Mighty millet: The new super grain of India
Millets, a popular superfood, had its Cinderella moment recently. In her Union Budget speech, Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister of India, announced 2022-23 as the ‘International Year of Millets.’ She said, “Support will be provided for post-harvest value addition, enhancing domestic consumption, and for branding millet products nationally and internationally.” Earlier, the country had termed 2018 the ‘National Year of Millets’ to boost the production of the nutrient-rich cereal.
Millet revolution is slowly taking the centre stage, and all new-age health cafes and healthy FMCG products are introducing millets in their menus with products like millet crackers, chaklis and even cookies. There are several varieties of millets. “Pearl millet (bajra), sorghum millet (jowar), buckwheat (kuttu), amaranth (rajgira), finger millet (nachni /ragi), foxtail millet (kangni), little millet (samai), kodo millet (kodon), barnyard millet (sanwa) and proso millet (chena) are some of the types. Being extremely versatile, millets have gone global from being just traditional,” says chef Reetu Uday Kugaji.
Each variety has its own health benefits and it’s a trend to use millets in cooking, with people choosing consciously. “Millets are one of the oldest foods. They are replacing rice and refined flour very quickly, and one can be as creative as they want to be with them. My first experiment was creating a chocolate ragi cake. The nuttiness of flour pairs really well with chocolate. From making jowar parathas to even millet milk ice-cream, I have tried many items,” says chef Natasha Gandhi, who likes to swap the recipes of rice with whole millets, be it dosa, fried rice or curd rice. “For recipes where refined flour is used, I prefer jowar flour with buckwheat flour,” she adds.
Millet is a rich source of nutrition. The food products and beverages made out of them have many health benefits. “Different types of millets have their own specialties. Sorghum grain is completely gluten-free and rich in iron, protein and fibre. Finger millet is a source of natural calcium and iron. It helps cure anaemia, and improves bone health. Pearl millet consists of magnesium which helps in reducing respiratory problems. Foxtail millet helps in the steady release of glucose, which is beneficial for diabetic patients,” says Aditi Handa, a baker from The Baker’s Dozen who loves to make ragi bread and ragi crackers. “We use 11% of ragi flour in our bread, which gives perfect texture and flavour. For ragi crackers, we only use 6% of ragi flour to enhance the nutritional properties without compromising the crunchiness and taste,” further explains Handa.
The grainy texture of millet flour makes it perfect to be used in baking. “We celebrated ‘Indian Grains Month’ couple of years ago and created several millet-based recipes such as amaranth burger, bajra nachos, ragi cookies, ragi chocolate cake, a proso millet pizza and amaranth waffle. Amaranth has been a torchbearer in its own right. A 7,000 year-old seed, the name has its roots in Sanskrit, literally meaning that which does not fade or die,” says celebrity chef Ranveer Brar. He also shares some tips of using millets: “Longer soaking of millet flours and better lactic fermentation gives better result. It makes a difference in their texture. Hence, sourdough-like recipe processes work beautifully with millet flours.”