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What is the staple food in your culture? Is it Pizza, Pasta, Bread, Roti, Rice or Noodles?

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Have you noticed the fact every culture across the world consumes grains/cereals in form of their staple food? In this article, we talk about various staple food made out of grains.

There is old folklore that says if you want to know the culture of a country, then you should taste its staple food. Food is instilled in the core of any culture and it reveals a lot about the country and its history. There are dominant food items that are almost consumed on a daily basis, they are called staple food. Staple food goes back to ancient times and is still consumed by a large proportion of the population. The food items may differ from country to country but the grain used in its preparation is the same everywhere. 

Furthermore, It doesn’t matter if a person is vegetarian or non-vegetarian every one consumes grains in one or the other form. There may be a difference in the amount of grains in use. 

In this article, we will shed light on staple food and the prominently use food items in the world.

What is staple food?

A staple food is any food item that occupies a major part of a person’s diet and is the dominant contributor to energy and nutrient needs. The staple food is eaten by a society or group of people on daily basis. It is a widely consumed food item by the majority of the population in the country. It is easily accessible and available. 

Quick Question – 

Which country comes to your mind when we say RICE? 

The staple food varies from place to place depending on various factors such as availability of agricultural land, storage value, weather conditions, etc. Early agricultural civilization made food a staple based on the produce and its lasting value. 

In this article, we will be talking about staple foods made of grains. 

What prominently used grains come under staple foods? Global distribution of the grains and largest users of these grains

With the increase in globalization, the relationship between many countries has changed and evolved for the better. They are connected more now than ever before.

It has also opened trading options for many nations. The export and import of goods and services have brought a change in the food market as well. Now, people have access to varied varieties of foods, which has influenced the market for staple food. The commonly exchanged crops are wheat, rice, millet, maize, etc. 

Rice

Rice is the most commonly consumed staple food in the world. More than half of the world consumes rice in some or other form. It is believed that rice arrived in Japan around 3000 years ago whereas the Portuguese are said to have introduced rice into South America in the 16th century.

According to National Geographic, rice is consumed by 3.5 billion people annually. It is fairly easy to grow this crop and it can be grown anywhere in the world. Its nutrient values are what make it a food of choice apart from the fact that it is easy to consume and grow. 

Rice has a history in the cultures of many countries like China. During the Hang dynasty, rice became a prominent consumed crop. People shifted from millet to rice because of the scarcity of the former. Slowly and steadily, it replaced all the other crops and became the key ingredient in one’s diet. 

Rice has been cultivated in Asia for thousands of years. Today, the world’s largest rice producers are China, India, and Indonesia. Brazil is the largest rice producer in the European continent. 

According to the World Atlas, the largest consumer of rice is China, followed by India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc. The International Rice Research Institute estimates that in the next 25 years or so Indonesia will require at least 38% more rice than it is currently producing, because of its increasing consumption rate. 

There is a record increase in the production of rice in the last three decades of the twentieth century. Rice is currently grown in over a hundred countries that produce more than 715 million tons of paddy rice annually. 

Asian countries like India, China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, etc., account for 90% production of rice in the world. The non-Asian countries including Brazil, the United States, Egypt, etc., account for 5% of the global rice production. In Africa, rice is the fastest-growing food staple. 

Wheat

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Wheat is used worldwide and is the most popular staple food found almost everywhere in the world. Since 1960, the world production of wheat has tripled in the world. China is the largest consumer of wheat in the world, it accounted for around 19% of global wheat consumption in 2020 and 2021. Apart from being the largest consumer, it is also the largest producer of wheat, followed by India, The United States, and Russia.

Wheat is used for different purposes, the common is for making bread, which we have discussed in the later section of this article. 

It has many nutritional benefits as well, on average, the kernel contains 12 % water, 70 % carbohydrates, 12 % protein, 2 % fat, 1.8 % minerals, and 2.2 % crude fibers. 

Russia is the third largest exporter of wheat in 2021, contributing to an overall 13.1% of export. Countries like China and India also produce a large amount of wheat, but they keep a major part of them for domestic use. 

As wheat is widely used in India in different forms, the most common one is roti (chapati, a type of flatbread). Over the last two decades, India has produced 12.5 % of the world’s wheat. 

Do you know – Wheat is germinated and dried to create Malt, a common ingredient in Beer? Ancient beer was made of bread loaves making it thick like light syrup. 

Maize/Corn

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Corn was first domesticated by the indigenous people in Southern Mexico, around 10,000 years ago. It is native to central America and is said to be brought by Aztecs and Mayans. The United States is the largest producer of corn in the world contributing almost 40 % to the world’s produce. China, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina are some of the other countries producing corn in large quantities. 

Maize is cultivated throughout the world. In 2021, the total world production of corn was 1.2 billion metric tons, The United States alone produced 384 million metric tons of corn. 

The United States is the highest consumer of corn in the world followed by China. In 2021 and 2022, the USA consumed 12.4 billion bushels of corn. In the USA people use corn every day and the majority of their food items are made of corn. 

Maize is loaded with an abundance of macronutrients like starch, fiber, protein, and fat along with micronutrients like vitamin B complex, and essential minerals. Because of its wide availability, people chose it over other food items. 

Now let’s talk about Staple food items made of grains

Pizza

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Who doesn’t like to eat pizza? This easily available food item has become a substitute for many food meals. Whether it is an office party or a movie night, people usually prefer pizza over another food item. The base of a pizza is made of wheat dough. 

This mouth-watering dish originated in Italy. Mama Mia!! Yes, it is an Italian dish and you know how Italians are connoisseurs of delicious food.

People are eating pizzas in one or the other form for many years now. But the word pizza was first documented in 997 AD in Gaeta. Although modern pizza has evolved from the flatbread dishes consumed in Naples, Italy in the 18th or early 19th century. 

Although pizza finds its roots in Italy, over the years it has turned into a global phenomenon. It is available anywhere in the world, all thanks to Dominoes and Pizza hut. In recent years there is an increase in its usage and now it can be seen in almost every little shop.

People love to eat pizza along with drinks like coke, coffee, or lemon iced tea. It is a go-to food for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. 

Do you know -Some three billion pizzas are sold each year in the United States alone, an average of 46 slices per person.

Pasta

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Pasta is another Italian dish that has become a global hit these days. It was originally found in Italy a long time ago and is the staple food of Italian cuisine. It is made of wheat flour, you will find it in different shapes and styles and in varying lengths as well. But, the most common ones are Lasagna, Spaghetti, Bow-tie, Linguine, Penne, etc.

The evidence of pasta was found in an Etruscan tomb in the 4th century BC, where natives can be seen making what appears to be pasta. A popular legend claims that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy in the late 13th century while exploring the Far East. 

Pasta is divided into 2 categories – dried pasta (pasta secca) and fresh pasta (pasta fresca). Fresh pasta is handmade and usually made with the help of small machines. There are over 350 types of pasta available in the world which goes by different names. 

Pasta is made in white sauce and red sauce. The cheddar cheese is an accompaniment to the pasta. 

Do you know – Pasta has its own day? Yes, October 25 is World Pasta Day. Don’t forget to mark your calendars. 

Italy produces between 1,700,000 and 3,300,000 TONS of pasta per year.

Bread

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Some of the great things in the world are simple and fuss-free, one of which is bread. Whether you take toasted bread and butter with a steaming cup of coffee or a vegetable sandwich. From soothing lunch to your evening meal, bread is the perfect partner for all your delicacies. It is used almost everywhere in the world. Brea is a staple food that is prepared with dough or flour. It is popular in the Western world Usually, bread is prepared with wheat flour but corn, buckwheat, and millet are also used in some parts of the world. Bread is one of the oldest food items which didn’t require people to hunt. It has a long history and is being passed down since ancient times. 

It is made in various forms with varieties of ingredients used in it. The most common one is flatbread. Bread is also of great importance in many cultures. 

Do you know – the first bread was made in Neolithic times, nearly 12,000 years ago? The grains were crushed down with the help of a quern (grinding tool) and mixed with water which resulted in the dough, which was later laid on a heated stone and covered with hot ashes. 

Throughout the world, various countries have developed their own versions of bread. The addition of chemicals came into play in the late 20th century. 

Roti/Chapati 

Roti is native to the Indian subcontinent and prominently used in India, Pakistan, Nepal, etc. It is made of wheat flour and water.

No meal in India is complete without roti, which is also known as phulka, chapati, etc. There are different types of roti that are used such as Naan, Kulcha, Rumali roti, etc. It is a staple accompaniment to other food items mainly vegetables.

There are many theories behind the origin of roti, some say it was invented in Persia and was much thicker than today’s roti. Some people also believe that it came from East Africa, where it was a staple and the production was in abundance. 

Do you know – Hindus in India have a special kind of fasting where they do not consume the grains (“Ann” or “Anaj” – the Hindi translation of grains) on special occasions?

Tortilla

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Tortillas are used everywhere in the world today. The thin unleavened flatbread has become a part of worldwide menus. It was first made by the indigenous people of Mesoamerica and later on extended to different parts of the world. Tortilla is a staple food in Mexico and Central America. It is a dominant item used in many Mexican dishes. 

Originally it is made of corn but these days wheat flour is also used in its production. Tortilla originates from the Spanish word “tart” meaning cake. 

Do you know – Mayan legend says that the first tortilla was a gift? And if the stories are to be believed a peasant invented the corn tortilla as a present for his hungry king over 12,000 years ago. In the ancient highlands of modern Mexico, tortillas were a staple in both Mayan and Aztec diets.

Noodles

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Noodles have become a comfort food in almost every part of the world. It is a staple food in many South Asian countries like China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. It is usually cooked in boiling water. 

Noodles were found in the earliest written record in the book from the Han period (25 – 220 CE) it was the prominent food for the Han people. During this time, noodles were made of wheat dough. Over the centuries, it has evolved and adapted to the latest versions we see today. 

The oldest evidence of noodles was from 4,000 years ago in China. In 2005, a team of archaeologists reported finding an earthenware bowl that contained 4000-year-old noodles at the Lajia archaeological site. These noodles were said to resemble lamina, a type of Chinese noodle.

Countries like Vietnam, and China are leading the race in the consumption of noodles. Data from WINA estimates that in 2021, China’s national noodle demand amounted to nearly 44 billion servings, followed by Indonesia at 13.3 billion servings.

Noodles are flavored with different ingredients like sauces, meat, vegetables, eggs, seafood, etc. 

Steamed Rice 

Next on our list is steamed rice. From China to Greece, Persia to the Nile river delta, rice has migrated from various continents and has reached the western hemisphere. In the first documented evidence of rice planting, it was found that it was authorized by the Chinese emperor in 2800 BC. 

It’s not just in Asian cultures that rice is so revered. In fact, rice is the staple grain in the majority of countries around the world. Steamed rice is the staple food that is found in almost every kitchen around the world. 

Mostly white rice is dominant, but other varieties of rice are also used in some parts such as Brown, Basmati, Parboiled, etc. 

Over the years, the method of cooking rice has changed, from simply boiling rice to frying it along with other ingredients like vegetables, meat, seafood, etc. Boiled rice is used as the base for various rice dishes. 

Do you know – Chinese people use chopsticks to eat rice?

Grits

Grits is a type of porridge made of boiled cornmeal. It originated with the Native American Muscogee tribe they used corn similar to hominy. American colonists learned to make the dish from the Native Americans, and it quickly became an American staple. Over the years it has become a popular dish in South America, where people usually have it as breakfast.

It can be either made sweet or savory depending on your taste buds. Grits are made by mixing cornmeal with water, or milk. It is often served with side dishes like bacon, eggs, shrimp, catfish, country ham, etc. 

Food is the most important thing for our survival after water and air. To know about the origins of the food items we consume today is like reliving history. Staple foods are a part of our lives ever since the dawn of humankind. Earlier, people didn’t have much choice because of many restrictions such as limited means of transportation, storage facility, etc. But, today we can taste the staple foods of various countries right where we live, which is no less than having a taste of different cultures.

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Renu Solanki works as a content specialist with Postbox Consultancy Services. She is an English Literature graduate.

She is an avid-reader and passionate about the study of the Universe, Spirituality, Psychology and Traditional Culture. In her free time she likes to indulge in a steaming cup of black coffee & Netflix.