Millets recently have gained a lot of popularity as a health food. This post answers some of the common questions around millets — what are millets, their health benefits, how to cook millets and also some delicious and easy millet recipes.
What are millets?
Millets are cereal crops or grains that are widely grown in semiarid tropical regions in Asia and Africa. India, in fact, is among the largest producers of millets.
There are many different types of millets. Pearl millet (called Bajra in Hindi) is the most widely grown millet in India and parts of Africa. Other popular millet varieties include Foxtail millet (Kangni), Sorghum (Jowar), and Finger millet (ragi). Check out this glossary for different types of millets in Hindi and English.
Traditionally millets were the major grains grown and consumed in India. But with the coming of the Green Revolution and Western Food influences, our diets shifted to rice and wheat. And sadly towards refined wheat flour and white polished rice which strips them of their nutrition. But in the past few years, thanks to the “healthy food revolution”, millets are slowing coming back in our diets.
Health benefits of Millets
Millets are highly nutritious, naturally gluten-free and alkaline foods. Considered to be the least allergenic and most digestible grains available, millets are also recommended for babies, growing children and aged seniors, in India. Below are some of the key health benefits of millets:
- Millets are naturally gluten-free grains. Millets can safely be consumed by people with gluten sensitivity, gluten-intolerance or other wheat allergies. Millets can, however, get contaminated by gluten-containing cereals when processed in the same factory so be careful in choosing the source.
- Millets are highly nutritious. Millets are rich in iron, proteins, fiber, minerals such as calcium and magnesium, and also antioxidants. They help improve heart health, reduce blood pressure, reduce the risk of blockage and stroke. Millets have also been found to reduce the risk of certain types of cancers.
- Millets improve digestion. Millets are highly alkaline and easy to digest grains. They are rich in dietary fiber which helps improve the digestive health which in turn helps in weight loss, maintaining a healthy weight and also detoxification
- Millets help manage sugar levels. Millets are rich in magnesium which helps reduce the risk of Type-2 diabetes. If you are diabetic, magnesium helps control blood sugar levels better.
While the exact nutritional value of different types of millets is different, there is a general nutritional profile for millets. A 100-gram raw millet serving, provides 378 calories, 73 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 8 g dietary fiber, and 11 g proteins.[Source: USDA]
Here is a useful chart for millet nutrition in comparison with other staple grains like wheat, rice, maize, and cassava.
Millets come both as whole-grains and as flours. Whole millets cook just like rice except that they usually need 3 times the water. So cook 1 cup whole millet in 3 cups of water on medium heat until the millet grains have absorbed all the water. Whole millets can easily be used as an alternative in most rice recipes. Some examples:
A regular veg stir-fry made with proso millets in place of rice.
Savory breakfast millet porridge made with whole sorghum.
Millet flour is good for making bread and also for baking. Some traditional Indian millet flour recipes are:
A deliciously warm and spicy winter drink made with pearl millet flour.
Puffed puri bread made with a mix of pearl millet and wheat flour with fenugreek leaves.
Multigrain savory crepes or pancakes made with a mix of millet flours and vegetables.
It has only been about a year since I started cooking with millets and it took some unlearning and learning to dig up traditional millet recipes and also adopt common wheat and rice recipes to millet. I want to add millet flour to cookies, and also to cupcakes and banana bread. I will maybe start with replacing a fourth of wheat flour with millet flour and then go up. As I experiment more, I will share more of those recipes on the blog.
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