cereal is the most important cereal crop in the world and ubiquitous in our culture. An ancient grain thought to have originated in southwest Asia, wheat has been consumed as a food for more than 12,000 years. Since times immemorial, it has played an important role in religion and was a part of sacred rituals in many cultures around the world. Still considered as a sacred crop in some areas of China, wheat occupies an important mention in Greek, Roman, Sumerian and Finnish mythologies.

It is believed that wheat developed from a type of wild grass native to the arid lands of Asia Minor. Cultivation of wheat is believed to have originated in the Euphrates Valley around 10,000 B.C. making it one of the world's oldest cereal crops. In the Mediterranean region, wheat was considered an important food. Wheat played such a dominant role in the Roman Empire that at the time it often was referred to as a 'Wheat Empire.

Though not native to the Western Hemisphere, wheat was introduced in the region in the late 15th century when Columbus came to the New World. Though grown in the United States during the early colonial years, it was not until the late 19th century that wheat cultivation flourished. Russian Federation, the United States, China, India, France and Canada dominate as the largest commercial producers of wheat in the world. Well suited to a wide range of climates and soil conditions, the production of wheat is so widespread that it is being harvested somewhere or the other in the world in any given month. But wheat grows best in regions having temperate climates with rainfall between 12 and 36 inches per year.

Wheat is found in three basic strains: hard or winter wheat, soft wheat and durum. While hard wheat is used in bread making, soft wheat is used in making pastries and durum for pasta. The various forms in which wheat is available are:

WHEAT BERRIES: Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels that have not been milled, polished, or heat treated. Brown in colour and nearly round in appearance, wheat berries have a nut-like flavour and can be used for grain-based main dishes, served as a side dish, or added to soups and yeast-bread doughs.

CRACKED WHEAT: They are wheat berries that have been ground into coarse, medium, and fine granulations for faster cooking. Commonly used as a breakfast cereal, mix it into baked goods, or substitute it for bulgur in tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern cold grain salad and other main dishes.

BULGUR: A processed form of cracked wheat, bulgur is steamed, hulled and cracked wheat berries. Bulgur requires less cooking time than cracked wheat. It can also be cooked by soaking, without heat.

WHEAT FLAKES: These are whole wheat berries that have been flattened between rollers. Rolled wheat flakes resemble rolled oats, but are thicker and firmer; you
can add them to baked goods or cook them as hot cereal.

They appear as tiny grains and is made from refined durum wheat.
WHEAT GERM: Wheat germ contains a fair amount of polyunsaturated fat, deriving 25% of its calories from fat. Wheat germ is a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin E, folate, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. One-quarter cup supplies 8 gm of protein and almost 4 gm of dietary fibre.

WHEAT BRAN: A nutritional storehouse, wheat bran is the outer layer of the grain. It offers a considerable amount of dietary fibre along with magnesium and selenium. Wheat, in its natural unrefined state, features a host of important nutrients. In order to achieve benefit from the wholesomeness of wheat it is important to choose wheat products made from whole wheat flour rather than those that are refined and stripped off their natural goodness. The health benefits of wheat depend entirely on the form in which it is eaten. Whole wheat contains vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron and fibre. A fibre-rich diet primarily composed of whole wheat breads, cereals high in bran and supplemental millers bran alleviate the symptoms of diverticular disease (pain, nausea, flatulence, distension, constipation, etc.). According to a recent research reported at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer, whole wheat contain many powerful phytonutrients required for the proper functioning of the body. Eating whole wheat has also been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity and premature death. It is observed that refined grains and the foods made from them (e.g., white breads, cookies, pastries, pasta and rice) are linked not only to weight gain but to increased risk of insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome. Wholegrain foods protect against all these ills. Some common features of the metabolic syndrome include obesity, low levels of protective HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high blood pressure.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, eating foods high in insoluble fibre, such as cereals and breads made from whole wheat, can help women avoid gallstones. Whole grains such as wheat contain lignans, which are phytochemicals that act as weak hormone-like substances. By accelerating the metabolism of estrogen and occupying estrogen receptors in the body, lignans appear to have a dual function in protecting women against breast cancer. Besides, wheat bran is also believed to function as an anti-cancer agent. Wheat bran is thought to accelerate the metabolism of estrogen that is a known promoter of breast cancer. The bran from wheat reduces the concen colon cancer.

Rightly deserving its 'health food' reputation, wheat is the vitamin and mineral rich embryo of the wheat kernel that is removed during the refining of whole wheat grains to white flour. Packed with important B vitamins, such as folate, thiamin, and vitamin B6, and the minerals zinc, magnesium, and manganese, wheat germ is a top-notch food that can incorporated casseroles, muffins, and pancakes or sprinkled over cereal or yogurt. Perhaps no oil is as harmless to the body as wheat germ oil. In general, wheat germ oil contains fat, a white alcohol called octacosanol, and vitamin E as well as other vitamins and minerals. Wheat germ has high oil content, and subsequently a high amount of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the oil in the wheat germ from quickly becoming rancid. Vitamin E functions in a similar manner as a fat-soluble antioxidant in the human body where it helps protect cell membranes, brain cells, and fatty molecules such as cholesterol from damage by free radicals.

Wheat grass also contains phytonutrients and is believed to increase energy levels in the body, cleanses the blood and increases red blood cell count, stimulates metabolism, helps in rapid absorption and assimilation of nutrients by your body. The high alkalinity of wheat grass helps neutralise acids and toxins in the body.

Given that wheat is a storehouse of almost all nutrition-benefits, it is rightly described as the ultimate promoter of health. Wheat, the staple of a large majority has been evolved over centuries for taste, for nutrition, for ecological adaptation to cold climates and hot climates, dry regions and wet regions. What a better reason to explain its name the golden grain.