Cereal is the name given to those seeds used as food (wheat, rye, oats, barley, corn, rice, etc.), which are produced by plants belonging to the vast order known as the grass family. They are used for food both in the unground state and in various forms of mill products.
The grains are pre-eminently nutritious, and when well prepared, easily digested foods. In composition they are all similar, but variations in their constituent elements and the relative amounts of these various elements, give them different degrees of alimentary value. They each contain one or more of the nitrogenous elements, gluten, albumen, caseine, and fibrin, together with starch, dextrine, sugar, and fatty matter, and also mineral elements and woody matter, or cellulose. The combined nutritive value of the grain foods is nearly three times that of beef, mutton, or poultry. As regards the proportion of the food elements necessary to meet the various requirements of the system, grains approach more nearly the proper standard than most other foods; indeed, wheat contains exactly the correct proportion of the food elements.
Being thus in themselves so nearly perfect foods, and when properly prepared, exceedingly palatable and easy of digestion, it is a matter of surprise that they are not more generally used; yet scarcely one family in fifty makes any use of the grains, save in the form of flour, or an occasional dish of rice or oatmeal. This use of grains is far too meager to adequately represent their value as an article of diet. Variety in the use of grains is as necessary as in the use of other food material, and the numerous grain preparations now to be found in market render it quite possible to make this class of foods a staple article of diet, if so desired, without their becoming at all monotonous.
In olden times the grains were largely depended upon as a staple food, and it is a fact well authenticated by history that the highest condition of man has always been associated with wheat-consuming nations. The ancient Spartans, whose powers of endurance are proverbial, were fed on a grain diet, and the Roman soldiers who under Caesar conquered the world, carried each a bag of parched grain in his pocket as his daily ration.