New Delhi: Name a food crop that is climate-resilient, easy to grow, packs in protein, fiber, key vitamins, and minerals and is also known as a superfood. Well, it is the oldest food known to humankind and this good-old grain is Millet. Jowar, Bajra, and Ragi are some of the grains we might have seen our grandparents consuming. Well, they are all types of millet. Today, as this humble grain has gained international importance for its nutritional benefits, it is making a comeback on food plates.
Briefing on the health benefits of millets, Rupali Datta, Registered Dietician and Founder of Diet Decisions said,
Millets have high fibre content which helps control diabetes; they are high in protein as compared to the traditional grains; rich in minerals like iron; a good source of B vitamins; they are gluten-free.
Let us understand the different kinds of millet and which ones to eat when and why.
Types Of Millets – The Superfood
According to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), there is a family of eight types of millets. They are classified into major millets and minor millets based on their grain size.
The three major millets are:
- Jowar (Sorghum)
- Bajra (Pearl Millet)
- Ragi (Finger Millet)
The five minor millets include:
- Foxtail Millet (Kakum)
- Kodo Millets (Kodon)
- Barnyard Millet (Sanwa)
- Little Millet (Kutki/Shavan)
- Proso Millet (Chenna or Barri)
There are two pseudo millets as well – Amaranth which is called Ramdana or Rajgira in Hindi and Buckwheat, also known as Kuttu in Hindi.
In its guidance note on millets, the FSSAI has said,
Amaranth and Buckwheat are called pseudo millets because they are not part of the Poaceae botanical family, to which ‘true’ grains belong. However, they are nutritionally similar and used in similar ways to ‘true’ grains.
The eight types of millets can also be categorised based on their nature – cooling and heating or summer millets vs winter millets. In an interview with NDTV, Munmun Ganeriwal, Nutritionist, Gut microbiome Specialist and Best-selling Author, explained the nature of millets. Ms Ganeriwal said,
Jowar is a neutral millet which means you can have it throughout the year. Ragi, Foxtail Millet, Bajra and Barnyard Millet are heating millets which means they should ideally be consumed during the winter season. On the other hand, Little Millet and Proso Millet have cooling properties and can be eaten during the summer season.
Interestingly, heating millets when mixed with cooling agents like ghee, moong dal and coconut make for good summer food. In Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, heating millets are used to prepare a summer drink.
They mix Bajra flour with buttermilk and leave it to ferment. Buttermilk is a primary cooling agent and then the process of fermentation also cools down the content, said Ms Ganeriwal.
The Consumption Of Millets – The Nutri-Cereals
Ms Datta said major millets – Jowar, Bajra and Ragi – could be used as a replacement for wheat in making wheat-based products like flatbreads, buns, biscuits and cakes.
As far as minor millets are concerned, they can be utilised in place of rice. Ms Ganeriwal explained,
When people fast, they often eat samak ke chawal. It is actually Barnyard Millet. The interesting thing about millets is that their cooking process is the same as for wheat or rice. The recipe is alike. In the case of minor millets – Kakum, Kodon, Sanwa and Kutki/Shavan – just use them as you would use rice in preparing dosa, idli, biryani, pulao, and pancake and relish them with sambhar, rasam, chutney and papad. Often I recommend my clients to have millet ladoo. Essentially, millets are not alien grains; use them like you would do any other grain.
The key is to remember which millet to have when – based on its properties. Ms Ganeriwal recommends avoiding multi-millet mix. She suggested,
Since millets are good for health, we believe that the more the merrier, but it doesn’t work like that. You can mix two types of millet – one could be a heating millet and another cooling millet. But don’t mix more than two and also of the same type as each millet has different properties.
The benefits of millet are not hidden, and it is because of the same reason that the superfood is gaining importance not only in India but internationally as well. India celebrated 2018 as the year of millets and now the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has declared 2023 as the “International Year of Millets”.
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