Rice is the seed of the monocot plants Oryza sativa (Asian rice) or Oryza glaberrima (African rice). As a cereal grain, it is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in Asia. It is the grain with the second-highest worldwide production, after corn, according to data for 2010.
Since a large portion of maize crops are grown for purposes other than human consumption, rice is the most important grain with regard to human nutrition and caloric intake, providing more than one fifth of the calories consumed worldwide by humans.
Chinese legends attribute the domestication of rice to Shennong, the legendary Emperor of China and inventor of Chinese agriculture. Genetic evidence has shown that rice originates from a single domestication 8,200–13,500 years ago in the Pearl River valley region of China. Previously, archaeological evidence had suggested that rice was domesticated in the Yangtze River valley region in China. From East Asia, rice was spread to Southeast and South Asia. Rice was introduced to Europe through Western Asia, and to the Americas through European colonization.
There are many varieties of rice and culinary preferences tend to vary regionally. In some areas such as the Far East or Spain, there is a preference for softer and stickier varieties.
Rice is normally grown as an annual plant, although in tropical areas it can survive as a perennial and can produce a ratoon crop for up to 30 years. The rice plant can grow to 1–1.8 m (3.3–5.9 ft) tall, occasionally more depending on the variety and soil fertility. It has long, slender leaves 50–100 cm (20–39 in) long and 2–2.5 cm (0.79–0.98 in) broad. The small wind-pollinated flowers are produced in a branched arching to pendulous inflorescence 30–50 cm (12–20 in) long. The edible seed is a grain (caryopsis) 5–12 mm (0.20–0.47 in) long and 2–3 mm (0.079–0.118 in) thick.
A cereal is a grass, a member of the monocot family Poaceae, cultivated for the edible components of its grain (botanically, a type of fruit called a caryopsis), composed of the endosperm, germ, and bran. Cereal grains are grown in greater quantities and provide more food energy worldwide than any other type of crop; they are therefore staple crops.
In their natural form (as in whole grain), they are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, oils, and protein. However, when refined by the removal of the bran and germ, the remaining endosperm is mostly carbohydrate and lacks the majority of the other nutrients. In some developing nations, grain in the form of rice, wheat, millet, or maize constitutes a majority of daily sustenance. In developed nations, cereal consumption is moderate and varied but still substantial.
The word cereal derives from Ceres, the name of the Roman goddess of harvest and agriculture.