Already 100,000 years ago people recognized the good nutritional value of grain. It was already cultivated in the Middle East 8,000 years ago. Only about 3,000 years later did the agricultural cultivation of grain also find its way into Western Europe. America and Asia were known for their cultivation of rice and corn well before the birth of Christ, and even today the seeds of these sweet grasses are among the most important staple foods in the whole world. However, the grains grown today have little in common with the sweet grasses that people grew thousands of years ago.

Types of cereals from A to Z

All grains are annual grasses. Some types of grain form spikes with long awns. An awn is a bristle-like extension (beard hair) that is found on the husks of many sweet grasses. Of importance are actually only seven different types of grain, of which there are in turn different varieties. With many types of grain, a distinction is made between summer and winter grain. The only difference is the timing of sowing. Winter cereals are sown in September, summer cereals in spring. The types of grain that are left outdoors over the winter are significantly more profitable. This is probably due to the higher moisture in the soil.

1. Barley (Hordeum vulgare)

Basically, among all the different types of grain, barley is a lesser-known and less-used type. It originally comes from the Near East and the Balkans and is divided into spelled barley and naked barley. While husk barley still contains a hard shell around the grain, naked barley is a breed that is almost husk-free. This type of barley has the advantage that the grains do not have to be subjected to a mechanical process and retain their high proportion of healthy ingredients. The barley can be recognized by its long awns, which end on a level at the top.

  • prefers moist, deep soils
  • there is summer and winter barley
  • Cultivation also possible in northern regions and at high altitudes
  • self-fertile
Note : Barley is divided into two-row and multi-row varieties. Two-row forms only develop one strong grain per batch, while multi-row barley types develop three kernels per batch.

Winter barley is mainly grown as animal feed. Summer barley is primarily used in breweries (beer and whiskey) or is processed into malt coffee and semolina. Barley is unsuitable for baking bread because it contains too little gluten. Germany is one of the world’s largest barley suppliers.

2.Hafer (Avena sativa)

Oats are colloquially called a type of oat: the so-called real oat or seed oat. This type of grain does not bear ears, but branched panicles that slope gently downwards. Two spindle-shaped grains usually form at the tips of these panicles. The actual grains are surrounded by solid lemmas. Oats are mainly grown in summer crops in Germany and were probably introduced as weeds from the Atlantic coast.

  • forms panicles up to 50 cm long
  • needs a temperate climate
  • high amounts of precipitation are a prerequisite for good growth
  • self-fertile

Most foods already carry the name if they are made from oats. The best-known product made from oats is oat flakes, which are considered to be a particularly healthy grain. Recently, products such as oatmeal and oat milk for allergy sufferers or vegans have also become more important. Oats are gluten-free, but are only suitable for baking to a limited extent because they are too sticky in consistency.

3. Millet

Millet is one of the oldest known types of grain. Millet originally comes from Africa. There are two main groups of this type of grain. On the one hand there is sorghum, which develops larger grains and is therefore considered a higher-yielding variety. On the other hand, there is a small-grain type of millet, the so-called millet millet. The second category includes most of the 12 known genera.

  • hardly makes any demands on location and weather
  • also grows in dry areas
  • Growth height: up to 5 meters, resembles the growth form of corn

The millet variety

  • Brown millet: is of little importance today, grain richest in minerals, gluten-free, the difference lies in the brown color of the skin
  • Sorghum: small-fruited husked grain in 30 different types, mainly available as couscous or millet flour
  • Teff (Eragrostis tef): cultivated millet with very small grains, the smallest grain in the world, gluten-free
  • Japanese millet (Echinochloa frumentacea): also known as wheat millet, mostly used for animal feed, but is also cooked like rice

For a long time, millet was the staple food of people around the world, including here. Later, grain was almost completely replaced by corn and potatoes. In Germany, millet is now primarily used as bird feed.

4. More (Zea mays)

Maize is a type of cereal, even if the plants and their kernels differ significantly from other sweet grasses. It belongs to the monoecious plants of the same sex. Pollination occurs through external influences (usually through the wind). Zea mays is an annual grass with a thick, pith-filled culm that can grow up to two inches across and eight feet tall. The inflorescence is not a spike but a thick spadix surrounded by bracts.

  • Growth height: up to 2.5 meters
  • does not form spikes, but cobs with yellow, large grains
  • makes only low demands on the soil
  • well adapted to dry or hot locations
  • cross-pollinator

While corn is one of the staple foods in North and South America, in our country it is mainly processed into animal feed.

5. Travel

Actually, the word rice is just an umbrella term for more than 8,000 different types of rice that are grown all over the world. These varieties are divided into three subgroups. These include long grain rice, short grain rice, and medium grain rice. Rice is grown almost exclusively in the humid tropical regions and is one of the staple foods in Asia. Since the plant only grows in swampy areas, there are no significant cultivation areas in Germany.

Popular rice varieties:

  • Basmati Trip
  • Jasminreis
  • Parboiled Trip
  • Wildreis

Rice is mainly used in cooked form, but also as flour and for alcoholic preparations. Long-grain rice is the main food we use.

6. Roggen (Cereal rye)

In Asia Minor, rye was considered a weed for a very long time. It was only in the 12th century that the grain became important for the production of bread and was increasingly fed to animals. Even with rye, a distinction is made today according to the cultivation time and there are both summer and winter rye, but it is mainly sown in winter.

  • easy to confuse with barley in appearance
  • forms grannies in the ears
  • very tasty and rich in fiber
  • grows in northern regions
  • frost hardy to -25 degrees
  • cross-pollinator

Rye is of greatest importance for bakeries. It is usually used in combination with wheat flour to make dark bread. Rye is also important in the production of spirits (such as vodka).

7. Wheat (Triticum aestivum)

Wheat is one of the most important staple foods in Germany and is therefore certainly very familiar to every Central European. It is one of the oldest known grains. When it comes to cultivation, wheat is much more demanding than other types of grain. Depending on how the seeds are spread, a distinction is made between winter and spring wheat. The yield of winter wheat is far higher than that of spring wheat.

  • prefers a temperate climate
  • up to -20 degrees frost resistant
  • places high demands on location and weather
  • requires heavy, nutrient-rich soil
  • self-fertile

of Wheat There are over 1000 different varieties of wheat, each adapted to the climate and soil of the region in which the variety is grown. The most common variety in Germany is called naked or seed wheat. The flour for cakes, rolls and bread is made from this species.

  • Spelled (Triticum spelta): originally comes from Asia and is closely related to common wheat, its grains are firmly attached to the husks and have no long bristles. Incidentally, the grains of spelled that are harvested unripe are called unripe spelt.
  • Einkorn: Original form of wheat, which is less productive, but less demanding in cultivation and resistant to many diseases
  • Emmer: one of the oldest types of grain from the group of wheat types, visually similar to normal wheat, today mainly cultivated in organic farming, is also considered the archetype of wheat
  • Durum wheat (Triticum durum, durum wheat): requires nutrient-rich soil and lots of sun, rounded grain shape, used primarily for pasta (noodle products)
  • Soft wheat: most common form of wheat in Germany, also known as bread wheat because of its use in all types of baked goods

Wheat is processed into flour, semolina, pearl barley, starch, wheat beer or wheat germ oil. But it is also used in industry in the manufacture of paper, paste and cosmetics.

Tip: Every German consumes an average of over 90 kg of wheat (usually as flour in baked goods) per year. The per capita consumption of potatoes, on the other hand, is comparatively low at 70 kg.


Triticale is a cross between rye (male) and wheat (female). Fertile specimens were bred as early as the 19th century and developed into high-performance varieties through targeted crossings. Almost 40 different varieties are now known. Germany is one of the largest producers of triticale in the world. Triticale cereals are not only used in pig fattening because they have a high feed value. They are also becoming increasingly important in the baked goods industry, especially in the case of whole grain products.


In addition to the many real grains, there are also pseudo grains. These varieties do not belong to the genus of sweet grasses, but are used in a similar way. These include:

  • Amaranth (Amaranthus): also called foxtail, millet-like plant from the foxtail family, originally from the Andes region, needs nutrient-rich soil and warm growing conditions
  • Buckwheat (Fagopyrum): belongs to the knotweed family, herbaceous plant, grows as a perennial subshrub with heart-shaped or triangular leaves, fruits resemble beechnuts
  • Linseed (Linum usitatissimum): the seeds of the flax are called linseed, depending on the variety brown or yellow skin, nutty taste
  • Hops (Humulus): belongs to the hemp plants and only occurs in the northern hemisphere. The most well-known representative is the real hop, which is used for brewing beer
  • Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa): belongs to the genus of goose’s feet within the foxtail family, known as a cultivated plant in the Andes for 5,000 years, annual, herbaceous plant with branched, upright stems
  • Chia seeds (Mexican Chia, Salvia hispanica): belong to the sage genus and are of minor importance in cultivation in Germany


Only two types of grain are important staple foods in Germany: wheat and rye, with wheat making up the largest proportion of all types of grain. While corn feeds millions of people around the world, in our country it is mostly used as animal feed or in corn oil. Although rice is consumed in this country, the sweet grass is mainly cultivated in Asia.

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