All about Millet - How to cook it and Why

Posted by Vivienne Forristal at

Millet is an ancient grain that was valued as a staple food for thousands of years across Europe, where it once rivalled barley. It predates rice in Asia and is still widely used in Africa, China and in India, its largest producer. It has been undervalued but is growing in popularity as its qualities are once again appreciated, nutritionally and to promote indigenous crops for security of food supplies.

Millet seedsThis little round wholegrain is very nutritious and naturally gluten-free. It is easy to cook and digest, and good for your hair, nails and skin. It is available in the form of whole grains, flaked, and as flour. Its flavour is mild, with a slightly sweet nuttiness. It is a versatile ingredient that deserves as much cupboard space as rice, couscous etc.

It can be made into porridge, popped like corn as a snack, cooked simply like rice to accompany curries or spicy stews, made into beer (sorry, no recipe!), used in Soups, as a base for side and main dishes, and made into Indian flatbreads Roti e.g. Bajra ki Roti, chapatti and dosa. To make leavened bread or for other baking, Millet flour needs to be combined with high-gluten flours. As a rule of thumb you can substitute up to 30% of your usual flour with Millet flour for extra nutrients.

The Plant

The most common Millet species grown commercially are Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum), Foxtail Millet (Setaria italica), Proso Millet (Panicum miliaceum) and Finger Millet (Eleusine coracana), also known as Ragi in India.

Nutritional Content

Cooked millet has good amount of protein, and most amino acids, particularly glutamic acid. It contains some lysine, which is often deficient in cereals. It is rich in B-vitamins, especially Niacin, Thiamine, Riboflavin, B6, Pantothenic acid and Folate and in the minerals Manganese, Copper, Iron, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium and Zinc, and some Selenium. It contains more iron than other grains.

Medicinal Qualities

Millet is an easily digestible grain. It is naturally Gluten-free so is most useful food for people with Coeliac disease. It has a soothing effect on the Digestive system so is also beneficial in conditions such as Stomach Acidity, Ulcerative Colitis, Diverticulitis, Piles etc (Rice and Barley are also helpful here). As it regulates the intestines it is helpful both to Diarrhoea and Constipation. It is said to be beneficial to sufferers of Candidiasis, a fungal infection caused by the yeast Candida albicans.

Hair, Nails and Skin

Protein, magnesium and antioxidants in Millets are renowned to strengthen the nails and hair, if eaten regularly at least 3 times a week. It is also said to be helpful in counteracting hair loss and premature greying.

Growing Millet, Environment and Food Security

Millets have been gathered or cultivated for thousands of years as a valuable food crop, particularly in warm regions with dry nutrient-poor soils. The seeds of these ancient crops are packed with protein and contain more and a wider range of amino acids than rice, wheat, barley or rye. They are more drought-tolerant than many crops and are use water more efficiently, with few pest and disease problems. Proso millet, in particular, has the lowest water requirement of any grain crop.

Many of these indigenous millets were abandoned in favour of higher-yielding wheat and rice crops promoted by governments and other commercial interests.These traditional food plants provide much-needed diversity in peoples diets and are highly nutritious. There is a renewed interest in growing millets now as people recognise their suitability to their indigenous environmental conditions. They are adept at growing in tough conditions, and will grow without fertiliser inputs so are more reliable long-term crops in their native areas than the more temperature and drought-sensitive rice and wheat. This makes the millets a valuable crop in areas prone to famine, where family farming and rebuilding local food systems is vitally important for food security. 

How to Cook it – Plain and Simple

Take one cup of Millet and add it to a dry pan over medium heat, stirring and toasting for 4-5 minutes. Add 2 ¼ cups of boiling water, stir and simmer for 13-18 minutes, then leave to stand for 10 minutes. Fluff up with a fork.

How to Cook it – Breakfast, Soups, Bread, Main and Side Dishes

We’ve found lots of different ways to use it, and you can link to our Recipes pages for how to cook these dishes.

Porridge, Original or Sweet
Savoury Breakfast Coconut Millet
Millet, Lentil, Courgette and Carrot Soup
Spicy Millet Bread
Millet with Almonds, Chickpeas and Caramelised Onion
Oriental style Millet Pilaff 


We hope you enjoy our Millet recipes and the nutritional benefits of this neglected little grain.


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