About Millets

MILLETS: The Smart Crops!

The exact origin of millets remains unknown, however, experts suggest they have first grown in Asia and Africa over 7000 years ago. In fact, millets are known to be the first grains grown in China, much before they started growing rice! Similarly, millets have been mentioned in some of the oldest Yajurveda texts, identifying foxtail millet, barnyard millet and black finger millet, indicating that millet consumption was very common, dating to 4500 BC, during the Indian Bronze Age.

Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grass, grown around the world as cereal crops. They have rich nutritional properties with high micronutrient and dietary fibre content and low glycaemic indices. Some popular millets include:

  • Sorghum (Jowar)

  • Pearl Millet (Bajra)

  • Finger Millet (Ragi)

  • Foxtail Millet

  • Kodo Millet

  • Barnyard Millet

  • Little Millet (used as a substitute for rice)

  • Proso Millet

They are traditional staple crops which perform well in a marginal environment. Due to this they were very popular among poor farmers and were often referred to as the “poor man's crop” or “coarse grains”. They are easy to grow with limited water resources and usually without any fertilizers and pesticides.

Over the years, there was a slow shift from the use of millets in our diet to the more modern wheat and rice. In the late 1960s rice and wheat became available in more quantities and at a cheaper cost. The Green Revolution promoted these high yielding crops in a big way. Around the same time, a number of government welfare schemes provided rice and wheat at a very subsidized rate.

The humble millets that were the ‘poor man’s grains’, have recently made a comeback in a big way into gourmet meals and are highly recommended for fitness conscious people. Millets are gradually finding their way to the mainstream wellness culture for their wonderful healing properties. They provide an alternative to wheat and rice and promote dietary diversity. They have a short growth cycle and ability to withstand tough weather conditions while giving a good yield. This makes them ideal for farmers – and the low carbon footprint makes them good for the planet.

Research has shown millets to have some amazing health benefits:

  • Improves digestive system with its prebiotic properties – sprouted millets have prebiotic properties which build a healthy gut

  • Increases immunity in respiratory health

  • Improves muscular and neural systems and protects against several degenerative diseases such as

    Parkinsons

  • Beneficial for people showing signs of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels

  • Millets are a slow digesting starch and help in better control of Diabetes due to its low glycaemic index

  • Millets have antioxidant properties, that reduce the stress factor associated with chronic diseases like heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes

  • Millet protein can increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood glucose and triglycerides – leading to better control of blood sugar

  • They are high in fiber and have the right balance of amino acids - the building blocks of protein.

  • Millets are gluten free and hypoallergenic

    Millets are way ahead of rice in terms of their nutritional parameters:

    • Certain types of millets have a fibre content more than 50 times that of rice

    • Finger millets contain thirty times more calcium than rice

    • Other types of millets contain at least twice the amount of calcium than rice

    • Millets contain the micronutrient beta-carotene in abundance (this micronutrient is not present in rice and people take pills to supplement their diet with beta-carotene)

    • Foxtail and little millets are very rich in iron content

    • Finger millets (Ragi) demonstrates the ability to control blood glucose levels and hyperglycaemia and is, therefore, ideal food for diabetics

    • Pearl millet (Bajra) is rich in iron and known for its high energy content compared to other millets

    The conscious shift towards nutri-cereals is evident from the efforts of the Government and various other international organisations. The Indian Government celebrated 2018 as the year of millets to provide a boost to millet production. Acting on India’s proposal, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has decided to observe 2023 as the International Year of Millets. The idea is to create awareness and boost production of climate resilient and nutritious millets across the globe.