At one time millet was used in the United States primarily as fodder and birdseed. However, this grain has been growing in popularity as a food for human consumption. This grain alternative does not contain wheat or gluten and is a good choice for gluten sensitive people who are anxious to consume nutritious foods.
Millet is known to ease premenstrual discomfort and can aid in speeding the healing of wounds.
The corn-like millet plant grows to a height of about 15 feet and can flourish in climates known to be inhospitable to barley and wheat. The grain is rounded and has a tiny bead shape. The color can range from whitish gray to yellow and sometimes is even a reddish hue.
Millet was first found in prehistoric North Africa and is a staple food of many Africans, Indians, Chinese and Russians. Pita bread made from millet was made by the Egyptians until they accidentally mixed brewed beer to it to make a fluffy, bread-like texture. After this incident, it is believed that beer was typically used instead of water to make bread from millet.
This grain also has a biblical history as one of the ingredients in unleavened bread, and it was a key European cultivated grain until corn and potatoes were mass produced.
India, China and Nigeria together produce more than 90 percent of the millet in the world today.
The protein found in millet can vary from 5 to 25 percent, with an average of around 10 percent. In terms of protein content, millet is generally superior to corn, rice and wheat. This grain is also a good source of the minerals magnesium and phosphorous, as well as B vitamins such as riboflavin, thiamine, niacin and B6.
The phytonutrients present in millet include catechins, carotenoids, and tannins.
A half cup of millet provides almost 4 grams of protein, more than 8 percent of the recommended daily value. A similar amount of brown rice only supplies 2.5 grams of protein.
Aside from its high vitamin and protein contents, millet is also a hypoallergenic food, which means it is low allergy. Because it is also gluten-free it is a good alternative to wheat. As in many other whole grains, millet is a good fiber source and can offer protection from cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Research studies have shown that women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) often have low levels of magnesium. Just a half cup of cooked millet contains almost 53 milligrams of magnesium, which is approximately 13 percent of the recommended daily value. Eating more of the foods which contain magnesium can help ease the symptoms of PMS.
Millet contains a substance that interferes with the manufacture of thyroid hormones, so it should not be consumed on a regular basis by those individuals who have hypothyroidism.
There is also some debate as to whether this grain can be safely eaten by those who suffer from celiac disease. This intestinal disease is caused by a sensitivity to gluten when eating grains such as oats, wheat or rye, or other foods that contain gluten, a protein. Millet is often excluded from the diets of those who cannot eat glutens. While millet is not in the grass family it does contain prolamines which are similar to the alpha-gliadin of wheat.
Selecting and Storing
Before purchasing always check to ensure there is no moisture in this grain. The bins from which the millet is being selected should be covered and the market should have a fairly high turnover of product. An airtight container should be used for storage and should be placed in a cool, dry place. All grains except oats should be thoroughly rinsed under cool, running water before being cooked to remove debris and dirt.
Serving Ideas for Millet
After rinsing, put 1 part millet into 2.5 parts of boiling water or organic chicken broth or vegetable broth. When the liquid returns to a rolling boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer the mixture for around 20 minutes. This technique (much like cooking rice) will keep the millet fluffy.
For a creamier consistency, stir the millet frequently and add some water now and then. For a more nutlike taste, roast the grains in a dry skillet over medium heat and stir until the millet is a golden color. Add to boiling water and follow the above directions.
A few serving ideas for this food include:
- After cooking, use millet as a breakfast porridge. Add fruits and nuts to give it more flavor.
- Add ground millet to bread and muffin recipes.
- Put ground millet in soup to make the soup more hearty.
- Replace wheat flour with millet flour in cookie recipes.
- Cook millet and combine with chopped vegetables, bread crumbs, eggs, and seasonings. Form into patties and bake at 350 degrees until done.
- Holford, P.(2004). The optimum nutrition bible. London : Piatkus
- Holford, P & Lawson, S. (2008). Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health. London : Piatkus
- Murray, M.T. et al.(2005). Encyclopedia of healing foods. London : Piatkus
- Yeager, S. & Prevention Health Books. (1998). The doctors book of food remedies : the newest discoveries in the power of food to cure and prevent health problems from aging and diabetes to ulcers and yeast infections. [Emmaus, Pa.] : Rodale
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