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About Whole Grains
History of Whole Grains

Photo: Close-up of wheat in a fieldGrains have been the cornerstone of the human diet for thousands of years. Early civilizations believed grains were so important that each type of grain was thought to be a gift from the gods.

Today, whole grain foods are being recognized by nutrition experts as key sources of health-promoting substances such as phytochemicals, and nutrients including fibre, minerals and certain vitamins.

Many myths and legends throughout different cultures around the globe tell of the importance of grains. For example, the god Demeter gave wheat to the Greeks; in Egypt, the god Ra gave his people grains; and, the Aztecs gave thanks to their corn goddess with amaranth grain products.

There is proof that over 10,500 years ago people started to cultivate weeds and grasses in fertile regions of the Middle East, which produced what we now know mainly as wheat and barley. About 1,000 years later, in China, rice and millet were cultivated from wild grasses. During this period in Central America, corn was the main grain cultivated.

Since then, mankind has refined the science of agriculture, which has resulted in cultivating and domesticating grains and crops. This series of evolutionary steps helps to explain why we now have so many different varieties of grains. Some of the whole grains we eat each day have a very interesting history. Here are some examples:

Wheat – The first evidence of wheat was discovered in an ancient civilization in what is now Iraq, dating back to at least 6700 B.C. Wheat made its way to England around the twelfth century and to the New World with Christopher Columbus. Later, the pilgrims would share their wheat with the Native American Indians who were already growing corn. Much later during the civil war, while the Union Army of the north had plentiful supplies of wheat, the South worried about how to feed its soldiers and fight the war too. Over time, the cultivation of wheat spread all over the world and is still produced in more quantity than any other crop on earth.

Rice – The origins of rice date back to at least 3500 B.C. in Thailand. Rice found its way to Europe around the twelfth century and then to America (South Carolina) in the late 1690's.

Oats – The history of oats dates back to Germany in 1000 B.C., but popularity of this grain did not spread across Europe readily. This was due in part to the bland flavour and the commonly held view that it was "a food more suited for animals." In the mid 1980's, oats were boosted to "health food" status by research suggesting that a substance in it helped prevent heart disease. Despite this, most of the oats produced in North America are still used for animal food.