Millet is one of the oldest foods known to humans and possibly the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purposes. It is mentioned in the Bible, and was used during those times to make bread. Millet has been used in Africa and India as a staple food for thousands of years and it was grown as early as 2700 BC in China where it was the prevalent grain before rice became the dominant staple. It is documented that the plant was also grown by the lake dwellers of Switzerland during the Stone Age.oday millet ranks as the sixth most important grain in the world, sustains 1/3 of the world’s population and is a significant part of the diet in northern China, Japan, Manchuria and various areas of the former Soviet Union, Africa, India, and Egypt. Millet is a major crop in many of these countries, particularly Africa and the Indian subcontinent where the crop covers almost 100 million acres, and thrives in the hot dry climates that are not conducive to growing other grains such as wheat and rice.Millet was introduced to the U.S. in 1875, was grown and consumed by the early colonists like corn, then fell into obscurity. At the present time the grain is widely known in the U.S. and other Western countries mainly as bird and cattle feed. Only in recent years has it begun to make a comeback and is now becoming a more commonly consumed grain in the Western part of the world.Millet is superior feed for poultry, swine, fish, and livestock and, as it is being proven, for humans as well.
There are many varieties of millet, but the four major types are Pearl, which comprises 40% of the world production, Foxtail, Proso, and Finger Millet. Pearl Millet produces the largest seeds and is the variety most commonly used for human consumption.
The seeds are enclosed in colored hulls, with color depending on variety, and the seed heads themselves are held above the grassy plant on a spike like panicle 6 to 14 inches long and are extremely attractive. Because of a remarkably hard, indigestible hull, this grain must be hulled before it can be used for human consumption. Hulling does not affect the nutrient value, as the germ stays intact through this process.
Once out of the hull, millet grains look like tiny yellow spheres with a dot on one side where it was attached to the stem. This gives the seeds an appearance similar to tiny, pale yellow beads. Millet is unique due to its short growing season. It can develop from a planted seed to a mature, ready to harvest plant in as little as 65 days. This is an important consideration for areas where food is needed for many.
Millet is highly nutritious, non-glutinous and like buckwheat and quinoa, is not an acid forming food so is soothing and easy to digest. In fact, it is considered to be one of the least allergenic and most digestible grains available and it is a warming grain so will help to heat the body in cold or rainy seasons and climates.
Millet is tasty, with a mildly sweet, nut-like flavor and contains a myriad of beneficial nutrients. It is nearly 15% protein, contains high amounts of fiber, B-complex vitamins including niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin, the essential amino acid methionine, lecithin, and some vitamin E. It is particularly high in the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.
The seeds are also rich in phytochemicals, including Phytic acid, which is believed to lower cholesterol, and Phytate, which is associated with reduced cancer risk.
Millet is delicious as a cooked cereal and in casseroles, breads, soups, stews, soufflés, pilaf, and stuffing. It can be used as a side dish or served under sautéed vegetables or with beans and can be popped like corn for use as a snack or breakfast cereal. The grain mixes well with any seasoning or herbs that are commonly used in rice dishes and for interesting taste and texture variations it may be combined with quinoa and brown or basmati rice. Millet may also be sprouted for use in salads and sandwiches.
Properly stored, whole millet can be kept safely for up to two years. The grain should be stored in tightly closed containers, preferably glass, in a cool dry place with a temperature of less than 70° or in the refrigerator.