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Millets are small-grained, annual, warm-weather cereals. They are highly tolerant of drought and other extreme weather conditions and have a higher nutrient content when compared to other major cereals planted all across the world. They neither need extensive water resources nor pesticides or fungicides for their growth. They are tiny round, oval in shape and can be white, green, yellow, red in color. These are ideal for people who have wheat allergy/ intolerance because they are gluten free. Millets are recommended for the wellbeing of infants, lactating mothers, elderly, adults and people who are recovering from illness.

INTRODUCTION :

Millets can be divided into 2 broad categories. They are as follows:

1. Naked grains

Naked grains refer to the millets devoid of the tough, indigestible husk, namely, Ragi, Jowar, and Bajra. These millets don’t require processing after their harvest. They can be consumed right after cleaning. These millets are therefore significantly cultivated today.

2. Husked grains

Foxtail millets, Little millets, and Kodo millets belong to this second type. These types consist of an indigestible seed coat that has to be removed before consumption and need processing.

ORIGIN :

Millets were first cultivated in Asia more than 4,000 years ago, and they were major grains in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today, though they are used chiefly for pasture,  they also remain as important food staples in less-developed countries worldwide.  East Asia, South Asia, West Africa, East Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt, Eritrea are the pivotal regions  where millets are grown extensively and utilized in a larger scale.

Japanese, Koreans and Chinese always had a small farm in their houses where millets were grown and consumed.

USE OF MILLETS IN ANCIENT TIMES :

In ancient times, millets were used as a staple cereal in some parts of the world whereas, in some regions, it was discarded as waste and was served as animal feed. In Europe, only the higher class could afford millets and were consumed in the form of breads, porridges and soups. They were even grounded and made into flour and used in making chapati’s, bread and gruels. Chinese and Japanese used millets for making noodles and consumed millets by  steaming them instead of steamed rice. Millets were unrecognized in earlier days because of low knowledge of the benefits of millets and served as hay or fodder to animals. It was regarded as weed and was used as a decorative material at home in parties, occasions and on dresses. These millets were cooked into soft paste and used as adhesive.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF MILLETS :

There are 10 different types of Millets and they are named generally based on their structure and composition. They also have a common name which is regionally famous. They are as follows :

Finger Millets : This is popularly known as Ragi. It is commonly consumed by fitness enthusiasts as a healthier alternative to rice and/or wheat. It is a gluten-free variant of millet, rich in proteins, iron, calcium, essential amino acids which facilitates brain growth in children, blood cell formation, maintains health of skin, hair and nails, strengthens bones, gums and teeth.

Foxtail Millet : It is popularly called as Kakum/ Kangni in India and is consumed instead of Rice flour and Semolina. It is rich in complex carbohydrates and aids in balancing blood sugar levels. It is high in iron content which helps to improve immunity and hemoglobin levels.

Sorghum Millet : This millet is widely used in India in the form of breads and chapati’s . It is commonly called Jowar and is a rich source of iron, protein fibre because of the presence of policosanols, which aids in lowering cholesterol levels. People with wheat allergies can have Jowar as a healthier alternative. Jowar also has more antioxidants and is rich in calories and macronutrients. It increases metabolism thereby aiding weight loss.

Pearl Millet :  It is commonly called as Bajra and is the most commonly used millet. It is prepared as chapati, Khicdhi, upma, dosa as they are rich in iron, fibre, protein, magnesium, and calcium. Replacing rice with this millet aids in managing weight and blood sugar levels.

Buckwheat Millet : This millet is called as Kuttu in India and is often used during fasting especially during Navratri. It consists of nutrients which prevents breast cancer, asthma, gallstones, Cardiovascular diseases and fluctuations in blood pressure.

Amaranth Millet : It is popularly called as Rajgira, Ramdana, Chola. This is rich in calcium, vitamins, protein, fiber which helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases, greying of hair, hair-loss etc. These can be used in replacement of  wheat and rice.

Little Millet : It is popularly known as Moraiyo, Kutki, Shavan, Sama and loaded with Vitamin B, essential minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium. This millet is used as traditional millet and digests easily without causing any distress to gastrointestinal tract.

Barnyard Millet : It is commonly called Sanwa. These are loaded with dietary fibre which eases bowel movement, prevents colon cancer and weight gain. It is rich in calcium and phosphorus, which aids in strengthening the bone.

BroomCorn Millet : This is popularly known as Chena. It helps in balancing sugar levels as they are rich in fibre and delays the stomach emptying process.

Kodo Millet : This is popularly known as Kodon Millet. It is a digestible variant with higher amounts of lecithin – amino acid, which has a significant effect on strengthening the nervous system. It is a fantastic source of B complex vitamins, especially niacin, B6, and folic acid, minerals – calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Being a gluten-free millet, it is great for gluten-intolerant individuals. It helps to control  high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels when eaten regularly, especially by postmenopausal women.

HEALTH BENEFITS :

Millets were the oldest foods known to humans but their importance and cultivation reduced due to large scale cultivation of rice and wheat because of urbanization and industrialization. Millets have many nutritional, nutraceutical and health promoting properties especially the high fibre content, nature of starch and  act as a prebiotic.

Millet hydrates the colon and prevents constipation. The dietary fibre, which has high viscosity and water holding capacity, plays a key role in reducing blood glucose level as well as improves insulin response. It also lowers the LDL cholesterol levels. decreases the risk of bowel disorders and reduces small intestine disorders. The fiber content in millets  increases satiety as it takes time to get digested and absorbed into your body, that prevents snacking, overeating and preventing excess weight gain in the long run.

Maintains pleasant Mood : The high levels of tryptophan in millet produce serotonin, which is calming to our moods.

Keep cholesterol in limit : Niacin in millet can help lower cholesterol. It reduces  VLDL AND LDL Which may protect against diseases like CVD, cancer and ageing.

Prevents CVD : Millet consumption decreases triglycerides and C-reactive protein, thereby preventing cardiovascular disease.

Detoxify the body & organs : All millet varieties show high antioxidant activity which aids in digestion, flushing impurities from organs and blood and maintaining ideal Ph of body.

Non- allergenic : Millet is gluten free and non-allergenic. It can be consumed even by individuals who are prone to food allergies.

Keeps Metabolic activity at check : Millets are a natural source of micronutrients that are essential for curbing the problem of malnutrition. They have higher content of niacin, B6 and folic acid, and calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc, which are used for bone mineralization, teeth maintenance, building up of proteins, enzyme activities, normal muscular contractions and transmission of nerve impulses.

Anti – Ageing : Millets contribute to antioxidant activity with phytates, polyphenols, tannins, anthocyanins, phytosterols etc present in it have important role in aging and metabolic diseases. Sorghum and Finger millet tops in antioxidant activity among common Indian foods.

Maintains stable blood sugar levels : Millets contain slow releasing glucose, i.e., low in glycemic index. They also contain leucine which aids in maintaining sugar levels. The incidence of diabetes mellitus and gastro-intestinal tract related disorders are minimal among people who use millets as a staple food.

Boost Immunity : Due to presence of micronutrients, they actively boost and strengthen immunity.

Prevents worsening the symptoms of asthma : Due to higher magnesium content , millets aid in reducing the symptoms of asthma and prevents worsening of the condition.

MILLET RECIPES :

The uses of millets are diverse. They can be consumed in all the meals and also as snacks. These can be used as an alternative to rice and wheat and can be used to prepare porridge, soup, khichdi, pulao, biryani, pongal , malt, Idli, dosa, uttapam, pesarattu.

Some popular and widely used millet recipes are enlisted below.

MAIN MEALSSNACKS
Foxtail Millet KhichdiRagi laddu
Millet pongalRagi Mudde
Foxtail Millet PulaoRagi Oat Waffle
Jowar UpmaJowar Pops
Ragi ParathaApple Ragi 
Ragi Semiya UpmaMultigrain Multi millet Laddu
Ragi Wheat Dosa , IdliRagi biscuits
Ragi ModakRagi cookies
Dahi Methi PooriRagi kanji
Ragi AmbliMixed Millet Dhokla
Pudina Millet Mint RiceJowar Medley
Foxtail IdiyappamBaked Ragi Chakli
Ragi MaltMixed Millet Bhel Puri
Samai KheerKodo millet burger
Ragi Omapodi / sevBajra Tartlets with fruit custard
Lemony millet saladRagi whole wheat Cake
Ragi sheera HalwaRagi  Sheera Halwa
Samai KheerMixed Millet Peda
Stuffed carrot muffinMillet sweetcorn fritters

STORAGE OF MILLET :

Millet, whether the whole grain or flour, is best stored in airtight containers in a cool place. Whole millet can be stored up to a year in the freezer or 6 months in the kitchen.

MODE OF PREPARATION :

To absorb maximum nutrients from millets, following certain procedures are mandatory. They are as follows :

Soaking : Millets need to be soaked for a minimum of 6-8 hours before preparation. It helps to increase the nutrient content of the grain and also reduces the cooking time.

Portion size : Do not consume any kind of millets in excess. Including them one time in your meal is enough to get a sufficient amount of nutrients. Be mindful of the portion size as excess intake of it can lead to side effects.

Avoid processed millet : Processing the whole grain strips away all its nutrients and should be avoided. Try to dry grind the millets and make a home prepared flour rather than using refined processed millet flour.

One grain at a time : Stick to one grain at a time. Don not mix all the millets and consumed daily as it could taste the same even if prepared in different methods.

Basic recipe : Boil 2 cups of water and add salt and 1 cup of millet to it and let it cook until the millet tenderizes. Additional spices & herbs can be added to enhance the taste.

Replace oatmeal with millets in sweet, savoury dishes, breakfast cereals and  can also be incorporated in preparation of cakes, breads, pastries and buns.

CONSUMPTION UNIT PER DAY :

Following a diet or taking a particular cereal every day may have side effects on the body. Taking the right kind of food and the right amount of food is very crucial. According to the ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, one should consume about 270 gm of Cereals including Nutri-Cereals(Millets). Therefore  millets can be consumed approximately around 90-100gm of millets per day i.e., about ⅓ rd of the total meal should consist of millets in different forms as the main meal, Snacks and sweets.

Millets are highly nutritious tiny grains which can be used in place of regular cereals like rice, wheat etc. Millets help to maintain overall health and protect you from health complications when used in recommended quantities.

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