Millet is possibly the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purposes.
Millet is a food which is also mentioned in the Bible, and was used during those times to make bread.
Millet was grown as early as 2600 BC in China where it was the prevalent grain before rice became the dominant staple and has been used in Africa and India as a staple food from thousands of years.
It is documented that the plant was also grown by the lake dwellers of Switzerland during the Stone Age.
Millet is tiny in size and round in shape and can be white, grey, yellow or red.
The most widely available form of millet found in stores is the hulled variety, although traditional couscous made from cracked millet can also be found.
The term millet refers to a variety of grains, some of which do not belong to the same genus.
Millet is a major crop in many of these countries, particularly Africa and the Indian subcontinent where the crop covers almost 100 million acres, and thrives in the hot dry climates that are not conducive to growing other grains such as wheat and rice.
Millet was introduced to the U.S. in 1875, was grown and consumed by the early colonists like corn, then fell into obscurity. At the present time the grain is widely known in the U.S. and other Western countries mainly as bird and cattle feed. Only in recent years has it begun to make a comeback and is now becoming a more commonly consumed grain in the Western part of the world
Millet is more than just an interesting alternative to the more common grains. It is a good source of some very important nutrients, including copper, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Millet is a gluten free ancient grain that cooks quickly and has a pleasantly mild, slightly sweet flavour. It’s perfect for whole grain salads and as a substitute for rice in pilaffs or stir fries. For breakfast, use millet to make a creamy, soothing hot cereal.
When researchers looked at how much fiber 35,972 participants in the UK Women’s Cohort Study ate, they found a diet rich in fiber from whole grains, such as millet, and fruit offered significant protection against breast cancer for pre-menopausal women. (Cade JE, Burley VJ, et al.,International Journal of Epidemiology).
Millet is superior feed for poultry, swine, fish, and livestock and, as it is being proven, for humans as well.
There are many varieties of millet, but the four major types are Pearl, which comprises 40% of the world production, Foxtail, Proso, and Finger Millet.
Pearl Millet produces the largest seeds and is the variety most commonly used for human consumption.
The seeds are enclosed in coloured hulls, with colour depending on variety, and the seed heads themselves are held above the grassy plant on a spike like panicle 6 to 14 inches long and are extremely attractive.
Because of a remarkably hard and indigestible, this grain must be hulled before it can be used for human consumption. Hulling does not affect the nutrient value, as the germ stays intact through this process.
Once out of the hull, millet grains look like tiny yellow spheres with a dot on one side where it was attached to the stem. This gives the seeds an appearance similar to tiny, pale yellow beads. Millet is unique due to its short growing season. It can develop from a planted seed to a mature, ready to harvest plant in as little as 65 days. This is an important consideration for areas where food is needed for many.
Millet is highly nutritious, non-glutinous and like buckwheat and quinoa, is not an acid forming food so is soothing and easy to digest. In fact, it is considered to be one of the least allergenic and most digestible grains available and it is a warming grain so will help to heat the body in cold or rainy seasons and climates.
Millet is tasty, with a mildly sweet, nut-like flavor and contains a myriad of beneficial nutrients. It is nearly 15% protein, contains high amounts of fiber, B-complex vitamins including niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin, the essential amino acid methionine, lecithin, and some vitamin E. It is particularly high in the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.
The seeds are also rich in phytochemicals, including Phytic acid, which is believed to lower cholesterol, and Phytate, which is associated with reduced cancer risk.
Millet is delicious as a cooked cereal and in casseroles, breads, soups, stews, soufflés, pilaf, and stuffing. It can be used as a side dish or served under sautéed vegetables or with beans and can be popped like corn for use as a snack or breakfast cereal. The grain mixes well with any seasoning or herbs that are commonly used in rice dishes and for interesting taste and texture variations it may be combined with quinoa and brown or basmati rice. Millet may also be sprouted for use in salads and sandwiches.
Properly stored, whole millet can be kept safely for up to two years. The grain should be stored in tightly closed containers, preferably glass, in a cool dry place with a temperature of less than 70° or in the refrigerator.