Millets: The Forgotten Grain Of The Beautiful Civilized World

a world map made of grains and beans

Millets are regarded as “future crops” since they are resistant to the majority of pests and illnesses and can thrive in the hard conditions of Asia’s dry and semi-arid regions.

In order to address the dietary needs of the growing global population, millets have seen a steady increase in production over the past few decades.

One of the most underutilised crops with Nutri-cereal potential is millets. Millets are very nutrient-dense, do not produce acids, are gluten-free, and have nutritional characteristics. Millets are extremely nutritious, but due to a lack of knowledge about their nutritional benefits, only the traditional and poor population consumes them.

These grains have recently been gently igniting the start-up movement to expand access to nutrient-rich food and generate employment.

Nutri-cereals are making a strong comeback in the Indian grain-producing sector after decades of neglect. With a market share of roughly 40.62% and an anticipated production of 10.91 million tonnes in 2018–2019, India dominates the world’s millets market.

Since most millets are gluten-free and three to five times more nutritious than most cereals, they are referred to as “superfoods.”

Nutritional value:

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Millets offer sustained release of glucose and satiety because they are a good source of calories, dietary fibre, slowly digesting starch, and complex carbohydrates. Millets are a good source of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and iron as well as vitamins E and B.

Millets have an energy content per 100 g that ranges from 320 to 370 kcal. Millets contain 65-75% carbohydrates and a higher proportion of non-starchy polysaccharides and dietary fibre than staple cereals.

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Moreover, with a high dietary fibre content, millets have been shown to improve gastrointestinal health, blood lipid profile, and blood glucose clearance.

Millets are also high in phytochemicals that promote health, such as phytosterols, polyphenols, phytocyanins, lignins, and phyto-oestrogens.

These phytochemicals act as antioxidants, immunomodulators, and detoxifying agents, reducing the risk of adult degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Nutritional profile of millets in comparison with cereals (per 100 g).

GrainsEnergy
(kcal)
Protein
(g)
Carbohydrate
(g)
Fat(g)
Sorghum33410.467.61.9
Pearl millet36311.661.75
Finger millet3207.366.81.3
Proso millet34112.570.01.1
Foxtail millet33112.360.04.3
Kodo millet3538.366.11.4
Little millet3298.765.55.3
Barnyard millet30711.665.55.8
Maize33411.564.73.6
Wheat32111.864.71.5
Rice3536.874.80.5

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8871339/#:~:text=The%20majority%20of%20millets%20are,%E2%80%9Csuperfoods%E2%80%9D%20%5B2%5D.

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Advantages of millets

Millets are small-seeded annual grasses or cereals native to Ethiopia that has been successfully adopted by India, China, Australia, Africa, and some regions of the United States of America.

Millets are high in protein, dietary fibre, essential fatty acids, minerals such as potassium, zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamins, particularly vitamin B complex.

Millets have some great advantages:

  1. Natural nutri-cereals,
  2. High in dietary fibre
  3. Gluten-free,
  4. Alkaline, the best fortification agent (fortificant), friendly to the intestine
  5. Abundant in cell reinforcements,
  6. Effectively edible, rich in lecithin to fortify the sensory system
  7. Aids in the reduction of bad cholesterol such as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), and triglycerides.

What are various types of millets?

Here are a few classified millet types that we regularly use.

Proso millets:

Source: Wikipedia

When compared to staple cereals, proso millet has a higher nutritional value due to its higher concentration of minerals and dietary fibre.

Furthermore, proso millet-based products have a lower glycemic response than staple cereal-based products.

Pearl (Bajra)millets:

Source: wikipedia

The energy value of pearl (Bajra)millet is comparable to that of staple cereals. Pearl (Bajra)millet contains fewer carbohydrates than the other cereals. It has been cultivated since prehistoric times in Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

Pearl (Bajra)millet protein is gluten-free and has a higher prolamin fraction, making it suitable for gluten-sensitive individuals.

Pearl (Bajra)millet contains a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids as well as other important nutritional fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid.

Pearl millet can be easily stored at low temperatures and moisture levels due to its higher oil content (4-9%). Its phytochemical constituents aid in cholesterol reduction and lipid profile maintenance.

It has been reported that pearl millet has a hypoglycemic effect and improves lipidemic control in diabetics.

Kodo millets:

Source: Wikipedia

The Kodo millet (Arikalu in south India), also known as cow grass, rice grass, ditch millet, Native Paspalum, or Indian Crown Grass, is thought to have originated in tropical Africa and was domesticated in India 3000 years ago. It is primarily grown in Nepal and resembles ragi in appearance.

Kodo millet has a lower protein content than other selected millets and provides gluten-free protein.

Kodo millet is very easy to digest, making it suitable for infant and geriatric product formulation.

Foxtail millets:

Source: Wikipedia

It is the second-most planted millet species and the most-grown millet species in Asia. The earliest evidence of foxtail millet cultivation was discovered in Cishan, China, along the ancient course of the Yellow River.

Due to its high dietary fibre content, resistant starch, vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids, foxtail millet (Korralu in south India) has a higher nutritional value than major cereals such as wheat and rice.

It contains more nutrients than most cereals. The protein content of foxtail millet is the highest of any millet. Foxtail millet also has a high concentration of stearic and linoleic acids, which aids in the maintenance of a healthy lipid profile.

It contains catechin, quercetin, apigenin, and kempherol, which aid in the treatment of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and the maintenance of dyslipidemia.

Also read:

Finger (Ragi) millets:

Source: wikipedia

The Ethiopian and Ugandan highlands are home to the finger millet (Ragi). Among the millets tested, finger (Ragi) millet has the highest carbohydrate content. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are primarily composed of slowly digestible starch, dietary fibre, and resistant starch, and thus have a lower glycemic index than most common cereals such as rice and wheat.

They have the lowest protein content of any millet. It is high in sulphur-containing amino acids (cysteine and methionine), as well as lysine, which is deficient in most cereals. It is also high in calcium and phosphorous, and it aids in the control of high blood cholesterol, constipation, and intestinal cancer.

Little (Sama) millets:

Source: Wikipedia

Except for its size, this cereal is similar in habit and constitution to proso millet. It grows in Asia’s temperate zones.

It can be used for snacks, baby foods, processed foods, and so on. It contains apigenin, which aids in the treatment of diabetes, celiac disease, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol, and is anti-cancer. These are also beneficial to wheat-intolerant individuals.

Banyard millets:

Source: Wikipedia

Barnyard millet is a fast-growing millet crop that is typically harvested in 6 weeks. Japanese barnyard millet, also known as Japanese millet, is a species of Echinochloa that is grown on a small scale in India, Japan, China, and Korea for both food and animal fodder.

It is grown in areas where the land is unsuitable for paddy rice cultivation or the climate is too cool. It is high in protein, dietary fibre, and some soluble and insoluble fractions, as well as low in carbohydrates. It is primarily composed of three fatty acids: linoleic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid. Barnyard millet is very effective in lowering blood sugar levels and is gluten-free.

Sorghum

Source: Wikipedia

Sorghum, also known as Jowar, is a traditional staple food for the world’s dry land population. It has more nutritional value than rice and contains -carotene, folic acid, fibre, thiamine, and riboflavin.

Sorghum is a highly nutritive and productive millet with more nutritional value than rice or wheat and nutraceutical properties that aid in the prevention and treatment of both pre and post-transition problems such as arthritis, heart-related cardiovascular diseases, lower body weight and body mass index (BMI), malnutrition, and obesity.

Why processing is important in millets

One disadvantage of millets is that they contain more antinutritional factors than wheat and rice. Antinutrients are phytochemical compounds that plants naturally produce to defend themselves.

Polyphenols, tannins (0.61%), phytates (0.48%), trypsin inhibitors, and oxalates in finger millet may interfere with micronutrient bioavailability and protein digestibility.

The goitrogenic compounds in Pearl (Bajra)millet are phenolic flavonoids, such as C-glycosyl flavones, and their metabolites are responsible for off-odours in the flour during storage.

Antinutrients are removed from food grains through pretreatment or processing techniques such as debranning, soaking, germination, fermentation, and autoclaving. Millet grains must be processed in order to remove inedible portions and transform them into a cooked and edible form.

Dehusking/decortication, milling, soaking, germination, fermentation, malting, cooking, and roasting are all part of the processing process.

Soaking millet is the best method for increasing its nutritional value.

There are 2 types of processing.

Primary processing:

Primary processing includes cleaning, washing (soaking/germination), dehulling, milling (into flour and semolina), and refining to remove the undesirable seed coat and anti-nutritional factors.

Secondary processing:

Secondary processing entails flaking, popping, extrusion, and baking to convert primary processed raw materials into “ready-to-cook” (RTC) or “ready-to-eat” (RTE) products.

The table below shows the best processing to increase the nutritive value of millets.

Type of milletFavourable method of processing
Foxtail milletAlkaline cooking,
Fermentation, Germination, Popping
Proso milletsPan frying, Germination
Kodo milletsPuffing, Pan frying
Pearl (Bajra) milletGermination (24 hrs), Fermentation (Pearl (Bajra)millet flour+water) & Dry heat
Little milletsGermination (24 hrs), Fermentation
Banyard milletsGermination (24 hrs), Fermentation

What is the nutritional constitution of millet?

Millets are processed to increase their nutritive value while decreasing their available anti-nutrient concentration. When we choose processed millets, please inform us about each component of our basic nutrition.

Proteins

Millets are a good source of protein and are popular among vegans. They are regarded as excellent plant proteins with negligible saturated fat content.

Simple techniques such as dehulling, milling, soaking, and heating reduce antinutrient levels while increasing protein digestibility in vitro.

Protein digestibility has been shown to improve throughout the germination and fermentation processes in cereals, millets, and legumes.

Carbohydrates

Millets typically have a carbohydrate concentration of 60-75%. Foxtail millet has the least carbohydrate and little millet has the most carbohydrate.

Similarly, millet processing alters the nutritional supply of millets. Germination significantly increases the total soluble sugar concentration, as well as the concentrations of reducing and non-reducing sugars.

Parboiled millet had a lower glycemic index due to a lower readily digestible starch fraction.

Fiber

The millet bran fraction is a good source of dietary fibre. As a result, removing the bran fraction during decortication/dehulling results in a significant reduction in the fibre component.

Dehulling of about 12% to 30% is appropriate for millet grains because it does not result in significant fibre loss.

Dietary fibre, particularly that found in the outer bran layer, is essential in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and constipation.

It is critical to discourage millers from polishing millets and to advise consumers to prefer whole millets (unpolished) and their by-products for a healthy millet diet.

Fats

Germination reduces the fat content of millet. As a result, raw millets contain more fat than germinated millets. Increased enzyme and fat consumption as an energy source during germination could explain the decrease in fat content.

As a result, germination reduces the fat content of millet. Even thermal processing, such as pan frying, reduces fat concentration.

Vitamins & Minerals

Millets have a lower nutritional value when polished/debranned because the bran and germ components of refined millet flour are removed, resulting in a loss of vitamins and minerals.

Conclusion:

Brown rice had the highest carbohydrate content, while millet had the highest protein and fat content. As a result, replacing brown rice with millet will be more beneficial.

Millets have a similar energy content to cereals. Furthermore, because of their high fibre, minerals, vitamins, macro- and micronutrients, and phytochemicals content, they provide more significant health benefits and can aid in the treatment of chronic diseases. Making millets a regular part of your diet can provide an inexpensive, complete, and healthy meal.

Key takeaways

  • Millets are a rich source of dietary fiber.
  • Millets have a low glycemic index compared to rice and many other kinds of cereal
  • Always use processed millets for regular use. The millets should be either fermented/ soaked/ dry heated/ popped before use.
  • Soaking is an ideal method to increase the nutritive value of millet. Hence always soak millets for 6-8 hours before use.
  • Unhusked and completely de-husked millets are not ideal for use. Unhusked millets contain anti-nutrients and de-husked millets barely contain the required nutrients.
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