Superfoods for Health - Millet

Millet: is it really just for the birds?  Typically the main ingredient in birdseed, this amazing ‘grain’ can also be a delicious and nutritious part of the human diet.

Millet is referenced in the bible, but its use as a grain goes back to pre-historic times in China and Africa.  It is believed to have been one of the five sacred plants of ancient China where wild millet was gathered as a food as early as 4500 BC. Pearl millet farming arrived in Africa in 4000 BC.  As its use spread to Egypt in 3000 BC, it was, by chance, mixed with brewer’s yeast to make the first raised millet breads.  Over the centuries Millet has been consumed as a porridge, bread, wine and beer and was considered a staple for the poor in the times of the Roman Republic.  It is still an important food staple in Africa, India and Asia. In India it is used to make the flatbread roti, and is the main ingredient in the traditional African flat bread injera. In 1875 Millet was introduced to the USA, and was consumed by the early colonists before falling into obscurity. Presently, these grains are grown and used in Western countries mainly as bird and cattle feed, but are now starting to gain popularity for human consumption as a delicious and nutritious gluten free alternative to wheat (1).

Millet actually refers to a variety of tiny seeds used as cereal crops.  It is not a true grain, but treated like a grain in culinary practices.  This gluten-free pseudocereal offers some unique properties vs. traditional grains.  Millet is highly nutritious, and is not acid forming so it is a soothing and easy to digest grain. In fact, it is considered to be one of the most digestible and least allergenic ‘grains’ available, and is warming to the body in cold or rainy seasons (2). One cup of millet provides 19.1% of the daily recommended value of magnesium and 17.4% of phosphorus. Diets high in magnesium have been shown to reduce migraine and asthma attacks, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attack and type 2 diabetes mellitus (1,3). The phosphorus in millet helps with fat metabolism, body tissue repair, and creating energy (1).

Millets are various grass crops usually planted annually. Of the large number of grasses called millet, pearl millet is most significant for human consumption.  Currently the only significant millet crop in Canada is proso millet, which is grown mostly in Ontario and the prairies; used only for feeding poultry and cage birds. Millet can thrive in poorer growing conditions and can thrive where corn, wheat and rice cannot (4). In 2010 in the USA the average crop yield was 31.8 bushels per acre, with a selling price of $4.21 per bushel (5). Prices are higher than for corn or sorghum or other grains, to ensure profitability due to the substantially lower yields per acre (6).  

As the food industry seeks higher-nutrition foods and gluten-free alternatives, millet shows us that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander!

For more information on millet and SuperFoods, visit our website at www.katan.ca or email us at service@katan.ca.

  1. “Millet”. The World’s Healthiest Foods. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=53 (15/02/2012).
  2. “Whole Grains: Millet”. Chet Days Health and Beyond Online.http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=53 (15/02/2012).
  3. “Benefits of Millet”. iloveindia.com.  http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/benefits-of-millet-6376.html (17/02/2012).
  4. “Millet”. The Canadian Encyclopedia.http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/millet (19/02/2012).
  5. “Proso Millet”. Agricultural Marketing Resource Centre.http://www.agmrc.org/commodities__products/grains__oilseeds/proso-millet/(19/02/2012).
  6. “International Trade, Market Prices, and Stocks”. FAO Corporate Document Repository.http://www.fao.org/docrep/W1808E/w1808e0f.htm (16/02/2012).

Katan Kitchens is as much a personal passion, as a professional venture for Jamie. Having suffered through a ‘health crisis’ in 2007, he has spent the past several years using his research and chemistry/environmental science education towards understanding the role of diet in health; with a focus on SuperFoods for individuals with allergies, intolerances and indigestion. Follow Jamie on Twitter @Katankitchens, or on his blog at katan.ca/blog/

For more information on millet and SuperFoods, visit our website at www.katan.ca or email us at service@katan.ca.

- Jamie Draves, founder of Katan Kitchens