The name “millet” refers to several different but related grains from the grass family Poaceae. They look like tiny corn kernels and cost about a quarter of what you can pay for quinoa, making them among the more economical grains available. They are also naturally gluten-free. Like many whole grains, millet can be purchased as flour or flakes.
Americans might think of millet as a main ingredient in birdseed. But in a third of the world, from Africa to Asia to Eastern Europe, people eat millet as a staple part of their diet. It’s one of the earliest cultivated grains and more than 6,000 varieties grow around the world. It’s a primary ingredient in flatbreads, beer and other fermented beverages, and porridges. In the United States, many commercially produced gluten-free breads use millet flour, either solely or in conjunction with flour milled from other gluten-free grains. Though technically a seed, millet functions like a whole grain, and you can cook with it like you would other whole grains, such as rice or quinoa.
Records show farming of Broom yard millet since 8000 B.C in China. The people of Sudan have been growing pearl millet since 4000 B.C and in Egypt since 3000 B.C. There is also a kind of millet named “panic” which has been growing in parts of Asia and Europe. Israelites started farming millet by 400 B.C along with the Greeks and Sumerians. The panic millet was also being used as birdfeed by many countries. The Chinese and the Africans started making beer and wine out of it.
It is an excellent crop which resembles the corn on a cob when growing. It can easily grow in cold and arid regions in a time span of as less as 70 days. Millet has multiple advantages over other crops, including drought and pest resistance. It’s also able to survive in harsh environments and less fertile soil. These benefits stem from its genetic composition and physical structure.
This crop is also divided into two categories, major and minor millets, with major millets being the most popular or commonly cultivated varieties.
Major millets include:
- proso (or white)
- finger (or ragi)
Minor millets include:
- adlay (or Job’s tears)
Pearl millet is the most widely produced variety intended for human consumption. Still, all types are renowned for their high nutritional value and health benefits.
Like most cereals, millet is a starchy grain, meaning that it is rich in carbs.
One cup of cooked millet has:
- Calories: 207
- Carbs: 41 grams
- Fiber: 2.2 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 1.7 grams
- Phosphorus: 25% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Magnesium: 19% of the DV
- Folate: 8% of the DV
- Iron: 6% of the DV
Millet provides more essential amino acids than most other cereals. These compounds are the building blocks of protein. Finger millet has the highest calcium content of all cereal grains, providing 13% of the DV per 1 cooked cup.
Millet is rich in niacin, which helps your body manage more than 400 enzyme reactions. Niacin is also important for healthy skin and organ function.
Millet, especially the darker varieties, is also an excellent source of beta-carotene. This natural pigment acts as both an antioxidant and as a precursor to vitamin A, helping your body fight off free radicals and supporting the health of your eyes.
Millet is rich in phenolic compounds, especially ferulic acid and catechins. These molecules act as antioxidants to protect your body from harmful oxidative stress. Studies in mice link ferulic acid to rapid wound healing, skin protection, and anti-inflammatory properties. Catechins bind to heavy metals in your bloodstream to prevent metal poisoning.
While all millet varieties contain antioxidants, those with a darker color – such as finger, proso, and foxtail millet – have more than their white or yellow counterparts.
Millet is rich in fiber and non-starchy polysaccharides, two types of undigestible carbs that help control blood sugar levels. Millet is rich in dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. The insoluble fiber in millet is known as a “prebiotic,” which means it supports good bacteria in your digestive system. This type of fiber is also important for adding bulk to stools, which helps keep you regular and reduces your risk of colon cancer.
The soluble fiber in millet can help reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood, a risk factor for atherosclerosis. Soluble fiber turns into a gel in your stomach and absorbs cholesterol, allowing it to be safely carried out of your system.
Millet has a low glycemic index (GI), meaning that it’s unlikely to spike your blood sugar levels.Millet takes longer to digest than standard wheat flour. For this reason, millet is considered an ideal grain for people with diabetes. A study in 105 people with type 2 diabetes determined that replacing a rice-based breakfast with a millet-based one lowered blood sugar levels after the meal.
Despite millet’s multiple health benefits, it also contains antinutrients, compounds that block or reduce your body’s absorption of other nutrients and may lead to deficiencies. Phytic acid interferes with potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium uptake. However, a person with a balanced diet isn’t likely to experience adverse effects.
You can lower millet’s antinutrient content significantly by soaking it overnight at room temperature, then draining and rinsing it before cooking.
Plus, sprouting reduces antinutrient content. Certain health food stores sell sprouted millet, though you can also germinate it on your own. To do so, place soaked millet in a glass jar and cover it with a cloth that’s secured with a rubber band.
Turn the jar upside down, rinsing and draining the millet every 8–12 hours. You’ll notice small sprouts beginning to form after 2–3 days. Drain the sprouts and enjoy them right away.
How to Buy
Look for millet with the other whole grains in the bulk bins, the baking aisle, or possibly with the cereals at natural foods stores and most grocery stores.
You can also purchase it online.
Millet flour should be available with other specialty flours. You may also be able to find ready-to-eat puffed millet cereal, similar to puffed rice cereal.
When shopping for millet, you should still look for a label that certifies it gluten-free to ensure it hasn’t been contaminated with any gluten-containing ingredients.
How to Store
Store millet sealed in an airtight container in a cool, dark pantry, the refrigerator, or the freezer, where it should last for up to two years. Millet makes a good candidate for long-term storage of emergency rations; in a sealed container with oxygen absorbers, it keeps for many years.
How to Cook
Millet has a reputation for being fussy to cook, but the easy-to-follow formula makes it possible to turn out a fluffy pot every time.
For a toothier whole grain preparation, use 2 cups of water for each cup of millet; for a softer, creamier result, increase the water to 3 cups. Bring it to a boil, then add salt (optional) to the millet, cover the pot, and turn the heat down. Keep a close eye on the pot as it simmers, checking the texture at 15 minutes if you plan to use it as a grain side dish such as pilaf. If it’s done, you can drain off any water the grains didn’t absorb or continue cooking for up to an additional five minutes. For a softer and creamier millet, such as with a breakfast porridge, simmer for an additional 10 minutes, stirring periodically.