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Going with the Grains

May 9, 2017

Most cultures around the world today rely on grains as the base for their nutrition: from a dish of couscous in Morocco, to a plate of pasta in Italy; from a sushi platter in Japan, to a tortilla in Mexico; from a bowl of Cantonese rice in Beijing, to a baguette fresh from the oven in France; from a fragrant dish of jollof rice in Ghana, to a plentiful plate of feijoada in Brazil, and many more examples in between.

Today, more than 45% of our calories come from grains. Rice, wheat and maize (or corn) are the most widely cultivated crops and have been central to our evolution.

Throughout our history, these three grains have remained as the bedrocks of global diet. They have saved entire nations from starvation and helped to define cultures through their creative use in regional dishes.

Possibly motivated by abrupt changes in the weather, people in the area that is now Syria began cultivating grains more than 10,000 years ago, and these soon became an important source of nutrition. Women, who tended to stay behind and gather plants while the men tracked and hunted, might have led this revolution, either by accident or circumstance. Over time, as farming methods began to evolve, plants developed larger seeds – and bigger harvests. The practice of wheat farming began to spread rapidly across Asia and the Middle East, and reached Spain, India and Ethiopia by 3,000 BC.

By the time wheat, and wheat farming, arrived in China, rice had been the area’s grain of choice for 7,000 years. Its origins go back as far as 10,000 BC China, to the Pearl River valley, and by 5,700 BC, it was widely domesticated and cultivated across India and most of Asia. As the four main types of rice could be grown under different conditions, it was extensively used for food and wine across Asia, contributing to the region’s population growth. The journey of rice from Asia to the Middle East, North Africa and Europe followed the spice routes, as merchants traded goods and ideas.

The trajectory of wheat and rice continued across the oceans, as Spanish conquistadores took the grains with them to the Americas in the 15th century. In Central America, Spaniards discovered Mayans had their own staple grain: corn. As with wheat and rice, corn had evolved in shape and size over the millennia transformed the Mayan diet and culture: it had given them the calories they needed to grow healthier, stronger and smarter through a variety of dishes, but especially corn bread and corn tortillas. After the arrival of the Spanish, wheat and rice were cultivated all over the Americas, while corn was taken back to Europe – the rest, as they say, is history.

Louis Dreyfus Company trades and transports rice, wheat and corn, among other grain varieties, helping to provide millions of people with the key ingredient that their ancestors started to farm thousands of years ago.


You may read more about our activities in Grains here.


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