Phytochemistry Reviews

, Volume 14, Issue 6, pp 873–890 | Cite as

Carotenoids in cereals: an ancient resource with present and future applications

  • Elena Mellado-Ortega
  • Dámaso Hornero-MéndezEmail author


Cereals are considered to be a major source of carbohydrates and proteins as well as minor micronutrients such as minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, including carotenoids. Carotenoids are natural lipophilic pigments biosynthesized mainly by plants, and certain bacteria and fungi. Cereals, although having a low carotenoid content when compared with the majority of fruits and vegetables, may have an important impact in the nutritional status of consumers. The daily consumption of cereals, and products derived from them, by a large part of the population, especially in under-developed and developing countries, makes cereals a contributor of carotenoids which should not be overlooked and must be taken into consideration in biofortification strategies. In the present manuscript, we revise the existing information about the composition and distribution of carotenoids in cereals, highlighting factors which alter their profile, such as domestication of wild varieties, genotype, storage, milling and processing techniques. Strategies for stimulating the carotenoid content in cereals, either by means of traditional breeding methods or by genetic manipulation, are also discussed.


Xanthophylls Carotenes Lutein Wheat Staple food 



Age-related macular degeneration


Marker assisted selection


Phytoene synthase gene


Quantitative trait locus


Reactive oxygen species


Xanthophyll acyltransferase


Yellow pigment content



This work was supported by funding from the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (Spanish Government, Projects AGL2010-14850/ALI and AGL2014-53195R). EMO was the recipient of a JAE-Predoctoral grant (CSIC) co-financed by the ESF. Authors are members of the IBERCAROT Network, funded by CYTED (ref. 112RT0445).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Group of Chemistry and Biochemistry of Pigments, Food Phytochemistry DepartmentInstituto de la Grasa (CSIC)SevilleSpain

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