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Frequently Asked Questions about Millets

What are millets?

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, Jowar and Bajra) which dont have a hard, undigestable husk. These millets dont 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 Foxtail Millet (navane), Little Millet (saame) and Kodo Millet (haarka), which have an undigestable 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 should I 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.

What are millets called in my language?

English Kannada Hindi Telugu Tamil Bengali Marathi Gujarati Oriya
Barnyard ಊದಲು (Oodhalu) Sanwa - साँवा Udhalu - ఊదర Kuthiraivally - குதிரைவாலி Shyama - - Khira
Proso ಬರಗು (Baragu) Chena - छेना Variga - బరిగ Pani Varagu - பனிவரகு Cheena Vari Cheno Bachari bagmu
Kodo ಹಾರಕ (Haarka) Kodon - कोडों Arikelu - ఆరిక Varagu - வரகு Kodo Kodra Kodra Kodua
Little ಸಾಮೆ (Same) Kutki - कुटकि Samalu - సామ Samai - சாமை Sama Sava Gajro Suan
Sorghum ಜೋಳ (Jola) Jowari - जोवारि Jonna - జొన్న Cholam - சோளம் Jowar Jawari Jowari Juara
Pearl ಸಜ್ಜೆ (Sajje) Bajra - बजरा Sajja - సజ్జ Kanbu - கம்பு Jowar Bajri Bajri Bajra
Finger ರಾಗಿ (Ragi) Ragi - रागि Ragulu - రాగి Keppai - கேழ்வரகு Marwa Nachni Nagli Mandia
Foxtail ನವಣೆ (Navane) Kakum - काकुन Korra - కొర్ర Tenai - தினை Kaon Rala Kang Kanghu

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 borewells 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.

Millets and the Environment

With climate change on our minds and rainfall becoming more and more unpredictable, millets are turning out to be one of the most important grains for the whole world. Being rain-fed crops, Millets put minimal stress on our delicate, already overloaded water systems. Growing millets does not necessitate construction of expensive & ecologically disruptive dams and irrigation systems.

They can survive on soil where rice and wheat cannot grow, even slightly saline and acidic soils, so they can grow well without fertilizers and other soil enhancing chemicals.

Also, millets are not susceptible to pests and do not need spraying of pesticides. Millets strengthen food security since they are less likely to fail than other cereal crops.

Cultivating Millets

Millets are easy crops to grow & are called the "Lazy man's crop" because of how less effort is needed to grow them. In fact, many millets grow as weeds in other crops. All you need to do is to broadcast the seeds in the farm and you will have a harvest after 3 months. They just need 2-3 timely rains and will yield a good harvest.

Most millets are grown as Kharif crops, i.e. they are sown at the beginning of summer rains. In areas that receive good rainfall, many of the millets are grown as a rabi crop i.e. they are sown in winter and harvested in spring. 

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.

Whole grain millets vs polished millets

One has to keep in mind an important aspect of cereal grains – almost all the mineral and fatty acids and a good proportion of the fibre content is found in the bran layer. So one needs to make sure that the product you buy is unpolished, whole grain, millet rice, and has suffered minimal bran loss. Polishing millets removes the bran layer leading to major loss of nutrients. But it makes the over-all processing easier and allows for larger scale processing.

"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!

How do I cook with millets?

Cooking with Millets is very easy & takes around the same time as cooking with other cereals. Checkout cookingwithmillets.com for millet recipes.

You can join us on our Facebook community to get more recipes and inspiration facebook.com/groups/cookingwithmillets

Where do I buy millets?

If you're in Bangalore, your in luck. You place your order online at Kaulige.com and get it delivered to you or a store near you. Check this link for details of our stores. If not, look for millets in stores near you. Organic Stores are more likely to have millets but more and more regular stores have started keeping millets.