The big deal about the small grains
While millets are filled with nutrition, choose the one that suits you
Our serious engagement with millets began three years back when we moved to Coimbatore. We were already into traditional varieties of rice and strains of wheat; but I jumped onto the millet bandwagon with gusto.
To the dismay of my spouse, millets appeared on the table at almost every meal. He stoically ate through my millet experiments, which were neither appetising nor creative. But there was no stopping me, since I was convinced that eating millets was essential to living an environmentally friendly life.
Initially, we were thrilled with our low ecological footprint and the weight loss both of us experienced; then things became problematic when my better half, already slim, couldn’t stop losing weight.
For all seasons
Experimenting with millets revealed some interesting facts. These small grains are the ultimate survival food, as they can grow in the harshest of climates and the poorest of soils with a meagre supply of water.
Years back, during a meeting of millet growers, we listened open-mouthed to a millet grower from a tribal community in Madhya Pradesh, as he explained that the storehouse of millets that he inherited from his father, collected over bountiful harvests, was his primary wealth.
The storehouse, made with mud, cow dung and grass, carrying tonnes of millets, was built near the house and zealously guarded. It was a revelation that whole millets can be stored for years.
More than mere material wealth, these gluten-free grains are also packed with nutrition, fibre, contain an array of minerals and are rich in calcium, magnesium, iron and other nutrients.
Each millet is different, with its own unique properties and benefits. We would be best served if we experiment and figure out which of them work for us.
We may derive benefits from some, while others may not suit us. Interestingly, the way millets are prepared also changes the properties. For example, in Western India, pearl millet is consumed in winter as a warming food (in the form of bhakri , a hard roti ), whereas in the South, it is cooked, fermented and consumed along with buttermilk ( kambu kuzhu ) as a cooling summer food.
At home, it dawned on us after many consultations with an Ayurveda physician friend and others that so many millet meals a week did not work for one of us. It also reinforced the oft-repeated, but forgotten lesson: listen to the body and don’t jump into the latest food fad.
The writer is the co-founder of Bio Basics, a social venture retailing organic food; and is a consultant to the Save Our Rice Campaign
The eight common millets of South India are: Little millet ( samai ), foxtail millet ( thinai ), barnyard millet ( kuthiraivali ), kodo millet ( varagu ), proso millet ( pani varagu ), finger millet ( ragi ), sorghum ( cholam ) and pearl millet ( kambu ).
Little millet and barnyard millet raw rice cook very easily (need water in the ratio of 1:2 cups). Foxtail, kodo and proso millet take longer to cook and require 1:3 glasses of water.
The par-boiled millet rice needs more cooking time and water compared to raw millet rice.
The raw millet rice is good for saadham , curd rice, sambar rice, etc. The par-boiled millet rice is good for preparing idlis and dosas and also suitable for making pulav , lemon rice, etc.
Millet flours can be used to prepare appams, idiyappams (string hoppers), puttu, kolukattai (dumplings), paniyaram and also sweets such as ladoos, kheer, barfi , etc.
Millets generally expand more on cooking, and one cup of cooked millet rice can stretch to three people instead of two with paddy rice.
Millet rices are best eaten warm/hot for the soft mouth-feel and tend to become a little dry and unappetising when cold.
These small grains are the ultimate survival food, as they can grow in the harshest of climates and the poorest of soils
Food of yore
Millet has been cultivated for some 8,000 years, and is one of the oldest foods known to man. Millet is mentioned in the Bible, and was used during those times to make bread.
First published by The Hindu