Alternative Grains and Their Importance in the World
12 September 201319 min reading
Although the production and consumption of alternative grain products are not very high in the global scale, they are produced and consumed intensely in some regions and countries compared to other products. This means a brand new alternative technology for the processing industry that focuses on wheat, rice and corn as most of these products can be processed in primitive conditions today.
Wheat, rice and corn are the mostly produced and consumed grain products in the world. These grain products meet an important part of the human nutrition need. Besides these, barley is also a widely grown agricultural product but an important part of barley is used in feed and malt industry. However; when the cultivation conditions needed by all these products, different climates and production conditions in different regions are taken into consideration; it is a fact that these products do not and won’t exist in the same amount in each region of the world. Likewise, consumption habits affect these processes. Thus, other grain products that can be the alternatives of these products above are produced and consumed in different regions of the world.
The production and consumption amounts of these products that we discuss as alternative grain products are not very high when they are evaluated in the global scale but they are produced and consumed intensely in some regions or countries compared to other products. This means a brand new alternative technology for the processing industry that focuses on wheat, rice and corn as most of these products can be processed in primitive conditions today. When the access to the food that is the biggest problem of our age and also called hunger is taken into consideration, there is this need to increase the production of alternative products other than wheat, rice and corn and develop the technologies that process these products.
We tried to provide brief information about the grain-based products that are produced and consumed in different regions as the alternatives of wheat, rice, corn and barley in this issue’s product/research file. As it is not much possible to reach the real production amounts of these products, we tried to focus on the subjects like especially the regions where they are grown and consumed and consumption types. Sorghum, millet, oats and rye are the most well-known of these products. As we will discuss these products in more details, we did not give much detail in this issue. However, we hope that we will be illuminating a little about the products like amaranth, cassava, kaniwa that are not known much.
Major Alternative Grains in the World
Sorghum is a genus of numerous species of grasses, one of which is raised for grain and many of which are used as fodder plants either cultivated or as part of pasture. The plants are cultivated in warmer climates worldwide. Species are native to tropical and subtropical regions of all continents in addition to the South West Pacific and Australasia.
One species, Sorghum bicolor, is an important world crop, used for food (as grain and in sorghum syrup or “sorghum molasses”), fodder, the production of alcoholic beverages, as well as biofuels. Most varieties are drought tolerant and heat tolerant, and are especially important in arid regions where the grain is staple or one of the staples for poor and rural people.
They form an important component of pastures in many tropical regions. Sorghum is an important food crop in Africa, Central America, and South Asia and is the “fifth most important cereal crop grown in the world”.
America, Nigeria, Mexico, India and Argentina are the most important production regions. Averagely 4-5 million tons of sorghum is produced yearly in each of these countries. The sorghum amount in the whole world is between 55 and 60 million tons. Mexico ranks first among the countries that are the largest sorghum consumers. 8-10 million tons of sorghum is consumed in Mexico each year. Nigeria, India, Sudan and Ethiopia are other leading countries in sorghum consumption.
The common oat (Avena sativa) is a species of cereal grain grown for its seed, which is known by the same name (usually in the plural, unlike other grains). While oats are suitable for human consumption as oatmeal and rolled oats, one of the most common uses is as livestock feed. Used in the biscuit sector intensely as human food, oat is used as cattle feed generally. . Oats are also used in some brands of dog and chicken feed. Oat seeds are commonly marketed as cat grass to cat enthusiasts since cats will readily harvest and eat tender young oat, wheat and some other grass sprouts.
In the world wide, 20-24 million tons of oat production is realized widely in European Union countries. EU countries meet 7-8 million tons of world total production. The countries of the former Soviet Union and North America are the regions where oat production is intense. While considering on country basis, Russia is the largest oat producer. Russia realizes around 4-5 million tons oat production each year. Canada and Australia are other major oat producers.
In terms of consumption; an important part of oat is consumed where it is produced. Russia and EU countries are the leading countries in consumption as well as production.
Rye (Secale cereale) is a grass grown extensively as a grain and as a forage crop. It is a member of the wheat tribe (Triticeae) and is closely related to barley and wheat. Rye grain is used for flour, rye bread, rye beer, some whiskies, some vodkas, and animal fodder. It can also be eaten whole, either as boiled rye berries, or by being rolled, similar to rolled oats.
Depending on seasonal fluctuations, the production amount is around 14 million tons every year. The countries of European Union and former Soviet Union are the leading countries in rye production as well as in oat production. Nearly all of the world rye production is realized by these countries. While considering on country basis, Russia has the largest share in rye production and consumption. Russia realized 2-4 million tons of rye production each year and uses almost all of its production in its domestic consumption.
Evaluated with the same standards of corn and even being the other name of corn in Turkey, millet is a small-seeded cereal crop or grain, widely grown around the world for food and fodder. Having different varieties, millets do not form a taxonomic group, but rather a functional or agronomic one. Their essential similarities are that they are small-seeded grasses grown in difficult production environments such as those at risk of drought.
The millets include species in several genera, mostly in the subfamily Panicoideae, except for finger millet. The most widely cultivated species in order of worldwide production are pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), foxtail millet (Setaria italica), proso/common/ broom corn/hog millet or white millet (Panicum miliaceum) and finger millet (Eleusine coracana). Especially pearl millet is one of the two most important plants grown in semi-arid, poor and less productive agricultural regions of Africa and Southeastern Asia.
As an important grain product for the developing countries in Asia and Africa that have semi-arid tropical climate; millet is widely produced especially in India, Nigeria and Niger. These three countries realize 97 % of world millet production. According to the 2013 estimations; only India has realized 11,5 million tons of world millet production that is 33 million tons in total. While Nigeria has realized 7,7 million tons millet production, Niger has realized 3,4 million tons of millet production.
Millet that can be used as human food and animal feed is used in bread making in some countries including some cities of Turkey.
Buckwheat refers to a variety of plants in the dicot family Polygonaceae: the Eurasian genus Fagopyrum, the North American genus Eriogonum, and the Northern Hemisphere genus Fallopia. Either of the latter two may be referred to as wild buckwheat.
The crop plant, common buckwheat, is Fagopyrum esculentum. Tartary buckwheat (F. tataricum Gaertn.) or “bitter buckwheat” is also used as a crop, but it is much less common. Despite the common name and the grain-like use of the crop, buckwheat is not a cereal or grass. It is called a pseudocereal to emphasize that it is not related to wheat.
Buckwheat plants are fast growers, producing seed in about 6 weeks and growing about 30 inches (75 cm) tall. This genus has five-petaled flowers arranged in spikes or panicles.
A century ago, Russia was the world leader in buckwheat production. Growing areas in the Russian Empire were estimated at 6.5 million acres (26,000 km²), followed by those of France (0.9 million acres; 3,500 km²). In 1970, the Soviet Union grew an estimated 4.5 million acres (18,000 km²) of buckwheat. Production in China expanded greatly during the 2000s, to rival Russia’s output. In the northeastern United States, buckwheat was a common crop in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cultivation declined sharply in the 20th century due to the use of nitrogen fertilizer.
Buckwheat is native to Northern Europe as well as Asia. From the 10th through the 13th century, it was widely cultivated in China. From there, it spread to Europe and Russia in the 14th and 15th centuries, and was introduced in the United States by the Dutch during the 17th century.
Buckwheat is widely produced in Russia and Poland, where it plays an important role in their traditional cuisines. Other countries where buckwheat is cultivated commercially include the United States, Canada, and France.
Used especially in noodle production, buckwheat is also used in beer and whiskey making. In the highlands like Tibet and North China where wheat cannot be produced, buckwheat noodle is consumed intensely. It is considered that Japan and Korean people learned buckwheat noodle from them. Today, buckwheat noodle has an important role in the cuisines of Valtellina region in north Italy, Korea and Japan.
Triticale (× Triticosecale) is a hybrid of wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale) first bred in laboratories during the late 19th century. The grain was originally bred in Scotland and Sweden. Commercially available triticale is almost always a 2nd generation hybrid, i.e. a cross between two kinds of triticale (primary triticales).
As a rule, triticale combines the high yield potential and good grain quality of wheat with the disease and environmental tolerance (including soil conditions) of rye. Only recently has it been developed into a commercially viable crop. Depending on the cultivar, triticale can more or less resemble either of its parents. It is grown mostly for forage or fodder although some triticale-based foods can be purchased at health food stores or are to be found in some breakfast cereals.
The primary producers of triticale are Poland, Australia, Germany, France, China and Belarus. In 2005, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 13.5 million tons were harvested in 28 countries across the world.
Amaranth is a broadleaf plant that could be mistaken for soybeans early in the growing season .Late in the season; however, there is no mistaking this striking, tall crop which develops brilliantly colored grain heads producing thousands of tiny seeds. Amaranth was a major food of the Aztecs and earlier American cultures, having been domesticated thousands of years ago.
The attraction of the crop to both earlier civilizations and modern consumers is the highly nutritious, golden seed. Amaranth seeds are unusually high in protein for a non-legume, running around 14 to 16% proteins. Even better, the protein is well balanced in amino acids, and is high in lysine, an amino acid most grains are deficient in (legumes also have high lysine).
Amaranth was grown as a grain crop in the U.S. in the late 1970s. Although grown on only a few thousand acres each year, it is a common food item in the health food section of grocery stores. The relatively high price of amaranth, while good for farmers, is a factor limiting the extent of its current use in the food marketplace. Still, the valuable characteristics of amaranth grain, combined with its adaptation to a wide range of growing areas, make it a very promising crop for the future.
Grain amaranths are very diverse and actually represent three distinct plant species: Amaranthus hypochondriacus is the type most grown in the U.S., with some A. cruentus having being grown. A. caudatus is the third type of grain species. There are over 50 species in the Amaranthus genus, with several of them being weeds in the continental U.S., a few being ornamentals, and some having forage use potential.
The amaranth species as a group is used for a wide variety of purposes. Although the crop is used exclusively for seed production in the U.S., in other regions of the world there are many other uses. In Africa and the Caribbean, amaranth is commonly eaten as a pot herb, with individual leaves picked off the plants periodically. Farmers in China are reportedly growing over 100,000 acres of amaranth as forage for hogs.
As a food crop, amaranth not only has high protein, but high fiber as well. There may also be dietary benefits from the relatively high levels of tocotrienols in the seed. The seeds have some desirable functional characteristics, having been processed in popped, flaked, extruded, and ground flour forms. Since the food uses are similar to such cereal grain grasses as wheat and oats, amaranth is sometimes called a pseudocereal.
Most of the amaranth in U.S. food products starts as a ground flour that is blended with wheat or other flours to make cereals, crackers, cookies, bread or other baked products. Most commercial products use amaranth as a minor portion of the ingredients, even if the product is touted as an amaranth product, such as “amaranth” breakfast cereal, which may be only 10 to 20% amaranth. Utilization studies have shown amaranth can often be blended at 50% or even 75% levels with other flours in baked products without affecting functional properties or taste. The main producing areas of amaranth in mostly USA and then Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces of South Africa come.
Cassava also known as manioc, yuca or tapioca, is a shrub with tuberous roots. It is the third source of food calories in tropical countries after rice and maize. Cassava is used in both human and animal food, in many industrial sectors, particularly in the form of starch, and more recently to produce ethanol. Cassava is primarily grown for its roots but all of the plant can be used: the wood as a fuel, the leaves and peelings for animal feed and even the stem as dietary salt.
The plant shows good resistance to drought, diseases and pests, and more particularly a very good yield. World production of cassava is around 250 million tons a year. After 15 years of uninterrupted growth and an increase of 13% between 2006 and 2009, it fell to 249 million tons in 2010 following a poor harvest in Thailand due to diseases and drought.
Africa contributes to more than half of global supply, with Nigeria on top, representing more than a third of African production alone (around 45 million tons ); it is also the largest world producer by far. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) follows with around 15 million tons, then Angola and Ghana (about 12 million tons each) and Mozambique (9 million tons). A staple food, contributing greatly to food security, the continent consumes almost all its production.
Unlike Africa, Asia encourages the development of cassava crops for industrial and energy purposes. This continent contributes to around a third of world production, with 60% produced by Thailand (around 25 million tons) and Indonesia (22 million tons). Vietnam and China are growing in strength and both produce between 8 and 9 million tons a year since 2008. India, now the 3rd cassava producer in Asia, is also experiencing continued growth in production with more than a 30% increase between 2006 and 2010.
In Latin America and the Caribbean production is relatively stable, around 35 million tons between 2006 and 2009, which represents almost 20% of world supply. Brazil dominates with some 70% of regional production and battles with Thailand, over the years, for second place in world production. Apart from Brazil, the two other important producers are Paraguay (around 5 million tons) and Colombia (1.5-1.7 million tons).
Cassava plant is mostly consumed as cassava flour and starch. Cassava flour is obtained from drying the roots that have been cut into pieces: roots are washed, peeled, cut into chips, dried and milled. In Brazil, 70 to 80% of cassava production is used exclusively for making flour. Cassava starch is a substance extracted from the tubers which must be processed within 48 hours of being harvested.
By washing, peeling and grating, the grains of starch are liberated and then processed by soaking, successive sieving, centrifugation, pressing, drying and sifting before packaging. The starch is used in many sectors, including the food industry, pharmaceutical chemistry, foundry, textiles, paper and adhesives.
Only about 10% of global cassava production is traded. For the last ten years, flows into Asia have greatly accelerated and today Asia represents 98% of world imports and 97% of exports. It was in 2001 that cassava imports by developing countries exceeded those of developed countries for the first time. Since then, international flows have been concentrated on Asia, especially China.
Fonio is the term for cultivated grains in the Digitaria genus. These are notable in parts of West Africa and one species in India. The grains are very small. White fonio (D. exilis) is the most important of a diverse group of wild and domesticated Digitaria species that are harvested in the savannas of West Africa.
Fonio is the smallest of all species of millet. It is one of the primary cereals of southern Sudan and Ethiopia in Africa. It has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable use of the land.
Fonio has continued to be important locally because it is both nutritious and one of the world’s fastest growing cereals, reaching maturity in as little as six to eight weeks. It is a crop that can be relied on in semi-arid areas with poor soils, where rains are brief and unreliable. The grains are used in porridge and couscous, for bread, and for beer.
Some regions in which this crop is important are the Fouta Djallon region of Guinea and the Akposso area of Togo. In the latter, fonio is primarily a women’s crop; it and cowpeas are used to make a traditional dish.
The small grains make it difficult and time-consuming to remove the husk. Traditional methods include pounding it in a mortar with sand (then separating the grains and sand) or “popping” it over a flame and then pounding it (which yields a toasted color grain; this technique is used among the Akposso). The invention of a simple fonio husking machine offers an easier mechanical way to dehusk.
Eragrostis tef, known as teff, taf, or khak shir, is an annual grass, a species of love grass native to the northern Ethiopian Highlands of Northeast Africa. It has an attractive nutrition profile, being high in dietary fiber and iron and providing protein and calcium.
Some people consider it to have a sour taste. It is similar to millet and quinoa in cooking, but the seed is much smaller, and thus cooks using less fuel.
Teff is an important food grain in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it is used to make injera, and less so in India and Australia. Because of its small seeds (less than 1 mm diameter), one can hold enough to sow a large area in one hand. This property makes teff particularly suited to a seminomadic lifestyle.
Teff copes with a range of growing conditions ranging from drought stress to waterlogged soil conditions. Maximum teff production occurs at altitudes of 1800 to 2100 m, growing season rainfall of 450 to 550 mm, and a temperature range of 10 to 27 °C. Teff is day length sensitive and flowers best with 12 hours of daylight.
Quinoa (Spanish quinua), a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium), is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the grass family.
As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds. Its leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable, much like amaranth, but the commercial availability of quinoa greens is currently limited.
Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America, where it has been an important food for 6,000 years. Its name is the Spanish spelling of the Quechua name. Quinoa is generally undemanding and altitude-hardy, so it can be easily cultivated in the Andes up to about 4,000 meters. Even so, it grows best in well-drained soils and requires a relatively long growing season. In eastern North America, it is susceptible to a leaf miner that may reduce crop success.
Kaniwa (Chenopodium pallidicaule) is a remarkably nutritious grain of the high Andes. Kaniwa reigns in the extreme highland environment where wheat, rye, and corn grow unreliably or not at all because of the often intense cold. Even barley and quinoa cannot yield dependably at the altitudes where kaniwa grows.
Although kaniwa produces a cereal-like seed, it is not a true cereal but a broad-leaved plant in the same botanical genus as quinoa. At the time of the Conquest, kaniwa grain was an important food in the high Andes. It is still widely grown, but only in the Peruvian and Bolivian altiplano. Most kaniwa is consumed by the family that grows it, but some can be bought in Andean markets, especially near Puno.
Because of its adaptability to cold and aridity, kaniwa could expand the amount of cultivable land in some marginal tropical highlands. However; it seems to have little immediate potential as a cash crop for North America, Europe, or other industrialized areas.
The lack of knowledge of its productivity and mechanized cultivation would make it a risky commercial undertaking. Nonetheless, kaniwa is one of the most nutritious grains and most resilient plants known. It could perhaps prove useful as a forage crop or as a specialty grain for nutritionally conscious consumers. For instance, kaniwa could become popular among vegetarians and “health-food” consumers, as is happening with quinoa.
The seed is usually toasted and ground to form brownish flour that is consumed with sugar or added to soups. It is also used with wheat flour in breads, cakes, and puddings. And it is made into a hot beverage, similar to hot chocolate, and sold on the streets of cities such as Cuzco and Puno.
The leaves are especially high in calcium, and the plant is valued for soil improvement. It also provides forage that is especially important for animal survival during droughts, when other forage is scarce.
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