What Is Cereal?

Mark Wollacott

Cereal is a kind of grain used for making human and animal food. All are forms of edible grasses grown around the world in a variety of climates and soils. The term comes from the Roman Goddess Ceres, who was aligned with the yearly harvest, but it is often more closely associated with breakfast cereals such as cornflakes and puffed rice. These grains are processed into a wide variety of products including breads, cakes, desserts, and other meals.

The most common form of cereal is corn flakes or puffed rice.
The most common form of cereal is corn flakes or puffed rice.

All cereals are wholegrain and are divided into large-seed cereals, grown in fields or in water paddies, and small-grain millets. Whole grains include maize/corn, wheat, barley, and oats. These grains are divided into three parts. The first part is the bran, which is an outer layer that contains fiber and vitamins. The second layer is the starch-filled center, the endosperm, and the final layer is the small germ, which is filled with vitamin E, phosphorus, and magnesium.

The term cereal is closely associated with breakfast cereal, a common meal to consume early in the day.
The term cereal is closely associated with breakfast cereal, a common meal to consume early in the day.

In old and Middle English, the word for all crops was "corn." This word has since come to be used in America as a term for sweet corn, or maize. Maize usually is consumed without milling, so it retains much of its nutrients and remains high in dietary fiber. It usually is turned into food products such as pop corn, corn on the cob, cornflakes, and puffed maize. It is a staple food of many countries, including those in Latin America and North America.

Barley can be ground up and combined with other ingredients to produce grain-based foods like cereal.
Barley can be ground up and combined with other ingredients to produce grain-based foods like cereal.

Wheat, oats, and barley were the predominant cereals in Europe before the introduction of rice and corn from Asia and America, respectively. Wheat usually is milled and turned into bread. Oats can be combined with hot milk to make porridges and oatmeal, which are often combined with sugar or honey for extra flavor. Barley grows in diverse climates and is used for a variety of foods, and in Britain, it is combined with fruit squashes to make a healthy drink.

Barley, is a common type of cereal grain.
Barley, is a common type of cereal grain.

Rice is cultivated throughout Asia and is the predominant cereal of countries such as Japan, China, Korea and Thailand. It is a simple staple that is cooked in a variety of ways, such as the fried bibimbap of Korea and bowls of sticky boiled rice in Japan that are eaten with miso soup and fried tonkatsu. Rice also is turned into bread and cakes or turned into desserts such as rice pudding. It is grown all over the world in a variety of climates, and its nutritional value depends on the quality of soil in which it is grown.

Many cereals are derivatives of corn meal, or maize (sweet corn).
Many cereals are derivatives of corn meal, or maize (sweet corn).

Millets are a small seed cereal grown mostly in South Asia. Often used for fodder, many are also used to make human food products. Ragi is good for fiber and cellulose, and it is used in breads, pastes and ragi balls. Bajra is a millet similar to wheat in many ways, and it is used for rotis.

Whole grains are considered a healthy and vital element of a daily diet within many cultures. Cereals are high in carbohydrates and form one of the best providers of energy. They also contain elements such as magnesium, phosphorus, and iron. The grains also are recommended as agents of digestion. They do not, however, provide enough nutrients to sustain life and must be combined with other foods to avoid malnutrition and diseases.

Oatmeal is made from oats, a type of cereal grain.
Oatmeal is made from oats, a type of cereal grain.

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Discussion Comments


In the winter I love eating a bowl of warm cereal in the morning. When I am in a hurry I eat the oatmeal that comes in the little individual packets. It only takes a minute or so to heat up the water in the microwave.

On the weekends I may take the time to make this on the stove. I like to add walnuts and raisins to my oatmeal cereal.


@SarahSon -- Yes, there are a lot of sugary cereals out there that don't have much nutrition at all. When I was a kid I remember those were the cereals I wanted to eat, but now I have switched to those that are wholegrain.

I like to make my own granola cereal which is full of oats and nuts. This is a cereal that has a lot of protein and fiber in it. I can take this granola cereal mix and make bars with it or eat it as cold cereal.

With a little bit of almond milk poured over the top I feel like I am getting a good meal. I realize you can't just live on cereal, but it is a staple at my house.


I love just about any kind of cereal, and can have it for any meal of the day. My usual breakfast is a bowl of cereal. It is easy, quick and keeps me full until noon.

On busy nights when I get home late and don't feel like cooking, I often pour myself a bowl of cereal. Many times I add fresh fruit which adds some more nutrition. I keep a variety of cereal in my cupboard and like to buy high fiber cereals that are good for me.


One of the first solid foods my kids ate was Cheerios cereal. I packed these in little containers and used them as a snack, or to keep them busy and quiet during church. I always used the unsweetened variety for them. Now they have a lot of other choices to choose from and they are a lot sweeter. Once kids start eating the sweet cereals, it is hard to get them to go back to the unsweetened ones.


I didn't know that rice was considered cereal! I eat more cereal than I thought, then.

I love rice pudding. My mother makes it with raisins and brown sugar, and I could eat it any time of day or night. It doesn't take much of this stuff to fill me up, though.

I also love eating fried rice. I season it with teriyaki sauce and black pepper.


I would rather eat hot oatmeal than cereal with milk for breakfast. Oatmeal is just more filling, and a hot breakfast on a cold morning is unbeatable.

I use quick oats, so all I have to do is boil them in water for one minute. Then, I add a spoon of sugar and some blueberries for flavor. Oatmeal and blueberries go so well together.

I've also been known to add apples and cinnamon. Actual chunks of apple are better than apple cinnamon flavored oatmeal, in my opinion.


@OeKc05 – Yes, but whole grain cereal tastes yucky to me! I have to add sugar to it just to be able to eat it, so it kind of defeats the purpose.

I do like eating granola bars, though. They are just full of whole grains, but they also contain chocolate chips or dried fruit. Some are even dipped in yogurt, which really sweetens things up.

I feel like these are still good for me, despite the sugar content. There are so many nutritious grains mixed in with the sugar, so it's still better than eating a regular candy bar.


I used to eat a lot of sugary cereal when I was a kid. I've gradually made the transition to healthy cereal, and I feel so much better in the morning after eating it.

Several cereals boast vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, so for me the best way to tell whether or not a cereal is good for me is to check the sugar content. Most multi-grain cereals don't contain a lot of sugar, and I was surprised by how much sugar puffed corn cereal contains.

You really never can tell until you check the nutrition information. The front of the box will do its best to boast about all the redeeming qualities of the cereal, but the facts lie within the side panel.

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