Millet is one of the oldest foods on the planet. It was grown as early as 4500 BC in China where it was used before rice and was considered a sacred crop. It has been described as growing in ancient Assyria, and was used by the Egyptians as a bread meal. In Africa and India it has been eaten as an important staple for thousands of years. Millet has also been mentioned in the bible and was spoken about by the Greek historian, Herodotus. It has been in the cuisine of the French and the Italians, where it has been used as a type of polenta, as well as the early Swiss who used it to make a type of gruel.
Millet was introduced to the United States in 1875 when it was grown by the early colonists and used as cattle feed. Since then it has been cultivated throughout the world and is known as a superior food for both animals and humans. As one of the most important grains in the world today, millet grows well in hot, dry climates and does not need good fertilization or particularly rich soil. It does, however, require good drainage as it thrives in low moisture and is ideal for growing in areas where rice or wheat do not do well. A tall grass, the plants grow up 15 feet high with leaves measuring one inch wide and up to 6 feet long! From a long spike comes the seed heads, which yield the tiny yellow beads of grain once they are hulled. Because the germ of the seed remains intact after hulling, the process does nothing to alter its nutritional value.
Millet is often referred to as a super grain. The Hunzas, who live in a remote area at the foothills of the Himalayas and are known for their enormous health and longevity, understand the great benefits of this grain and eat it regularly. Millet contains an amazingly large amount of nutrients such as:
- Amino acids
- Vitamin E iron
Additionally, millet is made up of 15% protein, has high amounts of fiber, and is rich in phytochemicals that help to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cancer. Important for people with allergies, millet is non-glutinous, is extremely high in alkaline, and is considered one of the most digestible grains around.
With its sweet, nut-like taste, millet is warming to the body, making it an ideal winter food.
There are several types of millet including pearl, foxtail, proso, and finger millet. Pearl millet is most popular for eating as it produces the greatest amount of seeds. It can be used as cereal, in casseroles and stews, soups, bread, as a stuffing for cabbage and other vegetables, as a pilaf, or as a delicious side dish with beans or other foods. Flavor it with herbs or spices, combine it with rice or quinoa, or ferment it to make it into a delicious and unique beverage. Millet is such a versatile and tasty grain that there are infinite ways to include it in the recipes of your choice.
Cooking millet is easy. You can roast it dry in a pan before cooking to bring out its nutty taste, or pre-soak it in water to reduce its cooking time. Otherwise, just wash the grains and then add 1 part to 3 parts of boiling water or stock and simmer until all the water is absorbed. If you want a fluffier texture, reduce the amount of water. It should take from 20 to 30 minutes to cook millet to taste.
Dry millet keeps for a long time. Simply store it in an air-right container in a cool place in your kitchen or pantry.