Definitions

sanwa millet

Millet

[mil-it]

The millets are a group of small-seeded species of cereal crops or grains, widely grown around the world for food and fodder. They do not form a taxonomic group, but rather a functional or agronomic one. Their essential similarities are that they are small-seeded grasses grown in difficult production environments. It was millets, rather than rice, that formed important parts of prehistoric diet in Chinese Neolithic and Korean Mumun societies.

Millet varieties

The millets include species in several genera, mostly in the subfamily Panicoideae, of the grass family Poaceae. The most widely-cultivated species in order of worldwide production are.:

  1. Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum)
  2. Foxtail millet (Setaria italica)
  3. Proso millet also known as common millet, broom corn millet, hog millet or white millet (Panicum miliaceum)
  4. Finger millet (Eleusine coracana)

Minor millets include:

  • Barnyard millet (Echinochloa spp.)
  • Kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum)
  • Little millet (Panicum sumatrense)
  • Guinea millet (Brachiaria deflexa = Urochloa deflexa)
  • Browntop millet (Urochloa ramosa = Brachiaria ramosa = Panicum ramosum)

Teff (Eragrostis tef) and fonio (Digitaria exilis) are also often called millets, as more rarely are sorghum (Sorghum spp.) and Job's Tears (Coix lacrima-jobi).

Production history

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, especially in northern China and Korea. Broomcorn (Panicum miliaceum) and Foxtail millet were important crops beginning in the Early Neolithic of China. For example, some of the earliest evidence of millet cultivation in China was found at Cishan (north) and Hemudu (south). Cishan dates to 7000-5000 BCE and contained pit-houses, storage pits, pottery, stone tools related to cultivation, and carbonized foxtail millet. A 4000-year-old well-preserved bowl containing well-preserved noodles made from foxtail millet and broomcorn millet was found at the Lajia archaeological site in China.

Palaeoethnobotanists have found evidence of the cultivation of millet in the Korean Peninsula dating to the Middle Jeulmun pottery period (c. 3500-2000 BCE) (Crawford 1992; Crawford and Lee 2003). Millet continued to be an important element in the intensive, multi-cropping agriculture of the Mumun pottery period (c. 1500-300 BCE) in Korea (Crawford and Lee 2003). Millets and their wild ancestors such as barnyard grass and panic grass were also cultivated in Japan during the Jōmon period some time after 4000 BCE (Crawford 1983, 1992). Millet was consumed in northern Europe at least since the Iron Age, based upon analysis of Haraldskær Woman found in Jutland, Denmark .

Major research on millets is carried out by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Andhra Pradesh, India, and by the USDA-ARS at Tifton, Georgia, USA.

Current uses of millet

Millets are major food sources in arid and semi-arid regions of the world. In Western India, millet flour (called "Bajari" in Gujarati and marathi) has been commonly used with "Jowar" (Sorghum called "Jwari" in Marathi) flour for hundreds of years to make the local staple flat bread (called "Rotla").

Millets are traditionally important grains used in brewing millet beer in some cultures, for instance by the Tao people of Orchid Island and, along with sorghum, by various peoples in East Africa.

Millet is used to prepare boza fermented drink in Balkan peninsula countries.

Millet is the base ingredient for the distilled liquor rakshi in Nepal.

Millet porridge is a traditional Russian food, eaten sweet (with milk and sugar added at the end of cooking process) or savoury with meat or vegetable stews.

Millet porridge is a traditional Chinese food, eaten without milk or sugar. Frequently beans, sweet potato, and / or various types of squash will be added.

Coeliac patients can replace certain cereal grains in their diets by consuming millets in various forms including breakfast cereals.

Millet can often be used in recipes instead of buckwheat, rice, or quinoa.

Millet sprays are often recommended as healthy treats to finicky pet birds, as they are easily eaten and (in the case of destruction-prone hookbills) easily broken.

Millet, along with birdseed, is commonly used as fillings for juggling beanbags.

Nutrition

The protein content in millet is very close to that of wheat; both provide about 11% protein by weight.

Millets are rich in B vitamins, especially niacin, B17 (see nitrilosides), B6 and folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Millets contain no gluten, so they are not suitable for raised bread. When combined with wheat or xanthan gum (for those who have coeliac disease), however, they can be used for raised bread. Alone, they are suited for flatbread.

As none of the millets are closely related to wheat, they are appropriate foods for those with coeliac disease or other forms of allergies/intolerance of wheat. However, millets are also a mild thyroid peroxidase inhibitor and probably should not be consumed in great quantities by those with thyroid disease.

Preparation

The basic preparation consists in washing the millet and toasting it while moving until one notes a characteristic scent. Then five measures of boiling water for each two measures of millet are added with some sugar or salt. The mixture is cooked covered using low flame for 30-35 minutes.

References

  • Crawford, Gary W. Paleoethnobotany of the Kameda Peninsula. Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1983.
  • Crawford, Gary W. Prehistoric Plant Domestication in East Asia. In The Origins of Agriculture: An International Perspective, edited by C.W. Cowan and P.J. Watson, pp. 117-132. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 1992.
  • Crawford, Gary W. and Gyoung-Ah Lee. Agricultural Origins in the Korean Peninsula. Antiquity 77(295):87-95, 2003.

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