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                                         Minor Cereals & Small Grain & Pseudocereals



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Barley    Rye    Oats     Small Grains    Sorghum    Broomcorn    Sweet Sorghums    Grain Sorghums    Durra    Milo    Shallu    Koaliang    Feterita    Hegari    Millets    Foxtail Millet    Proso Millet    Pearl Millet

Ragi    Misc Grains    Wild Rice    Job’s Tears    Pseudo Cereals    Buckwheat    Quinoas



Minor Cereals




          Barley, Hordeum vulgare, is an ancient cultivated cereal that was in use even before wheat.  Pliny reported it as the most ancient human food, and even today it is believed to be the oldest of all cultivated plants.  Barley was known to all ancient civilizations of the Old World, and the Lake Dwellers of Europe knew about three different varieties.  Vavilov believed that barley originated in the arid lands of Southwestern Asia, Northern Africa and also in Southeastern Asia.  It arrived in the Western Hemisphere in the 16th or 17th Century.


          Barley is an annual that tends to become perennial.  It is related to wheat that it resembles to a great extent.  It usually attains a height of no more than three feet.   The flower is a dense head with three sessile spikelets alternating at each joint of the straight axis.  Most barley is bearded, although some are without beards.  The grains that are often colored remain enclosed in a husk formed by the subtending scales.  Grain structure is similar to that of other cereals.


          The genus Hordeum contains over 20 species, most of which are weeds in temperate regions.  Hordeum vulgare consists of many different strains.  Classification of the different species is difficult and opinions differ.  Nevertheless, there seems to be two well-defined groups, the 6-rowed forms and the 2-rowed forms.  In the former (H. vulgare & H. intermedium), all the spikelets are fertile.  In the latter (H. distichum & H. deficiens), the lateral spikelets are sterile, so that only two rows develop.  It is not known which group is the ancestor of H. vulgare.   The wild barley, H. spontaneum, of Western Asia is generally considered to be the progenitor of our cultivated forms, but it is possible that there may have been two ancestral species (Hill 1952).


          This is a very hardy cereal with a short growing season so that it can be grown at high latitudes and altitudes.  It is adapted to a wide variety of soils and climates.  In the Rocky Mountains of the United States it is grown at 7,500 ft. elevation and in the Andes at 11,000 ft.  In Alaska it is produced at latitude of 65 deg. North and in Russia it can be grown on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.  Also barley is not confined to solely colder regions, as it is an important crop in Turkey, France and California where both winter and spring barley crops are grown.  The main barley centers are Japan and China, Russia, Turkey and Rumania; Western Europe; northern India; California and the northern prairie states (Hill 1952).


          Barley was the principal source of bread flour until the 16th century and has remained a staple food in northern countries through the 20th Century.  Wheat has generally replaced barley by the 21st Century.  Barley ahs a high nutritive value although it is poor flour for bread due to the low gluten content.  Unleavened barley cakes are a favorite food in rural Scotland and other northern countries.  The husk is ground off which yields pot barley.  If more of the grain is ground the familiar pearl barley is produced.  It is widely used in soups.  Barley is also used in breakfast foods and food for small children.  The 6-rowed types have higher protein content and are principally used for food purposes, both for humans and livestock.


          Although most of the crop is used as a feed for livestock, about 20-25 percent is used as a source of malt for making alcohol, whisky, beer and similar beverages and various malt extracts and breakfast foods.  For this purpose the 2-rowed types, with a low protein content, a softer, mealy endosperm and think hull are preferred.  Barley is also used for hay and pasture and as a smother crop to kill weeds.  The straw is used for livestock feed and bedding.


          Russia leads the world in the production of barley with China, the United States and Germany with lesser acreage. 




          Rye, Secale cereale, is of more recent origin than the other cereals.  It is believed that S. montanum, a wild species of Afghanistan and Turkestan, may be the wild ancestor.  But some also believe that S. anatolicum of Asia Minor is the ancestor.  Nevertheless rye is most likely a native of the Caspian and Black Seas region of Central Eurasia.  It has been cultivated for a much shorter time than the other cereals.  No traces of rye have been found in ruins of Egypt or the Lake Dwellings, although the Greeks and Romans knew the plant.


          Rye is related to barley and wheat and resembles the former in habit.  The grain looks more like wheat.  The stalks are slender and tough, reaching a maximum height of 6 ft.  The leaves are bluish in color.  The heads consist of a large number of spikelets that are produced singly at the joints of the axis and each one contains two fertile flowers.  The grains have a normal structure.  There are few varieties of rye.


          Rye is very adaptable and will produce satisfactory crops in regions of severe winter temperatures and at high altitudes.  It does well on poor soil and in arid areas, and has been called the “grain of poverty.”  However, it thrives best on more fertile soil and in a mild climate.


          Rye is primarily a plant of Europe where over 90 percent of the world’s crop is produced and consumed.  It is used there principally for brad because the grain contains gluten.  Rye bread is dark colored and soggy and has a slight bitter flavor.  Until the middle of the 19th Century it was the main food of one-third of Europe’s population.  Rye became an important bread crop in America after 1776.


          Rye may also be used for hay and pasture, as a winter cover to prevent erosion and leaching, as a sand binder and in crop rotation.  The straw is valuable for it is very tough and was once in demand for hats, bedding, and packing purposes and in the manufacture of paper and various other straw products.  The grain is used for livestock feed and as a source of whisky and alcohol. 


          Russia is the main producer of rye.  Germany, Poland and other central European countries also produce large amounts.  North America exports considerable amounts of rye to other countries.




          There has never been any cultivated wild oat plant found even though those that escape cultivated fields often appear wild.  Therefore the ancestral home of oats is difficult to verify.  Avena sativa is the main commercial species.  The wild species Avena fativa or A. brevis may be ancestors of cultivated oats.  It probably had multiple origins, some emanating from Abyssinia others from the Mediterranean area and from China.  The Lake Dwellers of Switzerland grew oats but it was unknown in the Mediterranean region at that same period.


          The height of oats varies from 2-5 feet.  The leaves are abundant and bluish-green; the inflorescence is a one-sided or spreading panicle that may be either erect or drooping.  The panicles contain about 75 spikelets, which are 2-to many-flowered and which are protected by long pendant outer scales.  The grain that is surrounded by a hull formed by the inner scales, except in the “naked” varieties, contains two aleurone layers.


          Avena sativa, the principal cultivated species, is variable in growth form and has been improved by breeding and selection.  Other cultivated species are the side oat, A. orientalis, the red oat, A. byzantina, the naked oat, A. nuda, and the short oat, A. brevis.


          Both winter and spring oats are grown, the former in milder climates as are found in the Mediterranean area and California.  Spring oats are adapted best in the cool moist climates such as are characteristic of Northern Europe and northeastern North America.  Commercial oat crops may be harvested farther north than any other cereal except rye.  They reach latitude of 69 deg. North in Alaska and 65 deg. North in Scandinavia.  An island climate is especially favorable.  By the middle of the 20th Century one third of all cultivated land in Scotland was devoted to Oats and in Ireland over half of the land.  Heavy soils are preferred, but oats may be grown on any tillable soil.  The genus has a high water requirement and so is not profitable in regions of high temperature unless the plants are heavily irrigated.


          The fields are sown broadcast and are cultivated and harrowed.  Other crops may be planted with oats.  Harvest is when the leaves are still green and when the grain is not fully ripe.  Stacking and capping the stalks improve the quality.  Oats are cut with a scythe or harvester similar to hay.


          This is the most nutritious of all cereals for humans because of the high fat, protein and mineral content.  Oatmeal has muscle building qualities and because of its high energy content is especially well suited as a food in cold weather and by people who lead an active outdoor life.  It has been proven to lower cholesterol levels in the human body.  The protein material does not occur in the form of gluten and thus is not suited for making bread.  Its main use is in cakes, biscuits and breakfast food.  Oatmeal is prepared by grinding the grains coarsely between stones.  Rolled oats are made more carefully.  Grains are thoroughly cleaned and kiln dried.  They are graded by size and run through millstones, which grind off the husk.  The husks are removed by suction, and the remaining groats are softened and crushed by rollers in steam chests.  Further processing to reduce cooking time is widely practiced, but this invariably results in a loss of flavor.


          Oats is the principal grain feed for horses and may be used for other livestock except pigs.  Usually 70 percent or more of the domestic crop is used directly on the farms where it is grown.  Oats may also be grown for hay or green forage and are used in crop rotation or as nurse plants. 


          The United States has led the world in the production of oats, with Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin leading.  The flavor of crops grown in Oregon is especially good but the production is relatively low.  Europe, including Russia, are also large producers


Small Grains




          A large number of widely cultivated African grasses are called sorghums.  They include some of the first wild species to be domesticated by humans.  Sorghum was grown in Egypt before 2,200 B.C. and has continued as an important crop there ever since.  It was cultivated in China and India in ancient times.  Sorghums have been dispersed from Africa to all temperate regions as well as in the tropics.  They are less nutritious than maize but they are a staple food in Africa and Asia.  Sorghums are also used for livestock feed and forage; in the manufacture of brushes, paper and syrup; and in Asia for many other purposes.


          Sorghums are tall coarse annuals that grow to a height of 3-15 feet and resemble maize in growth form.  The inflorescence is a dense head or panicle, and the grains are smaller and rounder than those of the true cereals.  The root system is shallow and twice as extensive as that of maize, and the leaf area is only one half as great.  These characteristics along with the highly absorptive nature of the roots and the ability of the leaves to roll up in dry weather enable the plants to survive a great amount of heat and evaporation.  Their low water requirement renders them especially drought resistant so they are good crops in semiarid and arid regions where the growth of maize is restricted.


          In North America the cultivated sorghums are usually referred to as Sorghum vulgare.  This was derived from the perennial Johnson grass, Sorghum halepensis, and Old World species grown as a forage grass inn the warmer areas of both hemispheres.  In other areas the various varieties are often considered as distinct species.  Four types of sorghum are grown in North America.  These include the grass sorghums, such as Sudan grass (var. sudanensis) and the Tunis grass (S. virgatum), used exclusively for hay and pasturage; the broom corns, used in the manufacture of brushes; the sweet or saccharine sorghums, used for forage and for syrup production; and the grain or nonsaccharine sorghums, which are cultivated for the grain and to some extent for forage.  It has been suspected that both the sweet and grain sorghums were known to the early colonists in North America, but the plants failed to establish.  However, they have become increasingly important since the middle of the 19th Century.


<bot689>  Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) [Tropical Africa]




          Broomcorn, Sorghum vulgare var. technicum, has stems that are dry and the inflorescence is a long, loose, many-branched panicle with a short axis.  The spikelets are small and produce reddish-brown seeds.  The elongated branches of the panicle are used in the manufacture of brooms and brushes.  Broomcorn was probably derived by selection from a sweet sorghum.  It has been cultivated in Europe for centuries and has been grown in North America since 1797.


Sweet Sorghums


          Sweet sorghums, Sorghum vulgare var. saccharatum, also called sorgos or forage sorghums, are tall leafy plants with an abundant sweet juice.  They are used in the manufacture of a syrup that has a distinctive but pleasant taste.  They are also used for forage and silage.  The black amber sorgos are from China and were introduced into North America in 1853 from France.  The other types, such as sumac, gooseneck and orange, originated in South Africa and were brought to the southeastern United States from Natal in 1857.  If used for livestock feed, caution must be taken to harvest the crop before heavy frost as this can raise the prussic acid content.


Grain Sorghums


          Grain sorghum plants are stockier than the sweet sorghums and have dry or only slightly juicy pith.  They have been raised in North America since 1874 when durea was introduced.  This was followed by kafir in 1876, milo in 1880-1885, shallu in 1890, the koliangs from 1808-1910, feterita in 1906 and 1908 and hegari in 1908 (Hill 1952).  Over fifty varieties and hybrids have been grown.  Grain sorghums are especially well adapted to the conditions of soil and climate that prevail in the southern Great Plains and drier points west.  The grain is valuable as livestock feed and forage, but harvest should be made before frost to avoid a high prussic acid content.  In some countries these sorghums furnish a staple food for humans as well as for livestock, and have many industrial uses as well.  During World War II much sorghum was used to make industrial alcohol and other products previously derived from sugar cane.  Sorghum syrup is prized for use on pancakes.




          Durras are the principal type of grain sorghum grown in Northern Africa, Southwestern Asia and parts of India, where millions of acres are cultivated.  The plants have dry stems; compact, goose necked, bearded heads; flattened seeds; and they mature early.  The seeds are useful as poultry feed.  Sometimes other varieties are grouped under the durras.  In North America white durra (var. cernuum, was at one time popular and was grown under the name of Egyptian corn or Jerusalem corn.  A dwarf form is somewhat more common.  The brown durra, var. durra, has also been grown in California.




          Kafir corn, Sorghum vulgare var. caffrorum, is native to tropical Africa but has been spread worldwide.  It is an important food plant and many forms are cultivated.  Its peculiar and characteristic flavor is not widely appreciated in North America, but it is highly nutritious and is similar in maize in composition and ease of digestion.  The plants are stout, stocky and from 4-7 feet in height.  The leafy stems have slightly acid juicy pith and are valuable as forage.  The inflorescences are long, slender, cylindrical, beardless heads that produce small, oval, white or colored seeds, which are late to mature.  Standard Blackhull kafir has been the most important variety of all the grain sorghums grown in the United States.




          The milos, Sorghum vulgare var. subglabrescens, are also of African origin.  They have slightly juicy stems; compact, usually bearded heads that are usually recurved or goose necked; and large soft yellow or white seeds.  They frequently produce suckers.  The plants are adapted to moisture conditions and respond well to irrigation.  Dwarf yellow milo has been ranked second in importance among the grain sorghums.  Over 12 varieties have been grown in North America.  Maturation is late but a bit earlier than kafir. 




          Shallu, Sorghum vulgare var. roxburghii, is a late-maturing sorghum that was introduced from India where it is extensively grown as a winter crop.  It has tall, dry, slender stems and long open panicles.  The small, hard, white seeds are exposed when mature.  The Gulf States of North America generally produce this variety.




          The kaoliangs, Sorghum vulgare var. nervosum, are from China and constitute one of the oldest and most important crops in that region.  They have furnished grain, sugar and forage for thousands of years and all parts of the plant have some economic value.  Kaoliangs have dry slender stalks with few leaves; loose or compact erect heads, and small brown or white seeds.  By maturing early they can be grown farther north than the other grain sorghums, but the yield is comparatively low.  They have never been widely grown in North America.




          Feterita, Sorghum vulgare var. caudatum, is an importation from the Sudan.  It has dry, erect and compact stalks, oval heads and very large, soft, white seeds.  It matures early and produces a crop in seasons with a limited amount of water.  Three kinds have been grown mainly in Kansas and Texas.




          Hegari, Sorghum vulgare var. caffrorum, is a form of kafir.  It produces leafy juicy stems, which sucker freely, and in other respects it seems to be intermediate between kafir and feterita.  It is very variable as to maturation and yield.  It has been grown to some extent in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.




          Millet is a term loosely applied to a large number of cultivated grasses that have very small seeds.  The millets are used for forage and as a food for both humans and livestock.  The importance of millet is not appreciated in North America or Europe, but almost one-third of the world’s population uses these grains as regular food.  The plants have abundant foliage and are much used for forage.  Millets are very drought-resistant and have been grown extensively in the Great Plains area of North America.  They are cold sensitive and cannot be planted where frost lingers.  In North America millets are used mainly as hay crops, pasturage and for birdseed, although some varieties are sued for grain.  Millets are among the most ancient of food grains that have been grown in China since 2,700 B.C.  Their origin is though to be in Eastern Asia.  The most important varieties are discussed as follows:


Foxtail Millet


          There are over 12 varieties of foxtail millets, Setaria italica, which commonly occur as weeds.  They bear different names, such as German, Italian, Hungarian and Siberian millet.  The plants are small compared to other cultivated grasses and they have a dense spike for an inflorescence, with many long or short bristles.  One group has short, thick and erect heads.  Another group has long and drooping heads.  Their origin is not definitely known but there is some agreement that they have been derived from Setaria viridis, a common wild grass of the Old World.  This plant is thought to have originated in Easter Asia and not Europe, as the common names would indicate.  Millet must have been domesticated in the Orient in ancient times for it was one of the five sacred plants in China as early as 2,700 B.C.  Millet seeds are abundant in the lake Dwellings of Switzerland, but the plant was seemingly unknown in Syria and Greece.  Foxtail millets have been widely grown in China, Japan, India and the East Indies as well as other parts of Asia the Old World and North Africa.  Cultivation has also been in North America especially as a forage crop.  To prepare foxtail millet as a food, the grains are boiled or parched.  It is important as a hay and forage crop.    It has been widely used in crop rotation, and as a supplementary or catch crop after some other crop has failed.  This is made possible because of its only 6-10 weeks required for maturity.


Proso Millet


          Proso, Panicum miliaceum, is true millet, the milium of Roman times.  It has also been called Broomcorn Millet, Hog Millet, Russian Millet and Indian Millet.  Proso probably originated in the eastern Mediterranean region, and it has been under long cultivation in Europe especially in the Swiss Lake Dweller community.  It grows to a height of 2-3 feet with an open, branching, compact or one-sided panicle.  The grains are multicolored and are closely surrounded by the scales of the spikelet.  Proso is grown in Russia, China, India, Japan and Southern Europe.  It became popular in North America for use as a forage grain because it is very nutritious.  The grains contain carbohydrates, 10 percent protein and 4 percent fat.  It is excellent for hogs and is much used as a substitute for maize or sorghum.  Palatable bread is made from fresh grains.


Pearl Millet


          Pearl Millet, Pennisetum glaucum, is a tall plant that grows 6-15 ft. tall with 3-8 compact cylindrical spikes bearing white grains.  It is grown in Egypt, India and Africa as a wet-season crop.  It not only furnishes food for the masses but also is especially valuable in cold weather as a fuel plant.  Flour made from Pearl Millet is very nutritious and is used for bread or cake.  It produces a lot of forage that is succulent when young and can be cut several times in a growing season.  It has been introduced into America as a forage crop.  The wild ancestor is unknown.




          Ragi, Eleusine coracna, is a tall grass that is also known as Finger Millet, African Millet or Korakan.  It has tufted stems, each with 4-6 spikes.  Both upland and irrigated forms are grown from Northern Africa to Indonesia.  Ragi gives a very high yield often exceeding 1,500 lbs. per acre.  It even yields abundantly on poor soil.  It is a major crop in India, especially during the rainy season and is an important food.  The grain is free from insects and can be stored for long periods.  Ragi flour is used for puddings and cakes and a fermented beverage is made from the grain.


Other Millets


          Other millets belong to the genus Echinochloa.  The Japanese or Sanwa Millet, E. frumentacea, is an erect awnless grass with turgid purplish seeds.  it has been cultivated in the United States entirely as a forage crop for which it is very desirable because it produces as many as eight crops in any given year and has a large leaf area.  In Asia it serves as a food plant and is consumed as a porridge with rice.  In Japan it is grown in areas where rice will not flourish.  A smaller species, the Shama Millet, E. colona, is also valuable as a forage and food crop, especially in the East Indies and India. it is favored by laborers and is eaten by Hindus on fasting days.  The common Barnyard Millet, E. crusgalli, which is a weed in North America, is cultivated in India and the Far East as a forage and food crop under the name “Bharti.”


Misc Grains


Wild Rice


          Wild rice, Zizania aquatica var. angustifolia, is harvested from wild and cultivated plants in North America.  It is a tall anjnual grass that grows partially submerged along the margins of lakes and sluggish streams inland, and even in brackish areas along the coast, frequently covering hundreds of acres.  It has been an important food of the Amerindians in eastern North America.  The grains are borne in slender panicles and drop off readily when mature.  The ancient way of harvest involved pushing canoes through the rice plants and beating off the grains into the bottom of the canoe.  Later the grains were dried in the sun or over fires and the husk was pounded or charred off.  Modern methods of harvest and processing have expedited the harvest.  Wild rice is very nutritious and palatable especially when served with fowl and game.  It is an essential food for wild water fowl.  The seeds will only germinate if they have been constantly kept under water.  Wild rice also occurs  in Western Asia where the young stems and leaves are used as a vegetable and the straw is used for paper.  In the United States wild rice is grown commercially in Oregon and California and the northern Midwest States.


Job’s Tears


          This is a grass, Coix lachryma-jobi, native to Southeastern Asia.  It has been cultivated in most tropical countries.  It has large, shining, pear shaped fruits, which bear a resemblance to tears.  These grains are used as human food and are also said to have medicinal properties.  Some varieties, particularly the Philippine Adlay, are good for forage.  The fruits are used mainly for ornamental purposes, being made into necklaces, mats, rosaries, etc.  A beer-like beverage is made from the seeds.


Pseudo Cereals


          There are many other plants that are used in a manner similar to the cereals and smaller grains as sources of human food.  These are not grasses but have often been referred to as cereals.  Buckwheat, Breadfruit and Quinoa are three of them




          Breadfruit, Artocarpus utilis, is actually a fruit with the flavor of bread when fried.  It is native to Malaya and Polynesia but is now widespread in the tropics.  It has been cultivated since antiquity.  This handsome tree reaches a height of from 40-60 feet with deeply incised leaves.  The prickly fruits are about the size of a cantaloupe, are brownish yellow when ripe with a fibrous yellow pulp.  They are often borne in small clusters.  The fruit is eaten fresh or cooked.  It is baked, broiled, roasted, fried or ground up and used for bread.  During the few months when the fruit cannot be obtained a paste that has previously been made is utilized.  There are over 100 varieties known, some with seeds and others without.  There are few plants that furnish a more wholesome food for humans and animals, or have a greater yield.  An eight-year-old tree may produce 700-800 fruits.  The carbohydrate content is particularly high.


<bot386>  Breadfruit Tree [Artocarpus altilis (Park.) Fosb.(= communis Forst.)] (fruit) [Malaya-Polynesia] (ex. northeastern Jamaica)


<bot731>  Breadfruit fruit (Artocarpus altilis Fosberg) (vegetable, flour)  [Polynesia]




          Buckwheat, Fagopyrum sagittatum, is native to Central Asia and still grows wild in Manchuria and Siberia.  It is of relatively recent use when compared to the other cereals, the earliest records being in Chinese writings of the 10th and 11th Centuries.  Buckwheat was introduced into Europe during the Middle Ages and was first cultivated in 14365.  It is widely used on the Continent especially in Russia where it constitutes one of the principal foods.  It was brought to America by the European settlers and is now widely grown especially in Pennsylvania and New York.  The plant prefers a cool, moist climate and thrives best in sandy well-drained soil.  However it will grow in dry and arid regions and areas with very poor soil and drainage.  It is a small branching annual.  The stems are smooth and succulent with alternate hastate leaves.  The inflorescence is a raceme bearing small white or pinkish flowers.  The fruit is a three-cornered achene that resembles a beechnut.  The seed or groats are hulled and ground and the starchy flour is used for porridge, soups and to make pancakes.  The whole grains, middlings, or flour are also fed to livestock and poultry and the straw is used for feed and bedding.  Buckwheat is also grown as a fertilizer crop, cover crop, and catch crop.  The flowers are an important source of honey.  The crop is planted late in the spring to avoid frosts, and is harvested in August and September.  Buckwheat is a source of Rutin, a glucoside that has been used in the treatment of capillary fragility associated with hypertension or high blood pressure.




          Quinoa, Chenopodium quinoa, is a staple food of natives in South America.  The plant is an animal herb that grows to a height of 4-6 feet and resembles the common pigweed.  It is native to Peru and was used in great quantities by the Incas.  The Spanish explorers found nearly all of the nations using it.  It is grown in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia where it is cultivated at altitudes up to 13,000 ft.  The plants produce a large crop of white, red, or black seeds, which mature in 5-6 months.  They are very nutritious, containing 38 percent starch, 5 percent sugar, 19 percent protein and 5 percent fat.  Whole seeds are used in soups, or are ground into flour, which is made into bread or cakes.  The seeds are also used in making medicine, beer and as a poultry feed.  The ash is often mixed with coca leaves to give more flavor to the latter.  Quinoa has been introduced into the United States where the thin leaves are used as a substitute for spinach.