The Most Important & Popular Foods & Crops In The World

In this guide, we look at what the most important agricultural foods and crops in the world might be according to different metrics.

We look at metrics such as the most energy provided to the world population via consumption, the most produced (in terms of quantity), the crops that take up the most cropland, the most valuable in terms of USD (most economic value), and more.

By looking at these metrics and others, we might be able to get a better idea of what the most important and popular agricultural products in the world might be.

 

Summary – Most Important & Popular Foods & Crops In The World

Categorizing Agricultural Food Products

Agricultural food products might be mainly categorized as either animal products, or crops.

Different animal food products might include products like animal meat and dairy (such as cow’s milk)

Different food crops can include cereals and grains, vegetables, fruits and so on.

Some crops are grown specifically for animal feed instead of direct human consumption – this is important to note when considering whether energy goes directly to humans, or whether it goes indirectly to humans via conversion from animal feed to animal meat first.

 

Overall Findings Of The Most Popular & Important Agricultural Food Products & Crops

Grains like rice, maize (corn) and wheat seem to be the most popular and important edible plant based food crops.

Extrapolating out and including animal food and drink products, looking at economic value indicators, cattle meat, pig meat, whole cow’s milk and chicken/poultry meat might be some of the most important animal food products.

Pork, poultry and beef are the most consumed animal meats worldwide

 

General Foods That Provide Most Of The World’s Energy & Protein Intake

Roughly 15 edible plants and 8 animal species are responsible for 90% of humanity’s energy and protein intake.

Rice, maize (corn) and wheat might make up two thirds of this intake.

 

Plant Based Foods/Crops That Provide Most Of The World’s Energy Intake

Different sources indicate that when looking specifically at the world’s plant based energy intake, 15 plant crops provide 90% of the world’s total energy intake.

Wheat, rice and maize (corn) provide about 50 to 70% of that energy alone.

 

Foods That Provide Most Of The Earth’s Food Supply In General

When considering the Earth’s food supply in general, 12 crops and 5 livestock species might be responsible for about three quarters of that supply.

Rice, maize (corn) and wheat might be the staples of about 80% of the world, and rice might feed about half of the world.

 

Most Popular Food Crops

One source indicated that the most popular food crops in the world are grains such as corn, wheat, and rice

 

Main Staple Foods In The Average Diet In Different Countries & Continents

What is important to point out is that the staple foods (foods that make up majority of the food supply or nutrition supply of a population) and food groups that make up different % compositions of the average diet in different countries and regions around the world differs.

Several factors can contribute to this difference.

For example, animal product consumption as a % of the average diet might differ between one country in Africa compared to one country in Europe.

But, these average diet compositions and staple foods can change over time too.

 

Most Produced Crops Worldwide (In Tons)

In terms of metric tonnes produced, the most produced crops in 2012 were maize (corn), rice and wheat (in that order)

They were produced mostly in the US and China. 

 

Crops That Use The Most Square Area Of Cropland Worldwide

Wheat, maize (corn), rice and barley are some of the crops that take up the most square area of crop land in the world

Read further about agricultural land used for livestock and crops worldwide in this guide, and foods and food diet types that use the most land in this guide

 

Highest Economic Value – USD

Rice paddy, cattle meat, pig meat and whole cow’s milk are the most valuable agricultural products worldwide in 2012 – based purely on US economic dollar value

 

Countries That Produce The Most Food

There’s several ways to measure which countries produce the most agricultural products – per tonne, per calorie, per gram of protein, per serving produced, and so on

The United States, China, Russia, and India feature heavily among many food product production rankings.

African countries, Brazil and Turkey also feature prominently.

 

Other Notes

– Health & Nutrition

We did not take into account the health and nutrition aspect of different foods and agricultural products in this guide.

Different foods products (and the methods used to produce them) will have different nutrient profiles, and different individuals will have different health and nutrient requirements and preferences.

This is an important but separate consideration to take into account.

 

– Environmental & Resource Sustainability

Being aware of these foods can also be helpful for when looking at sustainability issues such as the use of GMO crops and foods, water used to produce foods and crops, pesticide and synthetic fertilizer used to produce crops and food, and more

 

Main Types Of Agricultural Food Products

First, it’s helpful to outline the main types of agricultural food products by category.

Broad categories of agricultural food products in general might be:

Cereals and grains

Vegetables

Fruits

Dairy

Drinks/Beverages

Meats

Nuts

Spices

Other

*There’s also the non food products like fibers and forest products.

 

Specifically with crops, they might be categorized as food (fruits, vegetables, and grains), feed, fiber, oil, ornamental or industrial crops.

 

General Foods That Provide The Most Of The World’s Energy & Protein Intake

When considering both animal products and plant based crops for both energy and protein intake …

Roughly 15 edible plants and 8 animal species are responsible for 90% of humanity’s energy and protein intake.

Rice, maize and wheat might make up two thirds of this intake.

 

… it is estimated that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity found in agricultural crops has been lost over the last century …

… today, 90% of our food energy and protein comes from only 15 plant and 8 animal species …

– cbd.int

 

Just 15 crop plants provide 90 percent of the world’s food energy intake, with three rice, maize and wheat – making up two-thirds of this (fao.org)

 

Plant Based Foods & Crops That Provide The Most Of The World’s Energy

Different sources indicate that when looking specifically at the world’s plant based energy intake (and not animals products or protein intake), 15 plant crops provide 90% of the world’s total energy intake.

Wheat, rice and maize (corn) provide about 50 to 70% of that energy alone.

 

Wheat, rice and maize alone provide more than 50% of the global plant-based energy intake (cbd.int)

 

Just 15 plant crops provide 90 percent of the world’s food energy intake (exclusive of meat), with rice, maize (corn), and wheat comprising 2/3 of human food consumption (wikipedia.org)

 

[there are three edible plants that] provide 60 percent of the world’s food energy intake [and those are rice, maize and wheat] (fao.org)

 

Foods That Contribute The Most To The World’s Food Supply

When considering the Earth’s food supply in general, 12 crops and 5 livestock species might be responsible for about three quarters of that supply.

Rice, maize (corn) and wheat might be the staples of about 80% of the world, and rice might feed about half of the world.

 

[as of 2017] three-quarters of Earth’s food supply draws on just 12 crops and five livestock species (smithsonianmag.com)

 

Most people live on a diet based on one or more of the following staples: rice, wheat, maize (corn), millet, sorghum, roots and tubers (potatoes, cassava, yams and taro), and animal products such as meat, milk, eggs, cheese and fish (fao.org)

 

[Rice, maize (corn) and wheat] are the staples of about 80 percent of the world population, and rice feeds almost half of humanity (wikipedia.org)

 

‘Popular’ Food Crops

Grains might be some of the most popular food crops.

 

Grains, such as corn, wheat, and rice, are the world’s most popular food crops (nationalgeographic.org)

 

Cassava, maize, plantains, potatoes, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sweet potatoes, wheat, and yams are some of the leading food crops around the world (nationalgeographic.org)

 

Main Staple Foods In The Average Diet In Different Countries

There are different main staple foods in the average diet in different countries and continents – fao.org does a good job of outlining and explaining this.

For example, fao.org outlines the average African and Western European diets and their compositions, and they are both different.

As just one example of that difference in composition, only 7% of the average African diet is animal products, compared to 33% for Western Europe.

For clarity, fao.org defines staple foods as ‘the dominant part of [a population’s] diet and supply a major proportion of energy and nutrient needs’. nationalgeographic.org has a similar definition

This diet composition could change with time though, as other research shows that as countries become more wealthy, they tend to consume more animal products and meat – just as one example of a potential change.

 

Most Produced Plant Based Foods & Crops

Maize (corn), rice and wheat were the most produced (in metric tons) by far.

 

Ten important staple foods ranked by global importance and their annual global production from 2012, and the country who produced the most in brackets are:

Maize (corn) – 873 million (metric tons produced globally in 2012) (United States)

Rice – 738 million (China)

Wheat – 671 million (China)

Potatoes – 365 million (China)

Cassava – 269 million (Nigeria)

Soybeans – 241 million (United States)

[The remainder in order after Soybeans are Sweet Potatoes, Yams, Sorghum and Plantain]

– wikipedia.org

 

Nationalgeographic.org also has a resource where you can click through to see how many tons of the main crops of were produced per country as an average from 2010 to 2012.

 

Crops That Take Up The Most Land (In Square Area) Worldwide

Wheat, maize, rice and barley ranked top in terms of total cropland use according to this data.

Read further about agricultural land used for livestock and crops worldwide in this guide, and foods and food diet types that use the most land in this guide

 

Most Valuable Crops & Livestock (In US Dollars)

Rice paddy, cattle meat, pig meat and cow’s milk were the most valuable food products in 2012.

 

[Globally in 2012, these food and drink products ranked as the most valuable in US billions of dollars (in order):]

Rice, paddy – $337 (US billions of dollars of global value in 2012) (Mainland China)

Cattle, meat – $336B US (United States)

Pig, meat – $306B US (Mainland China)

Cows Milk, whole, fresh – $286B US (United States)

Chicken, meat – $128B US (United States)

[In order, Wheat, Soybeans, Tomato, Sugarcane, Maize (corn), Eggs, in shell, Potato, and Vegetables (not elsewhere specified), followed.]

[Mainland China and the United States are among the biggest producers.]

You can read the wikipedia.org resource for the full list

 

Most Consumed Animal Meats

Pork, poultry and beef are the most consumed animal meats worldwide

 

Beef makes up about 24 percent of the world’s meat consumption … Poultry about 34 percent … and Pork more than 40 percent

Much smaller amounts come from other sources such as lamb, goat, and guinea pig, as well as bushmeat …

– ucsusa.org

 

Top Producing Countries In Agriculture

There’s several ways you might classify a top agricultural producing country such as:

Total tonnage of food produced

Total value of food produced

The production efficiency or yield of the country

 

You also have to look at agricultural production by individual crops, as some countries grow some crops or food products much better than others due to things like climate, conditions, land, resources etc.

The United States, China, Russia, and India certainly do feature heavily though among many food product production rankings. African countries, Brazil and Turkey also feature prominently.

Some resources for reading about the top agricultural producing countries are the wikiepdia.org and investopedia resources below

 

Sources

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_valuable_crops_and_livestock_products

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staple_food

3. https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0712/top-agricultural-producing-countries.aspx

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_producing_countries_of_agricultural_commodities

5. http://www.mediamaxnetwork.co.ke/261583/261583/

6. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2003GB002108

7. https://www.cbd.int/agro/Whatstheproblem.shtml

8. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/extinction-threatens-foods-we-eat-180965081/

9. http://www.fao.org/3/u8480e/u8480e07.htm

10. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/maps/wbt-staple-food-crops-world/

11. https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/global_warming/Solutions-for-Deforestation-Free-Meat.pdf

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