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.
- Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum)
- Foxtail millet (Setaria italica)
- Proso millet also known as common millet, broom corn millet, hog millet or white millet (Panicum miliaceum)
- 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)
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 in Canada, Korea, and Japan 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.
Current uses of millet
Millets are principally food sources in arid and semi-arid regions of the world. In Western India, millet flour (called "Bajari" in Marathi) has been commonly used with "Jowar" (Sorghum) flour for hundreds of years to make the local staple flat bread (called "Bhakri").
Celiac patients can replace certain cereal grains in their diets by consuming millets in various forms including breakfast cereals.
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.
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, B6 and folacin, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Millets contain no gluten, so they cannot rise for bread. When combined with wheat or xanthan gum (for those who have coeliac disease), though, 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.
The basic preparation consists in washing the millet and toasting it while moving until one notes a characteristic scent. Then add five measures of boiling water for each two measures of millet and some salt. Cook covered using low flame for 30-35 minutes.
- 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.
- Alternative Field Crops Manual: Millets
- Vegetarians in Paradise: Millet History, Millet Nutrition, Millet Recipe