Millets – Why Are They Languishing?

Millets Have Been in Use Longer than Rice or Wheat

If you are keen on eating healthy and fond of traditional foods, it is highly likely you would have heard about millets. Not new, but forgotten grains. Millets are traditional food grains that have been part of civilization for eons but no longer considered an essential part of our kitchens.

We cannot imagine not having rice grain in the house or wheat and other major cereals, but millets – ‘well what does one do with them’ might be a question we have.

foxtail millet

Zizira explorers got interested to find out more about millets when one of our well-wishers jogged us about how popular millets are in south India and pointed us to a minor millet of Meghalaya called Raishan. Millets are said to be healthy, as they are high in protein and minerals.

So it was time for the explorers to move in and see what they could discover about millets in Meghalaya. The thought upper most in their mind was that there may be a potential produce that we could reach our customers?

What are Millets?

Cereals like rice, wheat, barley, oats etc are grains from a family of grasses. There are other grass varieties that yield smaller sized edible grains called millets. Millets have been unearthed in pre-historic archaeological sites.

This is what we found on Wikipedia:
Millets have been important food staples in human history, particularly in Asia and Africa. They have been in cultivation in East Asia for the last 10,000 years.[4] Specialized archaeologists called palaeoethnobotanists, relying on data such as the relative abundance of charred grains found in archaeological sites, hypothesize that the cultivation of millets was of greater prevalence in prehistory than rice,[6] especially in northern China and Korea. Millets also formed important parts of the prehistoric diet in Indian, Chinese Neolithic and Korean Mumun societies.

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Millet Plants Are Hardy and Need Little Maintenance

The millet plants look more like wild grass and are low on maintenance. They can withstand heat and can survive even drought conditions.
  • Other pluses in its favor:
    1. Unlike paddy and wheat, millets need far less water
    2. Have short growth cycle
    3. Can be grown along with crops like maize, soybean etc
    4. Is gluten free
Unlike rice, millet farming is totally eco-friendly, does not require any irrigation facilities or external inputs and has a negligible carbon footprint, and therefore it is imperative that the government give incentives to farmers for their cultivation” Satheesh, Jt. Convener of the Millet Network of India (MINI).
Grown in Asia, Africa and Russia they provide sustenance to the very poor. Over 95% of the millets are grown in developing countries.

Proso millet the indian millet

Some of the major millets grown in India are:
  1. Pearl Millet
  2. Finger Millet
  3. Foxtail Millet
  4. Sorghum
Among the minor millets we have:
  1. Digitaria – which is Raishan in Khasi - grows in the Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya
  2. Barnyard Millet
  3. Little Millet
  4. Kodo Millet
Once popular in India, other grains have overtaken millets in popularity.
It was interesting to note that as of 2005, most millet produced in India is being used for alternative applications such as livestock fodder and alcohol production. Source
All millets are rich in protein, fibre, iron, mg, calcium, Vitamin B6 etc. See for yourself in the table below. Is it not a pity that we have forgotten such a grain? Source

Raishan - Millet of Meghalaya

We found an interesting paper on Raishan of Meghalaya published by Springer which carries interesting facts about the millet. There are two types of Raishan millet, the wild type and that which is cultivated. The cultivated kind is found only in the Khasi Hills, while the wild type grows in the mountainous tract of Northeast India, right up to China. Cultivated ones are taller, with longer spikes and bigger grains. Factors like slow growth and low yield have reduced the popularity.

Growth Cycle of Raishan Millet of Meghalaya

  • The crop is rain-fed
  • Sown around April – May
  • It is grown in the land between other crops like Maize, Soyabean etc.
  • Harvested by October and yields about 800 kgs per Hectare

Post Harvest

They are De-husked using a manual process. The grains are dull white in color and can be cooked and used as one would rice. Earlier, bread used to be made with raishan flour. The straw of this plant is valuable too as it provides winter fodder.

At times farmers mix the straw with cow dung and leave it to mulch and use as compost. The basal roots spread along the ground, often rooting at the nodes, making it like a soil binder. Jolyne Mawthoh a research student at Central Agricultural University, Umiam, Meghalay had this to say:

I have met some farmers from Thangsning growing Raishan, but they seem to cultivate it to use it as fodder, or for composting. The grains are so very small that gathering and threshing is labour intensive. Not surprising that it is not used as a food item. Although I did meet a family, where the grandmother spends her afternoon threshing the grains and would cook it as an evening tea snack for the family
Those of you who want to get started with millets, but wish to know what they taste like before trying to cook yourself here are some restaurants offering them on their menu. And here are some millet recipes for you to try. Curious to know more about millets? You may find this interesting - an article on millets and their role in early agriculture.

Since millets are a relatively new food product for us in the Northeast, we don't have any recipes or experiences thereof. On the other hand, there are several proponents of this rediscovered food too. For instance, celebrity chef Sanjay Kapoor has his own recipe to cook with millets. Try it out and let us know! Look forward to hearing from you!

Ing Mankir Fit Tea
Forgotten food

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