The common grains, sometimes called cereals,1 yield some of the most important of all the food materials. Those most widely used are wheat, maize, or Indian corn, oats, rice, barley, rye, and millet. In this country wheat and corn are the two great crops upon which our prosperity largely depends, and a shortage in one of these crops is felt in the business world, not only in this country, but abroad. Rice is the important cereal in China, Japan, and India, and a failure of the rice crop may mean famine to millions of people, especially in India. These facts are mentioned to show that the race has learned to depend upon the grains as a staple food, and a study of their composition proves that this common habit is founded in reason. The grains are all members of the grass family, and the edible portion is the seed. From these seeds are manufactured pure starch, breakfast cereals, meal, and flour. Like beans and peas, these seeds are the storehouses of food for the young plants, and we therefore find the high nutritive value depicted in Fig. 37. Notice that the carbohydrate (starch) content is high in all; that all contain protein, oats, wheat, and rye being about equal in this and higher than the others; oats are highest in fat, corn ranking next. The ash contains the same important mineral substances that we found in the fruits, the percentages of each differing somewhat with the different grains and being quite different for the cereals as a class than for the fruits and vegetables as a class. It must be remembered that these percentages are given for the whole grain, and that the amounts of the nutrients in the manufactured product depend upon the process employed.
1 "Cereal" is derived from the Latin word "cerealis," pertaining to Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.
Fig. 37. - Composition of cereals.
Manufacture of cereal food materials.1 - The primitive method of making the material in the grain available for use was by grinding the grain between two stones, or by pounding one stone upon another, and this method is used by the Mexicans and certain of the American Indians to this day, human muscle being the power employed. Wind and water were harnessed for grinding grain, and were the only motive powers available until the invention of steam, the grinding being done by stones. In a Connecticut town there still exists a mill stone, one of a pair so small that they were carried into the settlement on horseback, and when placed in a small mill by a brook, they ground a bushel of corn in a day.
Breakfast cereals and meal are now made in the great factories that produce flour; steam is the motive power and the grains are broken, or rolled, between steel rollers. (See Chapter XII (Yeast Bread).)
The ready-to-eat breakfast cereal has met the popular demand for a quickly prepared food for the first meal of the day. A few of these are made under known conditions, but they are sometimes manufactured from inferior grain, and the presence of grit at times indicates a possible lack of cleanliness in the process. It is a question, too, whether or not the starch has been subjected to heat for a sufficient length of time, and whether they can be masticated sufficiently to make the grain digestible, and the nutritive material available. Their use for young children is undesirable. For older people, they add variety to the diet, but they are usually more expensive than the home-cooked breakfast foods, even when the cost of fuel is taken into account. See Fig. 38.
1 The manufacture of flour is discussed in the chapter on bread making.
It is an easy task to cook a cereal, especially now that the fireless cooker in some form is present in so many homes. The cereal for breakfast does not necessitate early rising; as it may be prepared the day or evening before and be served in palatable form in the morning.
The most common breakfast cereals are made from oats, wheat, and corn, varying in fineness of grain from those ground like a meal to the coarser cracked wheat and the samp made from corn. It is well to use kinds made from different grains, but when the worth of a few has been proved, it is not wise to try another kind simply because it has a new label. One manufacturer confessed to a visitor that the same cereal was put into boxes of different colors and sold under different names as a means of inviting purchasers. The cereal foods made from whole grains are especially valuable on account of the high mineral content.
It usually pays to buy in boxes, rather than in bulk, in the case of cereals; and always from a reliable grocer. If you purchase a box of cereal as a "bargain," weigh its contents and compare the weight with the weight of a box bought in the regular way. Also examine such a box for the presence of insects. These may be recognized sometimes by a webby substance, and again the insects themselves may be detected. Do not buy too large a stock of cereals, since they are better when they are fresh from the factory, and a good firm renews its stock often.