Cuisine varies greatly around the world, but the basic ingredients that sustain humans are pretty similar. We eat a lot of corn, wheat, rice and other simple crops.Read on to find out which foods top the list of most important worldwide, listed by annual production and average yield in 2008.
Annual Production 2008: 34,343,343 tons
Average Yield 2008: 6.3 tons/hectare
The rundown: Despite its similar look to the banana, plantains differ from bananas in structure, feel, taste and use. Plantains are starchier and lower in sugar than bananas, and they are cooked before eating. Overall worldwide production of plantains have been dropping since the 1970s, thanks to soil degradation, pests, drought and poor crop husbandry. They are a good source of potassium and dietary fibre.
Annual Production 2008: 51,728,233 tons
Average Yield 2008: 10.5 tons/hectare
The rundown: Most yams are produced in West and Central Africa, with Nigeria far and away the biggest producer in the world. Yams are the first harvested crop of the year, which marks the beginning of several Yams Festivals throughout Africa. They can get up to almost five feet in length.
Annual Production 2008: 65,534,273 tons
Average Yield 2008: 1.5 tons/hectare
Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop worldwide. It is drought and heat tolerant and thus an important crop in arid regions where major cereals do not produce sufficient yields. Consumption of sorghum, however, has decreased considerably in many African countries, especially in urban areas. (Source: Reuters)
The rundown: Arid regions love sorghum, a heat and drought-resistant crop. Though overall consumption of sorghum has gone down in many African countries, it's still considered the fifth most important cereal crop globally. Sorghum bicolor is the name of the edible plant -- it has other, wilder relatives that are grown as foliage.
Annual Production 2008: 110,128,298 tons
Average Yield 2008: 13.5 tons/hectare
The rundown: Sweet potatoes are another crop native to South America that is now majorly produced by China. They are only distantly related to regular potatoes, and in the U.S. they are often confused with yams. Sweet potatoes are a great source of protein, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium. They grow very harmoniously with the earth -- few natural enemies make pesticides unnecessary.
Annual Production 2008: 230,952,636 tons
Average Yield 2008: 2.4 tons/hectare
The rundown: Soybeans are on double duty as both nutritious for humans -- with significant amino acids, protein and oil -- and for soil as a natural fertiliser. It produces twice as much protein per acre as any other major vegetable crop. Supply is far outweighed by demand for this energizer bean.
Annual Production 2008: 232,950,180 tons
Average Yields 2008: 12.5 tons/hectare
The rundown: Cassava's importance in Africa and South America can not be overstated. As a drought-resistant crop that does well in poor soils, cassava is a starch-heavy lifesaver for low-income areas. Cassava eaters know that the roots and leaves must be cooked in order to lose that toxic level of cyanogenic glucosides.
Annual Production 2008: 314,140,107 tons
Average Yield 2008: 17.2 tons/hectare
The rundown: Potatoes are the number one non-grain food product. Originally grown in the Andes, the Spanish introduced Europe to the potato in the 16th century and the starchy crop hasn't looked back since. China is now the largest potato-producer worldwide.
Annual Production 2008: 685,013,374 tons
Average Yield 2008: 4.3 tons/hectare
The rundown: Rice may be even more important than corn as a food crop, since corn is used for other purposes outside consumption. Thus, rice is the source of more than 1/5th of all calories consumed by humans. It may also be the thirstiest crop: according to the U.N., farmers need at least 2,000 litres of water to make one kilogram of rice.
Annual production 2008: 689,945,712 tons
Average Yield 2008: 3.1 tons/hectare
The rundown: Wheat covers more of the earth than any other crop. It's a resilient crop, growing in the dry and cold climates where rice and corn cannot. Wheat is the leading source of vegetable protein for humans worldwide.
Annual Production 2008: 822,712,527 tons
Average Yield 2008: 5.1 tons/hectare
The rundown: Corn is the most produced grain in the world. It's a staple food for the majority of sub-Saharan Africa, and is a great source of carbohydrates, protein, iron, vitamin B, and minerals. Plus it is being used more and more for ethanol.
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