Millets, the tiny grains that once adorned Indian kitchens disappeared somewhere in the 80s. It can be rightly said that the focus on wheat, rice and
refined flour is one of the many reasons why this yesteryear staple diet was knocked out as a must-eat. Today, millets are perched on the cusp of a revival. Restaurants, culinary groups and workshops, recipe books, and exhibitions are dedicated to promoting this super-food for its nutritional benefits and sustainable production.
HIGH ON NUTRITION
Many assume that millet is a single variety of grain, but there are over 500 varieties of millets within the main types. Known for its climate-resilient features,
they are broadly classified into two categories. One is major millets, which includes the likes of pearl millet (bajra) and sorghum (jowar). The second category called minor millets is made of finger millet (ragi), kodo millet, barnyard millet, little millet, proso millet and foxtail millet.
Millets are one of the oldest foods known to humankind. They're nutrient-dense and rich in plantbased nutrients (phytonutrients), says celebrity nutritionist Nmami Agarwal, founder and CEO of NmamiLife, a sport nutrition company. Lignans, an essential phytonutrient present in millet, help reduce the risk of heart diseases. Pearl millets are rich in insoluble fibre and aid in better digestion, and are known for their anti-cancer properties. Foxtail millets are not just rich in magnesium that assists to regulate blood pressure levels, they are also high in iron and calcium and help boost immunity levels. Sorghum, on the other hand, is a gluten-free variant that's beneficial for those suffering from celiac disease. In total, millets are tiny power-packed nutrient foods, a must for healthy diet and lifestyle, says Agarwal.
THE NEW AVATAR
You know this super-food has resurged when Andaz Delhi launches its latest deli Soul Pantry focusing entirely on flatbreads made out of millets. Our menu is grains-indigenous and the forgotten produce. Traditional pizza/ flatbread base is made of refined wheat grain. We offer flatbreads made of nutrition-dense ancient grains like finger millet, amaranth, barley, and spelt. By doing so, we give our guests more wholesome food options while respecting the native grains of India, says Kapil Chauhan, sous chef, Soul Pantry.
Anahita N Dhondy, chef partner at SodaBottleOpenerWala, Cyber Hub, reiterates this grain's revival. A passionate advocate of this super-food, Dhondy went to speak at a United Nations' forum last year with a packet of millets. In fact, she's used several innovative ways to incorporate millets in her menu. Though I've seen this ingredient in my grandmother's home, I never paid much attention to it. Then a few years back, I interacted with Pallavi Upadhyay, co-founder of Millets for Health, a social enterprise dedicated to the revival of millets. Soon I started using millets in my kitchen and now it's something that I recommend to everyone, she says. Millets are now consumed in various forms such as flattened, beaten, popped, roasted, powdered, ground or even fried. Yesterday's coarse grains are today's nutri-cereals as consumers see millets as a solution to
their changing lifestyle. The search for a local grain that would fit well into our daily recipes has led people right back to millet for its nutritional benefits, says Prashant Parameswaran, CEO & MD, Soulfull, a millet-based snacking brand, which has muesli to oats, ragi flakes to ragi bites.
IN RETAIL STORES
It was a random discussion between young mothers Shauravi Malik and Meghana Narayan that sparked a thought about introducing a healthy diet for children. What started out as an experiment to introduce millets into their children's diet soon turned into a food brand called Slurrp Farm. Launched in October 2016, this company's millet pancake, cookies and other healthy packaged products are available stores across India.
We believed that we need to change how we are eating as a society. While we realised that there was a gap of healthy eating options in the children's food market in India, it is only when we had our own children that we truly understood the trials and tribulations of feeding our kids right, says Malik, who has worked in the consumer, healthcare and retail advisory team at JP Morgan.
Even gourmet chefs are adding millet to an array of recipes be it in fried snacks and biryani or risotto and even brownies. In Sikkim, millet may have been traditionally used for local brews (known as chaang), but now these grains are a key ingredient in the recipes of microbreweries in Bengaluru and Pune, says Narayan, a former associate principal at McKinsey & Company.
It's time we incorporate this powerhouse of nutrition into our diet. After all, only mindful food choices can help you lead a healthy life.
- Millets have a lower glycaemic index compared to rice, meaning the grains are digested and absorbed by the body slowly, lowering the blood glucose and insulin levels.
- According to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, bajra contains the highest folic acid among cereals while ragi contains three times the calcium content of milk.
- Millets are also high on antioxidants.