Benefits of Millets
Millets can grow under adverse climatic conditions and provide better nutrition than the grains we commonly use: wheat and rice.
- Economic Importance of Millets
- Millets and Global Hunger
- Why eat millets?
- Some Common Millets and How To Use Them
- Some Recipe Ideas
Economic Importance of Millets
Since the early 20th century, though people have used chiefly rice, wheat and maize for food and only 150 crops are grown commercially, the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) in Rome reports that at least 7,000 plant species could be cultivated for food, .
For many centuries, farmers over the world grew nearly 30 varieties of millet. But during the past three decades, the cereal fields have been replanted with commercial crops like soy, corn, cassava and sago palms, when demands came from the processed food industry, and the more nutritious millets were soon forgotten. Similarly, many native varieties of potato are in danger of becoming extinct as the native food is slowly replaced by noodles and rice.
What is the economic importance of these grains and food crops? Arid and semiarid farming areas have hot, dry and sandy soils, and in these marginal conditions of soil fertility and moisture, farmers produce some 40 percent of the world's pearl millet grain. These farmers have no access to irrigation, fertilizer and pesticides, and the hardy but nutritious millets serve their needs well.
Millets also have short growing season. They can develop from planted seeds to mature, ready to harvest plants in as little as 65 days. When properly stored, whole millets will keep for two or more years.
Millets and Global Hunger
Millet is one of the best-kept secrets of our ancient ancestors. Millets formed important parts of the prehistoric diet in Chinese Neolithic and Korean Mumun societies. Traced back to its origin in China, millet has been used throughout the ages and across India, Greece, Egypt and Africa, used in everything from bread to couscous, and as cereal grain. Far away in the Andes of South America, grains such as quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) and amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus) were cultivated in ancient times.
Millets are a natural source of protein and iron. Millet is very easy to digest; it contains a high amount of lecithin and is excellent for strengthening the nervous system. Millets are rich in B vitamins, especially niacin, B6 and folic acid, as well as the minerals calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Millets contain no gluten, so they are not suitable for raised bread, but they are good for people who are gluten-intolerant.
The Hunzas, who live in a remote area of the Himalayan foothills and are known for their excellent health and longevity also enjoy millet as a staple in their diet.
Indeed, there is probably no better cereal to relieve the underlying threat of starvation in the Sahel, the Sudan, Somalia, and the other drylands surrounding the Sahara. Unlike rice and wheat that require high irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers, millets grow well in dry regions as rain fed crops and provide sustainable source of food. Growing and millets would mean we respect the biodiversity in nature rather than forcefully changing cropping patterns to grow wheat and rice everywhere.
Yet, millets are stigmatized as a poor man's crop and their superior nutrition is undervalued and ignored.
Why eat millets?
Millets are highly nutritious, non-glutinous and non-acid forming foods. They are particularly high in minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. For example, Finger Millet (Ragi in India) is the richest in calcium content, about 10 times that of rice or wheat.
Millets are soothing and easy to digest. They are considered to be the least allergenic and most digestible grains available. Compared to rice, especially polished rice, millets release lesser percentage of glucose and over a longer period of time. This lowers the risk of diabetes.
Some Common Millets and How To Use Them
- Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum; (Hindi: Bajra, Tamil: Kambu) This millet small, round and ivory colored. There are 6,000 varieties of millet grown around the world. It has a rather alkaline pH which makes it a really easy grain to digest. In India flat thin cakes called roti are made from millet flour. As a gluten free grain and as the only grain that retains it’s alkaline properties after being cooked, it is ideal for people with wheat allergies. The millet can be used in all dishes that call for rice, quinoa or buckwheat.
In Eastern Europe, millet is used in porridge and kasha. Africans ferment it into a beverage, make gruel for breakfast, use it as baby food or make bread.
Here's a recipe for using the fermented millet: Cook this millet and soak in plain water (or butter-milk) over-night preferably in a clay vessel, then mixed nicely next day morning mix with a dash of buttermilk , shallots and salt. Drink this highly nutritious vitamin B rich fermented food that will cure stomach or peptic ulcer or acid reflux problems. The micro-organisms produced during the fermentation balances the pH of the stomach. It also replenishes healthy bacteria in the gut caused by the abuse of anti-biotics.
- Sorghum (maize, Hindi: Jowar, Tamil: Cholam)
This red-colored grain was originally cultivated in Egypt, which is still the largest producers of sorghum even today. Being drought tolerant, sorghum can withstand weather extremes and is an excellent choice for arid and dry areas.
Certain species of sorghum are especially used to make syrup. The stalks of the plant are harvested and crushed like sugar cane or beets to produce sorghum syrup. After crushing, the syrup is cooked down to concentrate the natural sugars and packaged for sale.
- Foxtail or Italian millet (setaria italica) is one of those forgotten grains that were a part of ancient Tamil culture. Foxtail millet, called ‘Thinai’ in Tamil, is offered to Lord Muruga, the patron deity of Tamil Nadu. In China, foxtail millet is the most common millet and one of the main food crops, especially among the poor in the dry northern part of that country.
- Finger millet (Eleusine coracana) Also known as African millet or ragi (India), it is an important staple food in parts of eastern and central Africa and India. Finger millet can be stored for long periods without insect damage and thus it can be important during famine. Finger millet originated in Uganda, and it was introduced to India at a very early date, probably over 3 000 years ago.
The color of grains may vary from white through orange-red deep brown and purple, to almost black. It is an important staple food in parts of eastern and central Africa and India.
Finger millet is especially valuable as it contains the amino acid methionine, which is lacking in the diets of hundreds of millions of the poor. Finger millet can be ground and cooked into cakes, puddings or porridge. The grain is made into a fermented drink in Nepal and in many parts of Africa. The straw from finger millet is used as animal fodder. It is also used for as a flavored drink in festivals.
Ragi is excellent for reducing weight (it is the least fat-containing grain) for weight watchers, cholesterol and triglycerides for heart patients, and blood glucose for diabetics. It has the maximum percentage of calcium to be found in any grain. It is best to use this after soaking and partially fermenting. It is traditional to sprout, dry and powder this grain to make porridge to feed infants.
Some Recipe Ideas
Here are videos that give tips on how to use millets.
The first video tells you how to pop the millets:
The second video shows you how to make flat bread with pearl millet (bajra roti)
The third video tells how to make soup with millets and egg plants: