Cereals vs Pulses

Team Biology at Examples.com
Created by: Team Biology at Examples.com, Last Updated: July 9, 2024

Cereals vs Pulses

Cereals and pulses are fundamental to global diets, each providing unique nutritional benefits. Cereals, such as wheat, rice, and corn, are rich in carbohydrates, offering the primary energy source for daily activities. They also contribute essential vitamins, minerals, and fibers. On the other hand, pulses, including lentils, beans, and chickpeas, are excellent protein sources, making them vital for muscle repair and growth. Additionally, pulses are high in dietary fiber and micronutrients, which enhance digestive health and prevent chronic diseases. This article explores the distinct roles and nutritional profiles of cereals and pulses, shedding light on their importance in a balanced diet.


Cereals are grasses cultivated for the edible starch components of their grain (botanically, a type of fruit called a caryopsis). The grain itself consists of three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Cereals are primarily valued for their carbohydrate content, which provides a significant energy source in diets worldwide. Common cereals include wheat, rice, maize (corn), barley, and oats. These crops are staples in many diets and form the foundation of food security for billions of people, used in a variety of foods from breads to cereals and pastas.

Examples of Cereals

Cereals are primarily carbohydrate-rich grains that are a staple in many global cuisines:

  1. Wheat – Used for bread, pasta, and many baked goods.
  2. Rice – A staple in Asian cuisine, available in varieties like white, brown, and basmati.
  3. Corn (Maize) – Consumed on the cob, processed into flour, or used in cereals.
  4. Barley – Often used in soups, stews, and for brewing beer.
  5. Oats – Commonly eaten as porridge and used in granola and oatmeal cookies.
  6. Sorghum – Used in porridges, flours, and animal feed.
  7. Millet – Used in porridges and traditional dishes in Asia and Africa.
  8. Rye – Used for rye bread and some types of whiskey.


Pulses, on the other hand, are the edible seeds of leguminous plants and are typically low in fat and rich in protein, fiber, and essential nutrients. They include all beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. Unlike cereals, pulses have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, thus improving soil fertility. This makes them valuable in crop rotation and sustainable farming practices. Pulses are especially important in vegetarian and vegan diets as a major protein source but also serve to enhance biodiversity in food systems and reduce dependency on synthetic fertilizers.

Examples of Pulses

Pulses are known for their high protein content and are vital in plant-based diets:

  1. Lentils – Available in several varieties and used in dishes like dal and salads.
  2. Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans) – Used to make hummus and in curries.
  3. Black Beans – Common in Latin American cuisines, used in soups, stews, and as a side dish.
  4. Kidney Beans – Often used in chili and as a staple in Indian rajma.
  5. Peas – Includes split peas used in soups and mushy peas.
  6. Pinto Beans – A staple in Mexican dishes, used in refried beans and burritos.
  7. Navy Beans – Commonly used in baked beans and soups.
  8. Fava Beans (Broad beans) – Used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Differences Between Cereals and Pulses

Differences Between Cereals and Pulses
DefinitionCereals are grasses cultivated for the edible components of their grain.Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family.
TypesWheat, rice, corn, barley, oats, rye, millet.Lentils, chickpeas, beans (kidney, black, pinto), peas, soybeans.
Primary NutrientsHigh in carbohydrates; provide energy.High in protein; support muscle growth and repair.
Fiber ContentGenerally lower in fiber compared to pulses.Higher in fiber, which aids in digestion and prolonged satiety.
Fat ContentLow in fat.Relatively higher in fat, but mostly contains healthy fats.
Usage in DietOften consumed as primary energy sources in meals; ground into flour for bread.Commonly used in diets as a protein source or meat alternative.
Caloric ContentHigher in calories due to carbohydrate density.Lower in calories but higher in nutrients per calorie.
Cooking TimeVaries from quick-cooking (rice, oats) to longer-cooking (barley, millet).Generally requires longer cooking times, especially beans and chickpeas.
Cultural SignificanceStaple in many cultures, often associated with traditional dishes.Also a staple, especially in vegetarian diets; key in many cultural dishes.
Health BenefitsProvides essential vitamins (B vitamins), minerals (iron, magnesium).Rich in B vitamins, iron, potassium; promotes heart health, reduces cholesterol.
Glycemic IndexGenerally higher, which can affect blood sugar levels.Lower, beneficial for blood sugar control.
Allergenic PotentialSome cereals like wheat can be allergenic (gluten).Generally hypoallergenic, although soybeans are an exception.
Environmental ImpactTypically requires more water and agrochemicals.Uses less water and fixes nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for fertilizers.
Economic CostOften cheaper and more readily available globally.Can be more expensive due to lower yields and higher processing costs.
Shelf LifeLong shelf life; can be stored safely for extended periods.Also has a long shelf life, especially when dry, but susceptible to pests.
Protein QualityLower in essential amino acids.Contains a higher proportion of essential amino acids.
Versatility in CookingUsed in a variety of forms: whole, flaked, flour, etc.Used whole, split, or ground into flour; versatile in dishes like soups and stews.
Impact on Soil HealthCan deplete soil nutrients without proper crop rotation.Improves soil health by fixing nitrogen, promoting sustainable farming practices.

Key Similarities Between Cereals and Pulses

Cereals and pulses are integral components of the global diet, each playing a vital role in nutrition and agriculture. Despite their differences, these two groups of crops share several important similarities that are crucial for both human consumption and ecological sustainability.

Botanical Classification

Both cereals and pulses belong to the larger group known as angiosperms, or flowering plants. More specifically, cereals and pulses are classified under the division of Magnoliophyta and class Magnoliopsida. This botanical kinship highlights their shared characteristics and evolutionary paths.

Role in Agriculture

Cereals and pulses are primarily cultivated for their edible seeds, which have been a staple in human diets for millennia. They are grown extensively worldwide and are considered essential for food security. Both groups of crops are pivotal in crop rotation practices, which help in managing soil fertility and reducing pest and disease cycles.

Nutritional Content

Cereals and pulses complement each other nutritionally, which is why they are often consumed together. Cereals, such as wheat, rice, and corn, are high in carbohydrates and provide a significant amount of energy. Pulses, including lentils, beans, and peas, are rich in protein, fiber, and essential nutrients like iron and zinc. This complementary nature makes them a balanced source of nutrition, especially in regions where meat is scarce or expensive.


Both cereals and pulses are recognized for their sustainability:

  • Water Usage: Pulses generally require less water compared to cereals, making them particularly valuable in arid regions. However, both are considered more sustainable than animal farming in terms of water efficiency.
  • Soil Health: Pulses have a unique ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, thereby enriching the soil, which benefits cereal crops in rotation schemes.
  • Carbon Footprint: The cultivation of both cereals and pulses has a lower greenhouse gas emission compared to meat production, contributing to more sustainable food production systems.

Culinary Uses

Globally, cereals and pulses are used extensively in a variety of culinary traditions. They are versatile and can be processed into various forms – ground into flour, cooked whole, or used as a base for soups and stews. This adaptability makes them staples in kitchens around the world, featuring prominently in dishes from porridge and bread to dal and hummus.

Economic Importance

Economically, both cereals and pulses are vital. They are traded globally, impacting economies and livelihoods. Countries depend on the production and export of these crops for economic stability. Moreover, they are often more affordable than other sources of protein and carbohydrates, making them accessible to various income levels.


What is the difference between pulses and cereals?

Pulses are dried seeds of legumes, rich in protein, while cereals are grains primarily rich in carbohydrates, such as wheat and rice.

Are oats cereals or pulses?

Oats are cereals. They belong to the grass family and are consumed as grains. They’re rich in fiber and nutrients.

What is the difference between cereals and grains?

Cereals are a subset of grains. Grains encompass cereals like wheat, rice, oats, along with others like barley and millet.

What are 10 examples of pulses?

  1. Lentils
  2. Chickpeas
  3. Peas
  4. Kidney beans
  5. Black beans
  6. Mung beans
  7. Soybeans
  8. Pigeon peas
  9. Black-eyed peas
  10. Fava beans

Are chickpeas a pulse?

Yes, chickpeas are pulses. They’re seeds of the chickpea plant, rich in protein, fiber, and various nutrients, commonly used in cooking worldwide.

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