Before rice was widely consumed in Asia, it is thought that different varieties of millet were the staple grain in this region. For centuries it remained the leading grain. It is one of the hardiest grains and is therefore a staple food in regions with poor soils where other grains will not grow at all (e.g. parts of India, Africa, China and Russia). This legacy persists in the Chinese language, where the signs for ‘millet’ and ‘mouth’ together make the word ‘harmony’. It is a gluten free grain that in most cases is used as a whole grain.
Nutrition credentials of whole grain millet:
- Low in fat (which is mostly unsaturated) and high in carbohydrate (mainly starch).
- A good source of dietary fibre.
- High in potassium and low in sodium.
- Gluten free.
- Contains B-group vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate and pantothenic acid
- Contains vitamin E.
- Contains iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium (depending on the soil content of selenium).
- Contains small amounts of copper, manganese and calcium.
- Contains phytochemicals including lignans, phenolic acids, phytic acid, plant sterols and saponins.
Main culinary uses of millet:
- Millet has a mild flavour that pairs well with other foods. It is often mixed with other grains or toasted before cooking to bring out the full flavour.
- Millet flour – millet can be ground into a coarse flour which lacks gluten. It is used to make porridge (e.g. in South Africa) and in India and the West Indies, millet meal is used to make chapatis and similar unleavened bread.
- In Ethiopia, finely ground millet grains are left to ferment slightly before being baked into flat breads called injera. In India, millet flour is made into leavened pancakes called dosa and thinner, unleavened roti. A millet bread popular in India, often made with chickpea and wheat flour for a lighter flavour and texture, is dhebra.
- In Australia, millet is also ground into flour and added to baked foods to provide texture and flavour.
- Millet grains – can be boiled whole and eaten like rice.
- Fluffy millet: Toast 1 cup of millet for 4 – 6 minutes in a dry pan then add 2¼ cups boiling water, simmer for 15 minutes, then let stand for 10 minutes. Great as a side dish.
- Sticky millet: Bring 1 cup of millet to boil in 2¾ cups water, simmer for 15 minutes, then let stand 10 minutes. Can be moulded in croquettes or patties.
- Creamy millet: Grind 1 cup of millet in a spice grinder. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil, then gradually whisk in millet. Cover, lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 to 30 minutes until millet is tender. Ideal as an alternative to porridge or polenta.
- You can substitute up to 30% millet flour in your favourite baking recipes, and even more in foods such as biscuits.
Fonio belongs to the millet family too…
Fonio (Digitaria Exilis), holds significant cultural, nutritional and economic importance in West Africa, but is still relatively unknown in Western countries. Its cultivation dates back almost 7,000 years and is a staple crop for many rural communities. Fonio is known for its ability to adjust well and thrive in harsh weather environments and low-fertility soils, so is an important crop that could be used to combat food insecurity.
Nutrition credentials of fonio:
- Gluten free
- Rich in protein
- Contains essential amino acids like methionine and cysteine
- Source of fibre
- Contains B-vitamins
- Contains minerals (iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus)
- Low glycaemic index
Main culinary uses of fonio:
- Can be used in place of rice and other grains
- Fonio flour can be added to regular flour to enhance nutritional value, as well as used in various recipes for cakes, fritters and baking bread
- Can be eaten as couscous or porridge