Cereals – with about 500 genuses and nearly 5.000 species – are generally of the Gramineous Family.
As for most of the vegetable species there is a wide range with the same characteristics and/or different and well distinct properties from those of the other vegetable species, such as productive potential, adaptability, disease resistance and characteristics of quality.
From a nutritional point of view cereals are the best source of complex carbohydrates, predominantly starch, dietary fibre; as well as proteins, minerals and vitamins. Recent literature indicates that cereals make an important contribution in terms of phytocompounds such as phenolic acid, phenolic compounds (lignans, tannins), phytosterols (sterols, stenols), phytoestrogen and carotenoids (beta-carotene). (1, 2, 3, 4).
Cereals have been cultivated for 10.000 years when man understood that their seeds could be easily stored for a long time. Moreover, cereals constituted an important food for humans because they are a good source of nutrients and they ready complement the scarcity of game.
The spontaneous collection of cereals was the first step towards cereal domestication, which spread during Neolithic helping with the first type of farming, the origin of Mediterranean civilisation in an area called the “Fertile Crescent”. There was also cereal domestication in the Middle East: Syria, Palestine e Kurdistan while its diffusion is linked to the migratory flow which reached the Mediterranean.
Why should we talk about cereals, minor cereals and pseudo-creals?
Cereals is a common term which indicates wide variety of plants cultivated by man in order to use seeds, seeds transformed in to flour and other products.
The pseudocereals are non-grass plants but very similar to cereals for cultivation, products and nutritional use. Buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth grain are some examples of them. Lastly there are the minor cereals. They are defined in this way because they are less common and they are only should cultivated in a few small regions of the world such as Eritrea, Ethiopia…..
Why celiac individuals be interested in all of these? Patients with celiac disease, as is well known don’t get along with cereals and therefor they are not allowed. Moreover celiac individuals have to remove all wheat-based cereal products from their diet. In fact it isn’t so only a few cereals have the storage proteins such as prolamins (gliadin in wheat, secalin in rye and hordein in barley), which at the time of re-hydration of flour and/or meal with water, will recombine to form the three-dimensional lattice of gluten. Gluten is an artifact!
The most important cereals used by man are durum, wheat, corn, rice, barley, sorghum, oats, millet and rye. Only corn, rice and sorghum are safe for celiacs. However if you want to increase your variety of food you can use pseudocereals. In fact buckwheat, quinoa and grain amaranth could be safely included in a gluten-free diet, because they are gluten-free. The variety increases greatly if you include the minor cereals. Panic, fonio (white and black), teff, teosine, leusine, coracana and lacrime di Giobbe are gluten-free and so recommended in the GF diet.
So “minor cereals and /or the neglected ones” are becoming the “cereals of the future”!
In particular fonio is an African cereal crop which has had a marginal importance. Its seeds are very small but are full of potential uses! How small are they? One gram of fonio conteins nearly 2000 seeds. They are only 1 mm long and 0.7 mm wide. We talked about fonio in a previous post and we presented as a super cereal.
Fonio has an interesting nutritional profile. It provides a good source of carbohydrates (55% wheat vs 60% fonio or tef) and proteins (12% wheat vs 10% fonio or tef). Moreover, it has a low concentration of lipids (2% wheat vs 1.9% fonio or tef). Another important consideration is that fonio has appreciable amounts of inorganic compounds such as iron (23-40mg in 100g vs 1.3mg wheat and 2.3mg corn) and copper (0.1-1.2mg vs 0.4mg wheat and 0.17mg corn).