‘M’ For Millets

February 9, 2024

Millets….Millets….the whole of India is talking about it these days. This grain has generated curiosity among many and raised their eyebrows ever since the UN declared 2023 the ‘International Year of Millets.’ This is done following India’s request to emerge as a global hub for millets and to educate the world about the active role of millets in promoting good health and eliminating food inequity.

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India expressed his interest in making 2023 a ‘People’s Movement’. Before this, the Government of India announced 2018 as the ‘National Year of millets’ and called it ‘nutri-cereals.’ The intention was to boost the consumption and cultivation of millet in India. Our country thus has taken a giant leap forward in the field of crops, by shouldering the responsibility to endorse millets as a food that can fight against obesity and malnourishment.

What are millets?

The word ‘millet’ has its origin in the Medieval Latin term, ‘millis’ which means ‘thousand.’ Millets are a category of cereal grains that belong to the grass family and are a crucial crop for maintaining food security in areas with difficult climates because of their resilience to hard growth circumstances. Due to its versatility and nutritional value, experts refer to millet as ‘poor man’s food grain’. It is widely believed that the origin of millets is attributed to a wild grass once seen in West Africa.

Millets and India

Millets such as foxtail, barnyard, and black finger are mentioned in Yajurveda texts which indicate that this crop was cultivated in India during 1200 BCE. According to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), India is the world’s largest producer of millets. Exporting millet to around 139 countries, Hindustan is the second largest exporter of millet in the world. It is estimated that 21 states in India cultivate millet. The top three millet-producing states are Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana (according to APEDA statistics for 2021-2022). Ragi (finger millet), jowar (sorghum), and bajra (pearl millet) are the three most important millet crops grown in India. Rajasthan produces a good quantity of bajra millet. In order to enhance India’s nutritional security, INSIMP (Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millet Promotion) is an initiative launched by the Central government in 2011- 2012.

Types of Millets and their uses in the culinary world

Each type of millet is known for its unique characteristics. Being a versatile grain, this superfood is used to prepare porridges, salads, pilaf and bakery items. Millets have thus become an integral part of both traditional and modern cuisines.

a) Pearl Millet /Bajra: This millet can survive in difficult growing conditions and has a high energy content when compared with other types of millet. It lowers cholesterol and is a rich source of calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Use in culinary world: Porridge, flatbreads and traditional dishes.

b) Finger Millet/Mandua/Ragi: Finger millet is named so due to its close resemblance with the five fingers of a human hand. Ragi is said to have its origin in India. A must for all diabetic patients as it can control blood glucose levels and hyperglycemia. The high iron and calcium content in Ragi makes it ideal for improving the bone health of babies.
Use in culinary world: Porridge, baked goods and malt.

c) Proso millet/Barree/Varigalu: This millet is cultivated in areas that receive low rainfall. In India, it is widely cultivated in Madhya Pradesh. It has amino acids, protein and is gluten-free. Barree is proven to reduce the risks of heart disease and breast cancer.
Use in culinary world: Sweet and savoury dishes.

d) Little millet/Kutki/Saamalu: Little millet is a type of millet much smaller in size compared to proso millet. The high amount of fiber is its distinctive feature and is extensively used as an alternative to rice.
Use in culinary world: Porridge, Snacks, Baby food and Upma.

e) Kodo millet/Kodon/Varagu: Among all millets, Kodon has the highest level of dietary fiber. It’s easy to digest and has plenty of protein and fiber in it. As it doesn't contain gluten, it's ideal for people who are gluten intolerant.
Use in culinary world:Upma, Chapati, Khichdi, Dahi vada, Cakes, Biscuits etc.

f) Barnyard millet/Sanwa/Oodallu: A millet which is highly digestible and an excellent source of protein. Barnyard millet is good for patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes mellitus. In addition, it reduces the level of blood glucose and lipids in the body.
Use in culinary world: Porridge, Pulao, Idli.


Tongba, a type of beer made from millet is produced in Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Darjeeling in the eastern Himalayas. It’s the traditional alcoholic beverage among the Limbu people of eastern Nepal. The alcoholic content of the beer varies from 2-5%.

Health benefits of millets

Millets are rich in anti-oxidants, proteins and have high nutritive value. It has become a staple of low-carb diets due to its low glycaemic index (GI). Millet helps in weight management and aids in the digestion process. Niacin seen in millet is proven to reduce cholesterol. Consuming millet is recommended for children and pregnant women.




By Varghese Johnson
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Comment on this article

  • Rita, Germany

    Sat, Feb 10 2024

    Nice article.Who thought in this age of nuggets ,Mcdonald frites ,or Pizza ,and Hamburger,millet will come up again ?As we were small village people used to eat Ragi mudde and go to work in fields.later ragi mudde disappeared and new food vareity came up Millets went in background.Noone bothered about this.Now all of a sudden millets are in newage medicine,food and in everybodys mouth ,new vareitys of food made and say HEALTHY.Many people dont even know this,Many people are now sick with diabetes and other sickness .Hope they make use of this and get a taste of it.

  • Jossey Saldanha, Raheja Waterfront

    Fri, Feb 09 2024

    Millets have a low Glycaemic Index & also associated with the prevention of Diabetes ...

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