Food Staples

Mary Ktenas

Food Staples -

A food staple is a food that makes up the dominant part of a population’s diet. Food staples are eaten often, even daily and supply a major proportion of a person's energy and nutritional needs.

Food staples vary from place to place, and the country's food staple depends on what's available and most commonly, what is inexpensive. In the developing world, food staples are usually carbohydrate based, and full of energy such as cereal grains and tubers.


There are more than 50,000 edible plants in the world, but just 15 of them provide 90 percent of the world’s food energy intake. Rice, corn (maize), and wheat make up two-thirds of this.

Food staples traditionally depend on what plants are native to a region. However, with improvements in agriculture, food storage, and transportation, some food staples are changing.

Foods that were particular to one region are becoming popular in regions where they don’t traditionally grow (eg, quinoa).

Although staple foods are nutritious, they do not provide the full, healthy range of nutrients. People must add other foods to their diets to avoid malnutrition.

Rice

Rice

Rice is a food staple for more than 1.6 billion people around the world, particularly in Asia, Latin America, and parts of Africa.
Rice has been cultivated in Asia for thousands of years. Scientists believe people first domesticated rice in India or Southeast Asia. Rice arrived in Japan in about 100 BCE. The Portuguese most likely introduced it into South America in the 16th century.

Today, the world’s largest rice producers are China, India, and Indonesia. Outside of Asia, Brazil is the largest rice producer. Rice grows in warm, wet climates. It thrives in waterlogged soil, such as in the floodplains of Asian rivers such as the Ganges and the Mekong. “Floating rice” is a variety of rice that is adapted to deep flooding, and is grown in eastern Pakistan, Vietnam, and Burma.
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Corn (Maize)

Corn (Maize)

Corn, known outside the United States as maize, is native to Central America, where it was domesticated by the Aztecs and Mayans. Corn remains the most widely grown crop in the Americas today. The United States is the world’s largest corn grower, producing more than 40 percent of the world’s corn. China, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina also produce large amounts of corn.

Corn is used in a variety of ways, and can be stored relatively easily. This is why it is such a popular food staple.

Dried, ground corn is called cornmeal. Many cultures make porridge out of cornmeal, including polenta in Italy and/sadza in Zimbabwe. Cornmeal is also used to make cornbread, or treated with lime water to make masa, the main ingredient in tortillas.

Corn kernels can be soaked in lye to produce hominy.Coarsely ground hominy is used to make grits, a popular food in the southeastern United States. Grits are a popular breakfast food, as are corn flakes and other cereals made from corn. Brazilians make a dessert called canjica by boiling corn kernels in sweetened milk.

In the Americas and the United Kingdom, many people like to boil, grill, or roast whole ears of corn and simply eat the kernels off the cob. Cooked kernels may also be removed from the cob and served as a vegetable. Certain varieties of corn kernels, when dried, will explode when heated, producing popcorn.

Corn is also used to produce corn oil, sweeteners such as corn syrup, and cornstarch, which is used as a sweetener and thickening agent in home cooking and processed food products. Alcohol from fermented corn is the source of bourbon whiskey.
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Wheat

Wheat

Wheat was first domesticated in the Middle East, in the area known as the Cradle of Civilization near what is now Iraq. Domesticating this reliable, versatile staple food was key to the development of agriculture.

Wheat grows well in temperate climates, even those with a short growing season. Today, the largest wheat producers are China, India, the United States, Russia, and France.

The majority of breads are made with wheat flour. Wheat flour is also used in pasta, pastries, crackers, breakfast cereals, and noodles. Starting in the 19th century, wheat joined corn as a popular ingredient for making tortillas. Wheat can be crushed into bulgur, which has a high nutritional value and is often used in soups and pastries in the Middle East.
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Roots and Tubers

Roots and Tubers

In addition to cereal grains, roots and tubers are common food staples, particularly in tropical regions. Yams are an important food in the rain forests of West Africa. They are most commonly peeled, boiled, and pounded into a pulp to make a dough called fufu.

Cassava, also known as manioc, is a food staple for more than 500 million people. This tuber originated in the Amazon rain forest of South America, and was introduced into West Africa in the 16th century. Now, cassava is important to the diets of many people in Latin America and Africa.

Taro is a staple food on some of the Pacific islands, such as Hawaii, Fiji, and New Caledonia, and also in West Africa. The Hawaiian national dish, poi, is a thick paste made from taro that has been boiled, mashed, and fermented.

Potatoes are native to the cold climate of the Andes Mountains. They were the food staple of the Inca Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries. Introduced to Europe by explorers of the 16th century, potatoes are now a food staple in Europe and parts of the Americas. The leading potato producers are China, Russia, India, the United States, and Ukraine.


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Other Food Staples

Other Food Staples

Although cereal grains and tubers make up the majority of the world’s food staples, they are not the only dominant foods in the world. The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania have traditionally relied on food provided by cattle for the majority of their diet. Milk, meat, and blood are traditional ingredients in Maasai diets. Today, grain has become a staple food of the Maasai, but they still drink large quantities of milk—about 1 liter per person per day.

Cultures indigenous to polar climates, where fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce, rely on meat and fish as food staples. Often, seafood provides the majority of their energy and nutrient needs. For example, Eskimo tribes of Alaska and northern Canada have traditionally eaten seal, walrus, and whale meat in addition to many kinds of fish.

In tropical climates, people often rely on starchy fruits such as plantains and breadfruit. In parts of Africa and Asia, especially India, legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas are staple foods.
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