A staple food is a food that is "eaten regularly and in such quantities as to constitute the dominant part of the diet and supply a major proportion of energy and nutrient needs." Staple foods vary from place to place, but are typically inexpensive or readily-available foods that supply one or more of the three macronutrients needed for survival and health: carbohydrate, protein, and fat, such as grains, tubers, legumes, or seeds. The staple food of a specific society may be eaten as often as every day, or every meal. Early civilizations valued staple foods because, in addition to providing necessary nutrition, they can usually be stored for a long period of time without decay.
Most staple foods derive either from cereals such as wheat, barley, rye, maize, or rice, or starchy root vegetables such as potatoes, yams, taro, and cassava. Other staple foods include pulses (dried legumes), sago (derived from the pith of the sago palm tree), and fruits such as breadfruit and plantains. Staple foods may also contain, depending on the region, amaranth, olive oil, coconut oil and sugar.
Rice is most commonly eaten as cooked entire grains, but most other cereals are milled into flour or meal which is used to make bread; noodles or other pasta; and porridges and "mushes" such as polenta or mealie pap. Mashed root vegetables can be used to make similar porridge-like dishes, including poi and fufu. Pulses (particularly chickpeas) and starchy root vegetables, such as Canna, can also be made into flour.
Although nutritious, staple foods generally do not by themselves provide a full range of nutrients, so other foods need to be added to the diet to prevent malnutrition. For example, the deficiency disease pellagra is associated with a diet consisting primarily of maize, and beriberi with a diet of white (i.e., refined) rice.
It has been hypothesized that some staple foods may act as a Giffen good in conditions of extreme poverty. This was first noted by Robert Giffen who argued that potato demand actually rose during the Great Irish Famine (1845-1849). While theoretically possible, this is a controversial view among economists as studies have failed to find much evidence of Giffen good behaviour in actual markets. Recently, however, Robert Jensen and Nolan Miller found convincing evidence from field experiments on wheat and rice consumption in China.
|Synopsis of staple food ~composition:||Amaranth||Wheat||Rice||Sweetcorn||Potato|
|Component (per 100g portion)||Amount||Amount||Amount||Amount||Amount|
|panthothenic acid (mg)||1.5||0.1||1.0||0.7||0.3|