
But wait, it gets lots more complicated!
Cereal grains are all members of the grass family (Poacae) and fall into warm-season and cool-season cereals. Warm-season grains consist mostly of the various families of millet, which explains why millet was the first type of grain we know of that was cultivated extensively in ancient times. Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) and foxtail millet (Setaria italica) were important crops beginning in the Early Neolithic of China around 10,000 years ago. Palaeoethnobotanists have found evidence of the cultivation of millet in the Korean Peninsula dating to around 3500–2000 BCE. Millets and their wild ancestors, such as barnyard grass (Echinochloa) and panic grass (Panicum), were also cultivated in Japan during the Jōmon period sometime after 4000 BCE. Today, millets are important crops in the semiarid tropics of Asia and Africa (especially in India, Mali, Nigeria, and Niger), with 97% of millet production in developing countries. The crop is favored due to its productivity and short growing season under dry, high-temperature conditions.
Cool-season grains, on the other hand, are also called winter grains. They are sowed in autumn and germinate before winter comes and are harvested in springtime. They usually have a much higher yield than warm-season grains because they can use snow as moisture for growth. Typical winter strains are available for rye (winter or fall rye), wheat (winter or fall wheat), barley (winter or fall barley) and triticale (winter triticale).
Then there are the pseudocereals or non-cereal grains such as Quinoa, it’s smaller cousin Kañiwa , Amaranth from Mexico, wattleseed – also called Acacia seeds from its Australian Acacia origin – and buckwheat which is actually a cousin of greens such as rhubarb or sorrel. Pseudocereals are plants that produce fruits or seeds which are used and consumed as grains, though botanically pseudocereals are neither grasses nor true cereal grains. Many so-called „ancient grains“ are pseudocereals.
Grain legumes, also known as pulses, are 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%. Well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, lupins, mesquite, carob, soybeans, peanuts, and tamarind. Legumes are notable in that most of them have symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in structures called root nodules. For that reason, they play a key role in crop rotation.
Finally, we need to consider what are now called ancient grains which is a marketing term used for grains and pseudograins that supposedly have been cultivated unchanged since antiquity. Food freaks claim that these ancient foodstuffs like kamut, also known as Khorasan or Oriental wheat, are more healthy than modern grains. In recent years, they have moved from the culinary dissident fringe to become mainstream, but ion the way they have gathered a number of outspoken critics that call these claims unscientific and just good-old marketing hype.
And of course, there is the whole great field of grain in art and literature. Wheatfields have yielded a fine crop of quotes from such diverse writers as the American educational reformer Horace Mann, the English singer-songwriter Beth Orton, or the French writer, poet, journalist and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. But the one I like most comes from the tragic painter Vincent van Gogh, who wrote to a friend from his cell in the psychiatric hospital at Saint-Rémy, “The wheat field has …poetry; it is like a memory of something one has once seen. We can only make our pictures speak.”
And so passes another enjoyable forenoon in Coronaland. Thanks, Quora!