A History of Grains 🌾🧺

A History of Grains 🌾🧺

Humans get an average of 48% of their energy from food from grains. Grains, the harvested seeds of wheat, oat, rice, and other grass plants, are the common staple foods on Earth.  


Historians suspect that people first began eating grains about 75,000 years ago in western Asia. Among the first grains were einkorn and emmer -- the ancient ancestors of wheat. Einkorn, “mother” wheat, and emmer, a hybrid of einkorn, grew naturally near river banks, so while humans harvested these grasses, they did not go as far as to domesticate and cultivate them. 

It wasn’t until many millennia later, in the fertile crescent, that humans began domesticating and cultivating grain plants. In 2009 scientists announced their discovery of the world’s oldest grain silos, a structure used in agriculture to store grains. This grain silos, discovered in what is now modern day Jordan, dates back to 11,000 years ago and contains remnants of barley and an ancestor of wheat. . And in 2007 scientists discovered the world’s oldest known rice paddy field dating back to 8,000 years ago. Elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East, and around the world, is other evidence of ancient farms where ancient human sowed cereal grains

Ancient humans ate their grains in similar ways to how we do today. Flour was made and breads were baked from wheat grains. Rice was steamed and eaten hot or cold, alongside tofu, beans, corn, and other legumes. Oats were mashed with water or milk to make oatmeal. Beer, though less alcoholic and more carbohydrate-heavy than the beers brewed today, were made from grain such as barley. Further, grains were so vital to the prosperity of ancient civilizations, that in many grains were considered as wages or forms of currency. Some sources prove that many of the workers who built Egypt’s pyramids at Giza, were often paid in bread and beer. 


Cypriot terracotta scultpure from 600-480 B.C.


The Romans are generally credited with being the first to turn grinding grain into an industry. Their mills, while still made of stone, were much larger affairs than the typical household mills, and with greater outputs. Draft animals or slaves were used to operate these mills. Cereal is named after Ceres, the Roman goddess of growing plants, particularly cereals (grains). 

At some point before milling became an industry, it was discovered that less-coarse flour could be obtained by sifting ground grains. Baskets or sieves were lined with woven horsehair or papyrus. When flour was sifted through them, the coarser bran particles were left in the sieve, while the flour that went through the sieve was much finer in texture. Eventually, the Romans used linen to sift their flour; one Antiphanes writes about commercial baking with sifted flour about 350 B.C.E. However, the process of sifting, which required more time and materials than regular meal or flour, meant that sifted flour was expensive, and only the wealthy could afford bread made with it. As might be expected, this “refined,” sifted flour, which was of a lighter color than the darker bran, became a status symbol.

In Roman times, sifting was invented, creating white bread. It became an immediate status symbol, since sifted flour was more expensive and thus, only the wealthy ate white bread.  Bread made from unrefined, unsifted flour was thought suitable only for the lower classes, slaves and, interestingly, athletes. By 50 C.E., bread made from sifted flour was being produced on a large commercial scale through much of the Mediterranean. Incidentally, although this flour had been “refined,” it was a far cry from the bleached, ultra-refined white flour that pervades our society. Gradually, the milling process itself became “refined,” especially through developments such as watermills and windmills, which required neither animal nor human power to operate.


Workers cradling grain sometime around the turn of the last century.


Still, the milling process remained largely unchanged until the invention of the roller mill in the early 1870s. Roller mills, usually made of steel, operate at high speed and high temperatures. The huge quantities of flour (far lighter in color) that can be produced by these mills meant that refined flour was no longer a luxury product for the wealthy. With the invention of the roller mill, refined flour became available to the masses in industrialized nations.

Despite grains being an important source of energy for humans, and their domestication and cultivation vital for human civilization, grains are high in carbohydrates, sugars. A grain-heavy diet, similar to a high sugar diet, can have many negative health consequences.  Lets see how Rip Van Wafels compare to some of the top selling grain bars...


At Rip Van Wafels, we set out to do one thing and one thing only: to improve people’s lives by inventing better, more convenient food. We want to challenge ourselves to push past the final frontier of food, to constantly change, and to find the next, best way to make incredibly tasty snacks. While plenty of brands claim to use the healthiest ingredients and the freshest sources, we’ve incorporated those values into the very core of our daily practices as a business.

Other big brands don’t care as much about reducing the high amounts of sugar and empty calories in their snacks as we do. We’re 100% committed to bringing you a better snack, one that’s low in sugar and uniquely amazing.

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