Millet – An Introduction and its history
Millets are one of the oldest foods known to the mankind, which were the first cereal grains that were consumed by human beings. Millet, cultivated in East Asia as many as 100 centuries ago, was more widely eaten than even rice, particularly in the area what is now China and the Korean peninsula. It is a drought-restraint grain. It is the super crop of our ancestors.
In the modern world, people consider millets a bit of a wonder food. The protein structure of millet is somewhat similar to wheat, making them a gluten free substitute for breads, baking, etc.
Millets are also rich in various minerals like iron, calcium, fiber and phosphorus. So, it is imperative that we mix up our grain intake with some millets.
Millets occupy an important place in the history of food, especially in the Indian context. With the emergence of newer lifestyle of humans, some of the most beautiful practices have been left behind. Now for working towards a better future, some of these values need to be reclaimed.
Millet is widely grown across the world as cereal crops or grains for human food and to be used as fodder.
There is evidence of the cultivation of millet in the Korean Peninsula around 3,500–2,000BC. The millet consumption was very common in 4500 BC, pre-dating to the Indian Bronze Age.
Even until 50 years ago, the major grain grown in India was millets. For years, it has been a staple food and an integral part of the local food cultures. Like many other things, millets have come to be considered as coarse grains by modern urban consumers or new lifestyle followers.
Millet is something that the village ancestors may have lived on, but that the current modern consumers had left behind and exchanged this grain for a more “refined” diet. Unfortunately, this said refined diet and new fooding habits lack the nutrients which are critically important for us. Food should be as much local and wholesome as possible.
Following the western model of development, considering it to be an ideal one, India and other developing nations have lost out on a lot of useful and meaningful things; which once was a legacy to them.
Major changes have been witnessed in the food habits of people, especially in urban modern people. In the vision of western and elite lifestyle, we are quickly forgetting our indigenous foods and chasing after standardisation. Millets along with other indigenous things, have been discarded as an inferior thing to be used.
The government policies and the impact of Green Revolution
These changes, coupled with the state policies favoring the production of rice and wheat, have led to a sharp decline in the production and consumption of millet.
Before the Green Revolution, millets contributed to around 40 % of all the cultivated grains, thereby contributing more than wheat and rice. However, since the green revolution, the production of rice has been doubled and of wheat has been tripled.
Reason for such government policy
There is a hypothesis that a tilt in government policies is great for the livelihood of small farmers, because they do not offer any profit for agro-chemical corporations, large food companies etc. So the promotion of rice and wheat, and high investments made in machinery, hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides etc., were a much more lucrative economic strategy.
Many believed that chemical agriculture would improve the yields and food security in India in the long run.
Even though India is the world leader in terms of production of millets, the share of millets in total grain production had dropped from 40 to 20 %, that has given rise to serious agricultural, environmental and nutritional consequences. Rice has replaced millets as to be eaten directly, and wheat flour has replaced millet flour.
Winds of change for millets
Now after a long span of refraining from millets, efforts are being made to raise the the demand of millets in India and the world by changing the mindset of the people. Many organisations are also coming up in support of this cause.
Measures are being taken to educate farmers about better millets growing techniques. Due importance is given to them because of the non gluten tendency of millet. Many recipes with millets as the base have also been floating all over social media and on food channels.
One example of a major boost for the cause can be given by the Smart Food campaign. Smart Food with the tagline ‘good for you, good for the planet and good for the smallholder farmer’ is an initiative that initially focused on popularising millets, and sorghum. It has been selected by LAUNCH Food as one of the winning innovations for 2017.
Many organisations have already teamed up to popularise millets in India including the Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR), National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).
Importance of different types of millets
According to Rohit Jain, Co-founder of Banyan Roots, an organic store selling products at reasonable prices, there are two broad categories of millets – major and minor millets. While pearl millet, sorghum, finger millet and foxtail millets are some of the examples of major millets, others such as sama, qodo, chinna etc., are considered minor millets. Many of the minor millets have become endangered now, as they are getting depleted, and some of them have benn totally eliminated.
Every millet has its own importance. Millets like finger millets are full of calcium; some like jowar have potassium and phosphorus; foxtail has fibre and qodo is rich in iron.
Hence, it is advisable to keep rotating the kind of millets we are eating and that we should not mix millets. One should intake only one grain in a meal because each grain has its own requirement as the medium for digestion and therefore mixing them can create imbalances in body.
Some important points regarding millets
Due to the high resistance against harsh conditions, millets are sustainable to the environment, to the farmer growing it, and provide cheap and high nutrient options for all associated with it.
Nearly 40 % of the food produced in India is wasted every year, mainly due to spoilage. However, millets do not get destroyed easily, and some of the millets are so good that they can be consumed even after 10-12 years of growing, thereby providing food security, and playing a crucial role in keeping a check on food wastage.
Millet is rich in fibre content, has magnesium and Niacin (Vitamin B3). It is a non-gluten grain containing high protein content.
As far as milleta are concerned, there is a strong resurgence. We need to pay a heed in understanding things like to what one’s body is comfortable with and no drastic change should be made.
The popularity of millet is slowly rising again and many efforts are being made to bring them in the mainstream again. A balanced approach needs to be adopted to bring this crop back in the public consciousness.
This struggle will go a long way to solve some of the major food issues in the country.
Millets that are grown in India
- Pearl millet: India is the highest producer of pearl millet (Bajra). It has good amount of protein content that fuels you up and is great for chapatis. It can also be eaten as sprouted and in porridges.
- Kodo millet: It is also known as Kodra or Kodon. Kodo millet is rich in fibre and offers a great energy boost to your body and immune system. It is an ideal food for diabetic patients, and can be substituted for rice.
- Little millet: It has the highest fat content and is commonly consumed as bread, dosas, rotis and rice. It is widely popular by the name of Kutki.
- Finger millet: It is commonly known as Mandua in India and is famous as Ragi in Karnataka. Finger millet has the highest calcium content. It is a staple food in Karnataka in the form of muddes.
- Foxtail millet: It has the highest mineral content of all millets. Foxtail millet is the second most produced millet in the world. It is commonly known as Kangni.
- Barnyard millet: Barnyard millet grows faster than you can expect from any crop. It is known as Jhangora in Hindi. It has the highest fibre and iron content amongst its fellow millets.
- Sorghum: It is commonly known as Jowar. This grain is consumed all over India as rotis and porridges. It is rich in protein, carbohydrates and energy composition.
- Proso Millet: It is commonly known as Barri or Chena in Hindi. This grain has the highest protein content, and is quite high in carbohydrates as well. Because it is rich in carbohydrate content, you should consume it only when you are working out strenuously or trying to build muscles.
You can make almost everything and anything. You just need to substitute millets for grains like wheat and rice. You can also come up with new ways of using them by experimenting it with various recipes. As it is much higher in nutritional value it makes every dish much more filling and better for you.
Millet is the most versatile ingredient to make various dishes like idli, dosa, upma, khichdi, pulav/biriyani and kheer/payasam.
You can use millet in the same way you would use wheat flour or rice. You can use millet flour to make chapatis and breads or cook them like rice. Millet might take a little more water to cook than rice or wheat.
Toasting millets before cooking enhances their nutty flavour which can give salad a nice edge.
You can also cook millets with more water to make porridge similar to polenta and if this mix is thick enough, you can also cool it down and cut into squares to fry or use as savoury snacks. While cooking, stir it as much as possible.
It should be noted that millets do not keep too well overnight. So, make just enough for the meal.