Millet is a food that many Americans are not familiar with (other than being a part of bird food). Yet, it’s a commonly eaten seed (used as a grain) in other parts of the world. Among other uses, millet flour is a common ingredient in the Indian flatbread, Roti.
If you haven’t tried millet, this tiny seed is worth toasting and cooking it in some way that sounds favorable to you. It has a number of important health properties, so it’s worth including some in your diet at least now and then. Below are notes covering many aspects of millet, from what it is to how to use it, along with links to some recipes using millet. You should find what you need there! I hope this helps.
Millet 101 – The Basics
Millet is a tiny, round seed of a grass, with over 6,000 varieties around the world. It can be white, gray, yellow or red. The term “millet” actually refers to a variety of grains, but is commonly thought of as the hulled variety most often available. It is technically a seed, but is usually referred to as a grain, since that is how we use it for culinary purposes. It is naturally gluten-free, so it is a safe alternative food for those who are gluten-sensitive. In North America, millet us used mainly as part of bird seed. Its flavor is somewhat bland with a light nutty flavor, especially when toasted. It blends well with many foods and seasonings. Millet can be purchased as a whole grain (usually hulled), flour, and flakes. The types commonly eaten fall into the scientific categories of Panicum miliaceuem or Setaria italic, and they are in the Poaceae family.
Millet is believed to have originated in Ethiopia, where it has been eaten since prehistoric times. It may be one of the first grains cultivated by man, with research indicating it was used 10,000 years ago or even earlier. Millet was mentioned in the Bible as an ingredient of unleavened bread. To this day, millet is still a very important staple food in many African, Eastern European, and Asian countries. It is a main ingredient in flatbreads, beer and other fermented beverages, and porridges. The customary Indian flatbread, roti, is made from ground millet seeds. Millet was brought to America in the 19th century. Today, most of the world’s millet is grown in India, China, and Nigeria.
Nutrition Tidbits and Health Benefits
One cup of cooked millet has about 6 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber, with about 210 calories. It is a good source of copper, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium. It also contains an array of B-vitamins and other minerals as well.
Millet is naturally gluten-free. However, many varieties of millet have been tested for gluten contamination, and were found to contain gluten residue. This can happen when millet is processed in a facility that also processes gluten-containing grains. If you are gluten-sensitive, be sure to purchase millet that is labeled as being certified gluten-free.
In 2010, researchers at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada found that all varieties of millet are high in antioxidants and phenolic compounds. Antioxidants are known to help protect the body against harmful compounds that can form when foods are broken down and when we’re exposed to toxins. Such compounds can promote heart disease, cancer and other diseases. So, antioxidants can help to protect us from such diseases and it’s important to get all we can through our foods to help keep us healthy. Phenolic compounds include phenolic acids, flavonoids, tannins, stilbenes, curcuminoids, coumarins, lignans, quinones, and others. Such compounds are known to have anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties, so they also can help to ward off cancer and other serious diseases. The phenolic compounds in millet have also been shown to help remove toxins from the body by promoting elimination and neutralizing certain enzymes in some organs.
Scientists in South Korea found that millet lowered blood lipids in rats fed millet for four weeks. The researchers concluded that millet may be helpful in preventing cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, researchers at the University of Kentucky showed a link between the consumption of whole grains and a lowered risk of heart disease. This may be due at least in part to the magnesium content of grains which lowers blood pressure, and in turn lowers the risk of stroke and heart disease. Millet is known to be a good source of magnesium.
Millet also has a low glycemic index which helps to control blood sugar. Scientific studies have shown millet to be effective in helping to control blood sugar levels in diabetics.
The fiber content of millet can also help some digestive issues by promoting regular elimination of waste. This also helps the kidneys, liver, and immune system to function better.
How to Select Millet
Millet is usually available as a whole grain that has been hulled. It is usually found prepackaged, but some stores also carry it in bulk bins. If purchasing it from bulk bins, be sure the store has a good turnover of it so you know it is fresh. No matter how it is sold, be sure there is no evidence of moisture in the package or container.
How to Store Millet
Store millet in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. It can be stored in a pantry, refrigerator or freezer. When kept cool, dry, airtight, and out of light, it should keep a year or two. If packed with oxygen absorbers in an airtight container, and placed in a cool, dry, dark place, it should keep for many years.
How to Prepare Millet
To soak, or not to soak (millet before cooking)…THAT is the question. According to https://www.leaf.tv and https://TheSpruceEats.com there is no actual need to soak millet before cooking it. It does not contain bitter tannins, like sorghum. Nor does it contain saponins, like quinoa. With the outer hull removed and the absence of such compounds, there is no actual reason to soak it unless you simply want to. One part of millet can be soaked in 3 to 4 parts of cold water from 6 hours to overnight, or in hot water for one hour. Either way it is soaked, the cooking time will certainly be shortened, and it will absorb less water during cooking, so bear that in mind.
Depending upon how it is cooked, millet can be creamy like mashed potatoes, or fluffy like rice. Millet should first be rinsed under running water to remove any debris. For a chewier texture like that of rice, add 1 part of millet to 2 parts of boiling water or broth. For a creamier texture, add 1 part of millet to 3 parts of boiling water or broth. Return the liquid to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes (for a chewy texture), or 25 minutes or more, for a more creamy texture.
To obtain a creamy consistency like a risotto, stir the millet into a small amount of boiling water or broth. Stir it often adding a little more hot liquid every now and then, like you would a risotto.
To impart a nutty flavor to millet, roast it first (before boiling it) by placing it in a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir it often. When the granules are golden brown, add them to boiling liquid and proceed as stated above.
According to Bob’s Red Mill, one cup of millet makes about 3-1/2 cups cooked (when cooked like rice).
Here’s a simple recipe for cooked millet…
Makes 3-1/2 Cups
1 cup millet
2 cups water or broth
Place the millet in a fine mesh strainer and rinse it well. Place the strainer over a bowl and allow the millet to drain.
Bring 2 cups of water or broth to boil in a pot with a lid. Add the rinsed and drained millet. Cover the pot and lower the heat to medium-low. Set the timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn off the burner and remove the pot from the hot burner. Leave the lid on the pot, set the timer for 5 minutes and allow the millet to rest and absorb any remaining liquid. When the time is up, remove the lid, fluff the millet with a fork and serve with flavorings of choice or use in any recipe calling for a cooked grain.
Cooked millet may be used in any recipe calling for couscous, rice, bulgur, quinoa, or any other cooked grain. It may also be served as a breakfast porridge with fruit, spices, and/or milk of choice. Cooked millet may also be used as a side dish with any meal calling for potatoes or a grain. It may also be included in burger patties, quick breads and even pancakes.
How to Preserve Millet
According to Bob’s Red Mill, a company that sells millet, cooked millet can be frozen, and will keep about 2 months in the freezer. However, cooked soft grains, like millet, will have different properties after being frozen. Therefore, they don’t recommend freezing cooked millet. So, according to Bob’s Red Mill, it is best to cook smaller amounts of millet so you can use it up quickly. Cooked millet will last up to 4 days in the refrigerator in a covered container.
According to TheKitchn.com at https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-ahead-and-freeze-cooked-rice-or-any-grain-226716 millet can be frozen and they provided suggestion on the best way to accomplish the task. Freeze cooked millet in a thin, flat layer in a small freezer bag. The smaller, flat layer allows the cooked grain to thaw out faster when the time comes. They suggest using the frozen grain straight from the freezer when it is going to be added to something like a soup, stew, casserole, or even a salad. If needed, frozen cooked millet can be thawed by transferring it to a microwave safe bowl. Sprinkle it with one or two tablespoons of water, cover the bowl, then microwave in 1-minute increments until thawed and warmed. It can also be warmed slowly in a saucepan on the stove with one or two tablespoons of water added. Stir it often to be sure it does not burn nor stick to the pan.
Quick Tips and Ideas for Using Millet
Millet works well in breakfast porridges, as a replacement for rice served with stir-fried vegetables, and as a savory pilaf. It also adds bulk to soups, casseroles, and meatless burger patties. With millet having a cooked texture like that of rice, quinoa, or buckwheat, it can be used interchangeably in just about any recipe calling for those grains. So it can easily be used in pilafs, casseroles, side dishes, soups, stews, puddings, baked goods, and more.
Millet can also be ground into flour to replace up to 25% of wheat flour when used in yeast breads. It can also be popped like popcorn and enjoyed as a snack, or included in granola, cereals, or baked goods for a little crunch.
Here are some easy ideas for using millet…
* Serve cooked millet as a breakfast porridge, as you would oatmeal. Top it with your favorite fruit and/or nuts, milk, and any flavorings you prefer.
* Add ground millet to breads and muffin recipes in place of some of the flour.
* Cooked millet can be used as an alternative to cooked rice or potatoes with any meal.
* Use cooked chilled millet in any salad calling for a cooked grain.
* Toast millet before cooking it to bring out its nutty flavor by placing it in a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir or shake the pan often until the millet is lightly browned. Watch it carefully to prevent it from burning.
* Millet can be used in a recipe in place of couscous.
* Make a millet polenta-like loaf by placing cooked millet into a loaf pan. Cover the pan and refrigerate it overnight. The next day, remove the loaf from the pan, slice it, and fry the slices in a little olive oil over low heat, until browned and heated through. Serve with a sweet or savory sauce.
Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Millet
Basil, bay leaf, cardamom, chervil, chili powder, cilantro, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry powder and spices, dill, garlic, ginger, mint, oregano, parsley, pepper (black), rosemary, saffron, salt, tarragon, thyme, turmeric, vanilla
Other Foods That Go Well With Millet
Protein, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (esp. black beans), chicken, chickpeas, eggs, lentils, nuts (in general), pancetta, peas, pistachios, seeds (in general), sesame seeds, shrimp, sunflower seeds, tahini, tempeh, walnuts
Vegetables: Arugula, beets, bell peppers (red), broccoli, burdock, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, celery root, chard, chiles, chives, eggplant, fennel, greens, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin, scallions, shallots, squash (winter and summer), sweet potatoes, tomatillos, tomatoes, turnips, vegetables (in general, and sautéed baby vegetables), watercress, yams, zucchini
Fruits: Apples, apricots (esp. dried), avocado, berries (in general), blueberries, cherries (esp. dried), coconut, currants, dates, lemon, lime, mango, orange, peaches, raisins, raspberries
Grains and Grain Products: Amaranth, bulgur, cereals, corn, oats, quinoa, rice
Milk and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese, milk (all types), sour cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Honey, maple syrup, oils, soy sauce, stock (vegetable), tamari, vinegar
Foods and Cuisines that Include Millet
Asian cuisines, baked goods (breads, muffins), batters (pancake, waffle), casseroles, cereals (hot breakfast), couscous, croquettes, curries, dals, granola, East Indian cuisine, millet cakes, muffins, North African cuisines, pilafs, polentas, porridges, puddings, risottos, salads (fruit and green), sandwiches (sloppy Joes), stir-fries, stuffed mushrooms or vegetables, stuffings, tabbouleh, veggie burgers
Suggested Flavor Combos
Combine millet with any of the following…
Agave nectar + almond milk + coconut milk
Almonds + cardamom + cinnamon + cumin + turmeric
Almonds + orange
Apricots + raisins
Black beans + sweet potatoes
Blueberries + fennel + hazelnuts
Chickpeas + garlic + greens
Cilantro + lime + tomatoes
Dates + nuts
Garlic + mint + parsley
Ginger + winter squash
Honey + milk
Honey + nuts
Orange + pecans
Peanuts + sweet potatoes
12 Vegetarian Millet Recipes (Plus 3 Ways to Cook Millet) https://naturallyella.com/12-vegetarian-millet-recipes/
Cauliflower Millet Soup with Lemon https://www.sugarsalted.com/cauliflower-millet-soup-with-lemon/
Vegetable Fried Millet https://www.beautybites.org/vegetable-fried-millet/
Turmeric Spiced Millet Veggie Burgers http://www.eatingbyelaine.com/veggie-burgers/#tasty-recipes-8194
Millet with Roasted Tomatoes and Chickpeas https://www.myberryforest.com/millet-with-roasted-tomatoes-chickpeas-vegan/
Vegan BBQ Lentils with Millet Polenta https://thefirstmess.com/2015/03/12/vegan-bbq-lentils-with-millet-polenta-recipe/
Black Bean and Millet Salad https://www.food.com/recipe/black-bean-and-millet-salad-146049
Basic Millet Pilaf https://www.thespruceeats.com/basic-millet-pilaf-2254669
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.