What is millet?
Millet can refer to any of several small-seed grasses, predominantly grown and eaten as a cereal crop in developing countries throughout Asia and Africa. It is a particularly useful crop thanks to its high yield, short growing season, and ability to withstand droughts, pests, and less fertile soil.
This nutty, slightly sweet grain can be eaten either as a grain or cereal, or ground into flour to use in baking. Its nutritional profile is similar to that of cereal grains, but millet is gluten-free, making it a good alternative to wheat and wheat flour.
Different types of millet are indigenous to different parts of Africa and Asia, and are thought to have been domesticated separately in different places. Evidence suggests that humans were cultivating millet throughout a large part of the prehistoric world, and many archeologists believe that it was once a more important crop than rice.
The earliest evidence of human cultivation of millet was in Neolithic China around 8,700 years ago, and later archeological finds suggest that it has also been domesticated for several thousands of years in Japan, Korea, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa. By 5000 BCE, certain Asian varieties of millet had spread to Europe, and were also being cultivated there.
There are several different varieties of millet from around the world. Find out more about these tasty seeds with our guide to some of the most popular.
Sorghum Millet is a major food crop in Africa and is also popular in India, where it is known as jowar and made into rotis and other types of bread. Sweet variants are grown in the USA and made into sorghum syrup.
Finger Millet has multiple sprays growing outwards from a central point, like fingers. It is native to Ethiopia and Uganda, and is used as a whole grain flour in various African and Asian countries. It is also made into a fermented drink in Nepal and in many parts of Africa.
Foxtail Millet is the most popular variety of millet in Asia, and the second most popular worldwide. It is the variety found by archeologists in Neolithic Chinese settlements, providing evidence that millet was domesticated as early as 8,700 years ago.
Pearl Millet is the most popular type of millet, accounting for around 50% of millet production worldwide. It has been grown in both Africa and the Indian subcontinent since prehistoric times.
Barnyard Millet is mainly grown in the hilly parts of Uttaranchal in India, and is popular during Hindu fasts, when true cereal grains are traditionally avoided.
Proso/Broomcorn Millet goes under many names, including common millet, hog millet, Kashfi millet, red millet and white millet. It is grown in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, as well as in the USA, and is popular as an organic crop or an intercrop because it is so easy to grow.
Little Millet is a smaller version of proso millet, and is most popular in India, where it is often substituted for rice.
Kodu Millet is a minor crop, grown predominantly in Nepal, but also in India, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and West Africa.
With so many different varieties of millet, there is no exact nutritional profile to fit them all. They are all fairly similar in terms of nutrients, however, providing a good source of protein and fibre, as well as several B vitamins, phosphorus and magnesium.
Including more millet in your diet can have several potential benefits:
High in antioxidants
Millet is a great source of antioxidants, particularly varieties with a darker colour like finger, proso, and foxtail millets. Antioxidants help protect against cell damage caused by harmful substances called oxidants, which leads to premature ageing and increased risk of age-related illnesses like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis and cancer.
Low Glycemic Index (GI)
Millet is considered to be a low GI food, which means it releases carbohydrate slowly, and is less likely to cause a spike in your blood sugar. Studies have suggested that eating millet can reduce fasting and post-meal blood sugar levels in people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
May help lower cholesterol
Some experiments suggest that eating millet can help lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. This is thought to be due to the soluble fibre in millet, which turns into a gel in your stomach, trapping fats and transporting them safely out of the body.
How to cook it
Millet is delicious eaten as a grain, just like rice or quinoa, and can be prepared using the following simple steps.
Cooking liquid (water or stock),
1 tbsp, unsalted
Pour the millet into a large saucepan and toast it over a medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, until the seeds become fragrant and slightly browned.
Add the water or broth and the salt and stir well. Cover the pan and turn up the heat to bring it to the boil.
Once the liquid is boiling, reduce the heat again, add in the butter, and simmer for around 15 minutes until the grains have absorbed almost all of the water.
Remove from the heat and let it sit for 10 more minutes with the lid still on. This allows the grains to absorb the rest of the liquid without the risk of burning to the bottom of the pan.
Fluff up the grains with a fork, taste, and add more seasoning if required.
Serve while still warm, and enjoy.
Recipes with millet
If you’d like to include more millet in your diet, try one of these delicious millet recipes.
Gluten free millet bread: a gluten-free bread that’s great for sandwiches, toasting, and eating with soup.
Vegan chickpea and millet burger: a healthy and delicious vegan burger made with sweet potato, chickpeas and millet, with just a touch of chilli.
Vegan millet burgers with kohlrabi and herbs: another tasty vegan burger, served with a kohlrabi sauce.
Peanut butter millet brownies: the ultimate gluten-free brownies, packed with chocolate and peanut butter.
Discover more delicious and healthy grains that are often overlooked, with our guide to ancient grains. And if you’re looking for tips on how to get the best out of your favourite grains, don’t miss our handy tips for 14 cereals and how to cook them.