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Historically, wheat has been ground into bread, while rice has been boiled and consumed in "granular" form. Corn has been consumed both ways, "on the cob," and in corn bread.

Why is that?

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IMO it must have to do with preservation. If wheat gets wet, it will quickly start to rot. My own kitchen experience suggests that this is not the case for rice, which normally will just dry up again: after all, rice grows in ponds of water. –  Drux Mar 16 '13 at 5:54
Cereals like barley and oats were often consumed boiled; this became less popular after potato appeared. The problem is the hard crust, which needs to be removed first, and the result is kasha. With wheat there is another problem - too much gluten. The boiled whole-seed wheat kasha would be chocking and nearly non-chewable, in my opinion. The actual wheat kasha (farina) is fine-ground and watered down to the point when it becomes edible but loses almost all of the "cereal" taste. Bread requires more work but tastes much better. –  kubanczyk Mar 16 '13 at 14:14
@Kubancyk: That's a good comment. Please make it an answer. –  Tom Au Mar 16 '13 at 16:47
Wheat has been made into noodles... –  Russell Mar 19 '13 at 8:03
"while rice has been boiled and consumed in "granular" form" is not the only way. Its been consumed as Dosas, Idlis, Papads, solid tubes of gelatinous rice, - there's got to be at least a 100 different rice foods in India alone. –  Rajib Apr 16 at 18:49

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Wheat has often been eaten boiled whole or cracked, whether called bulgar or frumenty/frumentee. Frumenty was a common street-peddlar food in Western Europe up into the 1800s. (Hale, Horizon History of Eating and Drinking)

I'm used to eating mochi rice as boiled or baked dumplings or cakes. There's rice noodles, too, all very traditional.

So it's not really divided the way you think it is. You just have a limited food experience.

The real difference here is that wheat can develop gluten protein in a way most grains can't. This gluten allows bread to be raised and develop its breadlike texture. Most other grains can only be made into flatbreads.

As for cornbread, I checked Homemade Bread by the Food Editors of Farm Journal and, except for Anadama Batter Bread, all corn bread is made with wheat flour flavored with corn meal. Rye bread is rye-flavored wheat bread &c.

Ah, The American Woman's Cookbook 1943 gives us a Southern Cornbread that relies on stiffly beaten egg white to make it less than leaden. Ditto the Southern Spoon Bread. Not so the johnnycake, and you know the rhyme about that.

EDIT: Sorry, guess this is a New England thing. "Pea soup and johnnycake Make a Frenchman's belly ache." I seem to have inherited my Francophone grandmama's digestion and don't like either. But the rhyme was saying neither was delicate food.

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Excuse my ignorance, but I'm afraid I don't know the rhyme. Could you add it? –  jamesqf Apr 15 at 21:18

From comment to answer:

The starch and protein (e.g. gluten) content and composition of each grain types are different, even between different wheat types. For example, most wheat types of middle ages in Europe did not contain enough gluten and were not suitable to prepare bread! Wheat was often eaten cooked as polente or with water similar way as outmeal, instead of bread, depending on region and the type of wheat there.

Even nowadays bread-flour (hard flour)is made from a given, high protein content wheat, while other wheat types used for other meals (e.g. durum for pasta).

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