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Millets Frequently Asked Questions

What are millets?

Millets are small-seeded grasses that are hardy and grow well in dry zones as rain-fed crops, under marginal conditions of soil fertility and moisture. Millets are one of the oldest foods known to humans and possibly the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purposes.
Millets are also unique due to their short growing season. They can develop from planted seeds to mature, ready to harvest plants in as little as 65 days. This is important in heavily populated areas. When properly stored, whole millets will keep for two or more years.

Millets are traditional grains, grown and eaten in in the indian subcontinent for at least the past 5000 years. They are rain-fed, hardy grains which have low requirements of water and fertility when compared to other popular cereals.
Millets can be split into two broad categories: Naked grains and Husked grains.
“Naked grains” are the three popular millets (Ragi/Finger Millet, Jowar/Sorghum and Bajra/Black Millet) which don’t have a hard, undigestible husk. These millets don’t need to be processed after harvest – they just need to be cleaned and can be used. Because of this reason, they are still popular in our country and are widely cultivated (they are also called major millets because of this reason).
“Husked grains” are the other millets, like Kodo Millet (haarka), Barnyard Millet (Oodhalu), Foxtail Millet (navane), Little Millet (saame) and Browntop Millet (Korale), which have an undigestible seed coat. This husk needs to be removed before the grain is fit for human consumption. This used to be done by hand in the centuries past and so was rice. However, the mechanization of the processing of these minor millets did not keep pace with rice and other cereals so they soon became unpopular.

Why eat millets?

Millets are highly nutritious, rich in fibre and gluten-free, making them easy for the body to absorb. They are rich in a huge spectrum of micronutrients, including calcium, iron, phosphorus, etc. They are slow digesting foods which don’t cause the huge spike in blood sugar which is caused by eating polished rice, therefore, millets help with preventing and controlling diabetes. Click here for the nutrient composition of millets as compared to wheat and rice.
Millets should ideally be an integral part of your daily diet. They add variety and balance to your food. They can replace white rice in all your meals. You can start by mixing millets into rice and slowly make one meal a day a Millet meal. Some people have found enormous benefits, especially in controlling weight and diabetes, by switching completely from a rice and wheat diet to a millet based diet.

Nutrition:
They are highly nutritious, non-glutinous and not acid forming foods. Hence they are soothing and easy to digest. They are considered to be the least allergenic and most digestible grains available. Compared to rice, especially polished rice, millets release lesser percentage of glucose and over a longer period of time. This lowers the risk of diabetes
Millets are particularly high in minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. Finger millet (Ragi) is the richest in calcium content, about 10 times that of rice or wheat. Click here for the nutrient composition of millets as compared to wheat and rice.

Environmental:
Unlike rice and wheat that require many inputs in terms of soil fertility and water, millets grow well in dry regions as rain-fed crops. By eating millets, we will be encouraging farmers in dry-land areas to grow crops that are best suited for those regions. This is a step towards sustainable cropping practices where by introducing diversity in our diets, we respect the biodiversity in nature rather than forcefully changing cropping patterns to grow wheat and rice everywhere.

Small farmers:
There are many co-operatives of small farmers that are working on providing livelihoods to farmers while at the same time focusing on ecological preservation. In dry-land regions, these groups encourage the farmers to produce crops that are local to those regions, that thrive best there – millets. By incorporating millets into our diets, we will be supporting these groups.

Why are Millets not as popular as rice and wheat?

The green revolution was a landmark initiative to rehaul the agricultural practices of our country. It was launched in response to the multiple famines in the 1950s and 1960s so as to make the country self sufficient with respect to food production.
The took a “package” approach – using hybrid variety seeds which have higher yield, adding fertilizers to deal with the additional requirement of this crop, using pesticides and other additives since these hybrid varieties had no defense against local pests and diseases & building dams, supplying electricity, installing bore-wells and other methods of making sure the crops have sufficient water.
There picked two cereals as the main force of change: Paddy Rice (Oryza Sativa) and wheat (Triticum aestivum). These two grains were made available to farmers and subsidized heavily to get more farmers to grow these (The whole package was subsidized: fertilizers, pesticides, electricity, etc)
These initiatives worked remarkably well in making our country produce more food (we produce more than we use now), so well that farmers everywhere switched to growing rice and wheat instead of traditional, hardy cereals like millets. Only the most remote villages and tribes kept to their traditional methods of growing millets and other hardy crops.

What are millets called in my language?

Why are millet nutritious grains when compared to rice, etc?

Grains which grow in harsh conditions store a lot of varied nutrients in their seeds. This is perhaps a symptom of evolutionary pressure – better prepared seeds will survive and thrive and less prepared species will die out. The same benefit is passed on to us as well when we consume it.

However, nowadays, the rice and wheat which we eat are hybrid varieties which have been selected for predictable growth and high yield. By nature, they do not store much nutrients in their seeds.

In the same vein, plants which grow on a flourishing rich soil alive with microactivity will get a varied diet to grow on when compared to the plants which grow via hydroponics or soils fed on a steady stream of homogenous fertilisers. This kind of mono-diet for our plants and therefore, our diet, leads to diseases like vitamin deficiency and mineral deficiency.

Why should the millets be soaked before cooking? What is the benefit? Does it take less cooking time?

Soaking millets decreases phytic acid level. Phytic acid binds minerals in gut and decreases absorption of minerals. Easy to digest and reduces cooking time.

“Quinoa” – What’s all the fuss?

Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’) is a pseudo-cereal closely related to our own Dantina Soppu (Amaranthus). Quinoa has been traditionally grown in the highlands of South America as a sustenance crop past 3000 – 4000 years. It caught the fancy of the US public, who are always on the lookout for new “superfoods” – which they think will solve all the problems with their diet. The truth is, we don’t need to look so far as the Southern Andes to find such a nutritious grain. Quinoa, like millets, has evolved in harsh conditions with bad soil & its nutritional profile is comparable to many of the minor millets (especially foxtail, barnyard millets). Why get grains from so far when we have a superfood in our own backyard!

Can millets be given to babies?

Yes millets can be given to babies. Babies can be fed Popped/malted Millets powder; this is like a millet based substitute for baby food like Cerelac or others. Traditionally, children were given different forms of millets from 6 months up.

I do not know how to cook millets?

This is a common question people keep asking; first we need to understand that today our common food is Paddy Rice and Wheat.
Paddy belongs to the group of Husked grains – to which other small millets like Foxtail, Little, Kodo, Proso and Barnyard Millets also belong.
Wheat belongs to the Group of Naked Grains – to which other millets like Finger millet, Pearl millet and Jowar (Sorghum) belong.
Most people are more familiar with Ragi (Finger Millet), Jowar (Sorghum) and Bajra since these millets are consumed even today in different parts of our country and are a part of the local food culture.
In the case of husked grains like Paddy we process them in the rice mills to remove the husk and bran to get the conventional white Polished (Paddy) rice.
Similarly, the 5 different small millets which are husked can also be made into their respective rice forms.
These grains are less commonly known and are very much like the Paddy rice – so any millet rice can be cooked in the same way as Paddy rice.
The priority of our nation’s food security programme has bee promotion of rice and wheat. As a result millets, the “miracle grains” have gradually disappeared from the farms and also our diets. The cultural disconnect is too long and has made most of us unfamiliar with these grains to the extent that many of us have not even heard of these grains, leave alone consuming.
Millets can be consumed on a daily basis like any other grain. Chapattis & rice can be made up of millets. Apart from these, millets can be used to make laddus, Dalia and other dishes like – Saama Nippattu, Korra Murukku etc.

My children do not want to eat millets?

A lot of children do not like porridge made from dalia or oats but learn to like it over a period of time. Taste is cultivated and as parents we have to provide exposure to different textures, flavours etc. Start creating a taste for millets with e.g. laddus made from Popped millets and Millet mixes which can be used as drink by mixing with milk and then introduce it in the form of upma, mix millets in dosa/idli batter thus slowly introducing it into the diet.
A simple Jowar Pop can be very tasty food for the Kids, it is very easy to make and also a nutritious food rich in dietary fiber very essential for building immunity.

How often can I use millets in our food?

Millets can be consumed on a daily basis. They can either be used as it is or can be mixed with wheat and rice based products.
In order to get the millets back in to our home, we need to start in stages by using in small percentage in the beginning.
Gradually the proportion of millets can be increased. A simple way to begin may be by using millet’s rice along with the Paddy rice (White Rice). One can start with 10% of millets rice mixing and gradually increasing the proportion to 50%. In this way the taste would be retained together with the nutrient benefits of millets. Kids can also be given millets in the form of Ragi biscuits & Bajra chips. Chapattis can be baked using multigrain flour (a kind of flour made by mixing different varieties of millets).
Pure millets rice, millet idlis, pongal, pulao, khichdiCurd rice, Dosa, Idly, Puttu etc. can all be made with millets.

Are Millets hard to digest?

This is a misconception. For e.g. when one shifts from white, polished rice to unpolished rice the quantity of rice that you need to eat to feel satiated is much less since the unpolished rice has more bran and has a lower glycaemic index. As a result you feel hungry much later than you would with white, polished rice. In the same manner, the high fibre content of millets leads to slower digestion and a lower glycaemic index. Once one understands the nature of millets, one will find that much less quantities of millets are required to get the same amount of energy to keep us working. This is also why millets are excellent for diabetics.
Millets do not contain any gluten, a wheat protein that is hard for the human body to digest. Consequently, they are NOT acid-forming foods and are easy to digest. More on gluten here.

Won’t using millets be more expensive compared to Paddy rice or Wheat?

Millets have been known as poor people’s/hard working people’s food. Not all Millets are costly. Millets like Ragi and Bajra are comparatively cheaper and even today they are commonly consumed by the people in the form of Mudda (Kali) or Roti.
Millet products are comparatively more expensive than paddy rice or wheat because the millet grains are small and hence more difficult to process compared to Paddy. Indian Government has invested extensively in Paddy cultivation and processing and as a result cost of processing is low. In the case of millets Government investment on processing and promotion has been minimal, but has increased by 25%. Traditionally people processed millets manually but this was impossible if one wanted to make millets available to a larger section of the population. With increased investment, the processing will get cheaper on larger volumes, there by reducing the cost as well.
In the final analysis remember that for every kg of paddy rice / wheat you will need significantly lower quantities of millets. As a result there is a savings on the cost. In addition the hidden cost of reduction in medical expenses and improved health will lead to more value for the money that you spend on your food.

I do not have Diabetes, why should I take millets?

Millets are highly nutritious, non-glutinous and not acid forming food. Hence they’re soothing and easy to digest. They’re considered to be least allergenic & most digestible grains available.
Diabetes and other chronic diseases are known to have close link to the food that we consume.

Can millets be as tasty as the food cooked from Rice and Wheat?

Yes. Millets have been used to make tasty recipes like – Ragi cake, Bajra muffins, ragi pancakes, millet porridge & Malayali style puttu. Bajra-Jowar bread is known to be very delicious and is the fastest selling bread at many bakeries across the country.

Isn’t cooking millets more time consuming and difficult?

Millets are very much like any other commonly used grain; they can be cooked in the same forms as we cook the paddy rice or Wheat.

How do I know which millet I should eat?

Food and food habits are shaped by where you live. The easiest answer to this question is, like in the case of vegetables and fruits, eat millets that are local to your area.

Where can I buy millets?

You can buy on our website or on Amazon.com

What are the health benefits of eating millets?

Millets are highly nutritious, non-glutinous and not acid forming food. Hence they’re soothing and easy to digest.
Normally this feeling is due to the fact that Millets, owing to complex carbohydrates, keep us full for a long period of time unlike the Paddy rice (contain simple carbohydrates). Millets release glucose in to blood gradually without over loading with sudden surge of glucose like the White rice.
Eating millets will not only reduce your weight but will also give you the nutritional benefits which rice and wheat won’t provide. They’re considered to be least allergenic & most digestible grains available.

Can pregnant women consume millets?

Certainly they can consume millets. In fact, millets are ideal for pregnant mothers since several of them like ragi and bajra are rich in iron and calcium. The mothers who are having gestational diabetes should use millets in place of other grains; this will help control the problem.
Use of millets will help build immunity to the baby growing in the womb.

Millets are generally used as Bird feed. Can humans eat the same kind of millets?

Birds intuitively know the nutrition in the millets, they mainly eat the unprocessed whole grains. Millets are the preferred food by pet birds instead of paddy and wheat. The people who keep pet birds will be familiar with the millets grains they purchase for them. It is a paradox that it is here in the bird feed shops that these grains are available.
Today one of the largest demands for the millets is for the bird feed market. This often has created a mindset that these grains are for the birds and not for human consumption.
Humans can use the same millets after the required processing of dehusking just as in paddy.

Who all can use millets?

Anybody from new born babies to youngsters to adults to elderly people can consume millets. People who are healthy, sick, poor, rich, men, women and of social status can consume the millets the way we use Paddy and Wheat.

How does consuming millets help protect the environment?

Unlike rice and wheat that require many inputs in terms of soil fertility & water, millets grow well in dry regions as rain-fed crops. Consuming millets will support sustainable cropping practice whereby introducing diversity in our diets. Hence, there is no agro-ecological conflict.

How beneficial are millets for athletes?

Carbohydrates are important for athletes as it is a major source of energy for them. Millets are the only source of carbohydrates which does not have any starch in it and they release energy slowly allowing for improved stamina during long periods of intense activity.

If millets are so beneficial why aren’t they as prevalent as rice and wheat?

The Green revolution introduced by the govt in 1960 gave thrust to enhancing the production and promotion of Paddy and Wheat all over the country. Huge investments were made for creating a large infrastructure at the national level to enable the farmers to produce these two crops. ICAR, FCI, Ministry of Agriculture, Department of civil supplies were established to provide all the necessary technical and logistics support.
The subsequent Rs.2/kg paddy scheme and subsidies given to the farming of paddy and wheat in the name of national food security changed India’s eating and farming habits irrevocably. Today, policy and agricultural experts blame that single act for wiping out 85% of India’s millet farming.
Socially, millets were the food of the so-called lower classes. In the history of Post independent India it was unfortunate that millets did not receive suitable attention or support. When the green revolution was launched, the decision makers ignored the fact that millet, not paddy, was the rice of the middle-class Indian. It is an inherent caste system in food. It has been referred to as racism in food, where anything white like polished rice and refined flour is treated as superior even though it’s deadly for diet, and grains that are dark are put down as inferior.
With the way we have promoted our foods, today the cultivation, processing and marketing of these grains are less common to find.
Gradually situation is changing; people understand the value of millets which we have forgotten. There is increasing demand for the millets now, it is more common to find Ragi and other millets products in the market.

What kinds of millets are available?

Barnyard Millet (Hindi: Jhangora or Madira; Tamil: Kuthiravaali; Telugu: Odalu)
Finger Millet (Hindi: Mandua; Tamil: Kelvargu; Telugu: Ragulu; Kannada: Ragi; Malayalam: Koovarugu)
Foxtail Millet (Hindi: Kangni; Tamil: Tenai; Telugu: Korra; Kannada: Navane; Malayalam: Thina)
Kodo Millet (Hindi: Kodra; Tamil: Varagu; Telugu: Arikelu; Kannada: Harka)
Little Millet (Hindi: Kutki; Tamil: Samai; Telugu: Sama; Kannada: Same; Malayalam: Chama)
Pearl Millet (Hindi: Bajra, Tamil: Kambu, Telugu: Gantilu, Kannada: Sajje)
Proso Millet (Hindi: Barri; Tamil: Panivaragu; Telugu: Varigulu; Kannada: Baragu)
Sorghum (Hindi: Jowar; Tamil: Cholam; Telugu: Jonna; Kannada: Jola; Malayalam: Cholum)

Where can I buy millets?

You can buy them on Organic-sphere.com and many retail stores across North America and Canada.

How do I cook them?

Most millets can be cooked like rice. Millets can replace rice in various dishes such as idli, dosa, payasam/kheer. Millet flour can be used to make rotis. Click here for some recipes.

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