Millets are grains that grow like grasses similar to wheat and rice. They come in the category of carbohydrates just like wheat and rice and provide satiation. They should be eaten whole and unpolished or not refined to preserve maximum fibre and nutrition.
The cover picture above shows the beautiful designs that are woven out of millets by village women. I took this picture at a festival in Delhi dedicated to Forgotten Foods and Uncultivated Crops.
The word Millets comes from the Latin word mille, which means thousands and signifies abundance. Yet the irony is, they are the forgotten ancient grains of India.
For the past many years they were mostly ignored in urban cities where wheat and rice are the two major grains consumed. However, lately, due to growing awareness about health, millets are making a small comeback. They are part of many regional cuisines and regularly eaten in rural areas.
Why millets went out of our diet?
In India, millets were a victim of the Green Revolution era of 1965-1990 that led to the subsidies and consequent over-commercialization of wheat and rice as primary grains.
Hundreds of varieties of millets have become extinct and the numbers are dwindling due to low demand for millets especially in urban areas.
The paradox is that these grow easily, not needing much or any irrigation and are beneficial to the bio-diversity of the land. They are naturally pest resistant and do not require too many resources to grow.
Why add millets back?
Millets offer a rich variety of nutrients and have high fibre while being low in fat. Many are protein rich foods while being gluten free. We are lucky that so many millets are still available to us in India and at an affordable price.
Types of millets
One of the problems that creates a lot of confusion is the naming of millets, they all have different names in regional languages. For the purpose of clarity, I will be using the single English names as the same millet is called differently in Bengali, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada etc. Here is a handy reference chart.
|Type||Indian Name||English Name|
|Pseudo Cereals||Ramdana/ Chaulai/ Rajgira/ Marsa/ Keere/ Pung||Amaranth|
|Kuttu/ Kathu/ Chin/ Kotu/ Gangari||Buckwheat|
|Small Millets||Ragi/ Mandua/ Kodu/ Nachni, Madua||Finger Millet|
|Jhangora/ Shama/ Kuthiravaali||Barnyard|
|Kauni/ Kangni/ Navane/ Tenai/ Korala/ Kakun||Foxtail Millet|
|Kodra/ Kodaka/ Harka/ Varaga/ Koda/ Varagu||Kodo Millet|
|Barri/ Cheena/ Baragu/ Varaga/ Karkani/ Varigalu||Proso Millet|
|Kutki/ Gundli/ Shavan/ Same/ Samai/ Gondula||Little Millet|
|Kauch gur-gur/ Saukru/ Gurgur/ Kunch/ Kasaibija||Jobs Tears|
|Major Millets||Jowar/ Jowari/ Cholum/ Jonna/ Jola||Sorghum|
|Bajra/ Bajri/ Lehra/ Kambu/ Gantilu||Pearl Millet|
How to add millets into your meals?
You can eat millets in whole form, flours or sprouted. Different regions have access to different millets in different forms. For example in the North we can easily get buckwheat (kuttu) during the Navratri fasting season but it is very difficult to find hulled whole buckwheat grains. So, look out for millets availability in your own region.
Usually, the village people know their millets better than anyone else. In cities, 24 Letter Mantra, an organic brand is helping to revive millets by providing several different millets in cities in this cleaned and packaged form.
Flour – You can use most of the millets as flour. Due to the absence of the sticky gluten, they do not roll as well in a chapatti but can be mixed with 25- 50% whole-wheat to roll a chapatti. Some of the good ones to use are amaranth, sorghum or pearl millet. In case you do your own baking, you can also use these flours to bake cakes and cookies.
Since I am a lazy kinda cook, I often use it to make an instant dosa or chilla. Just mix some buckwheat or finger millet (ragi) flour with a little water to get pouring consistency and cook it in a pan to make a pancake. You can also mix these flours into your idli batter.
Wholegrain – I very often substitute rice with whole hulled buckwheat or barnyard millet or make an upma or salad from foxtail, little or kodo millet. You just need to wash and boil it like rice. The quantity of water is often mentioned on the pack and ranges from 2-2.5 times in my experience.
If making a salad, just cool the millets after cooking and mix them in with chopped veggies and a dressing. It works just like quinoa salad or couscous.
Whole sorghum, pearl millet or buckwheat can be use to make khhichdi adding pulses or vegetables as needed.
Breakfast Cereal – Finger Millet or Ragi sprouted and powdered is a popular breakfast in the south of India. They cook it with water and you can add a little coconut milk and sweetner of choice.
I have eaten popped and un-popped amaranth as morning cereal. I cook the un-popped version with water and some jaggery or add in chopped dates and sprinkle a few chopped nuts before eating. Here is a recipe for you to try out. I eat the popped version soaked along with some oats in water as the latter give it a milky consistency. I have also made a kheer and halwa out of amaranth.
Sprouts – I have sprouted buckwheat once and mixed it with chopped veggies. I have not yet tried sprouting the other grains.
Try out a millet and let me know what you think and feel free to share your own recipes with me by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is some more detailed information about the nutrition found in millets compared to rice and wheat.
Nutrition information of millets
Approximate Composition of Small Millet and Grains (per 100g)
|Name||Protein (g)||Fat (g)||Minerals (g)||Fibre (g)||Carbs (g)||Calcium (mg)||Phosphorus (mg)||Thiamin (mg)|
Source: Navdanya – Bhoole Bisre Anaj (Forgotten Foods)
A couple of weeks after writing this article, I came across a wonderful video making a case for millets for food security, nutritional diversity, and water scarcity.