Grains vs. Seeds?

January 13, 2010 Every once in a while, I find myself in an interesting position – trying to explain something that I know is undeniably true, so much so that I don't often think about what makes it, well, true.  Tell me if this sounds familiar.  You know something, let’s say it’s gravity.  It exists, it’s real, you can’t deny it.  But how do you explain what gravity is?  Why do we have gravity?  You can start with “Gravity is a force of attraction that exists between any two masses,” and maybe throw in the fact that gravity here on Earth is the force of attraction between the mass of the Earth and bodies near its surface.  You could explain that gravity depends on both the mass of something and how close or far from that mass a secondary object is, which is why gravity on Earth can make us fall on our faces when we trip, but we don’t get yanked off the planet by the sun while we're briefly airborne.

But does any of that really answer the question?  Not really.  Those answers sum things up fairly well, but to really understand gravity, you’d probably need to break out some physics equations, explain a bunch of terms like matter and mass, and maybe even talk a bit about the solar system and its place in the universe.  All that, just to explain why we’re still standing on the planet!

Explaining the difference between grains and seeds can sometimes feel like that.  I’ve found the best place to start is to explain that seeds and grains are different from a botanical standpoint.  The whole grains we feature on our website, those that consumers are most familiar with, are cereal grasses from family Poaceae – think Kingdom, Phylum (or Division), Class, Order, Family, Genius, Species.  So we’re not discriminating against seeds like flax (family Linaceae) when we say flax isn’t a grain.  It would be like arguing that your house cat has a walrus for a cousin – same order (Carnivora), different families.  Blame it on Mother Nature (or check it out for yourself here).  The next question is usually, What about pseudocereals like amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat?  These broad-leaf plants might be from different classes (Magnoliopsida, while family Poaceae stems from class Liliopsida), but grains from these plants are not only similar in nutrition profile, they’ve also been used for thousands of years in much the same way as cereal grains.  Now you can blame it on Mother Nature and human evolution!

This confusion between grains and seeds is always clearest to me when I’m reading the ingredient statement for a “multiple grain” product in the grocery store, such as five-grain crackers.  I’m expecting to see at least five different grains in those crackers, so imagine my surprise if the ingredient list reads: Whole wheat flour, quinoa flakes, ground flaxseeds, brown rice flour, sunflower seeds, oil, salt.  What did I miss?  Where are those two other grains hiding?  This is a hypothetical product, of course, but seeds and grains are grouped together under the “grain” umbrella so frequently that I wouldn’t be surprised if some day it is a real product.  Tasty though that cracker may be, it wouldn’t be a five-grain cracker any more than your cat is a walrus.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of multi-grain products that use *gasp* multiple types of grains, but there are also multi-grain products that use multiple forms of the same grain type (i.e., whole wheat flour, wheat flour, wheat flakes, wheat bran) and count them separately.  That confuses me almost as much as calling a seed a grain does.

Well, we’ve gone from gravity to grains to seeds to walruses, and what have we learned?  Grains and seeds are related, but seeds aren’t grains.  Gravity is more than a good idea, it’s a law.  And I wouldn’t recommend bringing your cat to the beach; he might be from order Carnivora, but that doesn’t make him a water-loving walrus.  (Kara)


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Grains vs Seeds

Your explanation seems to just beat around the bush, but not clarify anything. In my mind, a grain is a seed of certain plants and a seed from any plant other than those certain plants are not grains. Now the question is which plants belong to the group whose seeds are called grains? Grasses, of course. Any others?

Thanks - that was my

Thanks - that was my perspective. The differentiation is silly - it is simply based on different types of plants rather than a fundamental difference in plant parts. I am disappointed.... The same issue is - why is a tomato a fruit rather than a vegetable. What is a vegetable and what is a fruit? We need to look at respective plant parts. Why is a Zuchini or any other squash a vegetable - it includes both the seeds and the seed carrying material - no different than say a banana....