Millets (/ˈmɪlɪts/) are a group of highly variable small-seeded
grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for
fodder and human food. Millets are important crops in the semiarid
tropics of Asia and Africa (especially in India, Mali, Nigeria, and
Niger), with 97% of millet production in developing countries. The
crop is favored due to its productivity and short growing season under
dry, high-temperature conditions.
Millets are indigenous to many parts of the world. The most widely
grown millet is pearl millet, which is an important crop in
parts of Africa. Finger millet, proso millet, and foxtail millet
are also important crop species.
Millets have been important food staples in human history,
particularly in Asia and Africa.
5.1 Alcoholic beverages
5.2 As a food source
5.3 Grazing millet
6.1 Comparison with other major staple foods
7 See also
10 External links
The minor millets have been consumed since the beginning of the
ancient civilizations of the world. Generally, the
millets are small-grained, annual, warm-weather cereals belonging to
grass family. They are highly tolerant of drought and other extreme
weather conditions and have a similar nutrient content to other major
Thinai (foxtail) millet
Varagu (kodo) millet
The different species of millets are not necessarily closely related.
All are members of the
Poaceae family (the grasses) but can belong to
different tribes or even subfamilies.
The most commonly cultivated millets are in bold and marked with an
Eragrostideae tribe in the subfamily Chloridoideae:
*Eleusine coracana: Finger millet
Teff - often not considered to be a millet.
Paniceae tribe in the subfamily Panicoideae:
Proso millet (common millet, broomcorn millet, hog
millet or white millet)
Panicum sumatrense : Little millet (also known as Samalu in
Telugu and "Samai" in Tamil Nadu)
*Pennisetum glaucum: Pearl millet
*Setaria italica: Foxtail millet, Italian millet, panic
Digitaria genus - of minor importance as crops.
Digitaria exilis: known as white fonio, fonio millet, and hungry rice
or acha rice.
Digitaria iburua: Black fonio
Digitaria compacta: Raishan, cultivated in the
Khasi Hills of
Digitaria sanguinalis: Polish millet
Echinochloa genus: Collectively, the members of this genus are called
barnyard grasses or barnyard millets. Other common names to identify
these seeds include Jhangora, Samo seeds or Morio / Mario / Moraiaya
Echinochloa esculenta: Japanese barnyard millet
Echinochloa frumentacea: Indian barnyard millet, also known as Sawa
millet, Kodisama in Andhra Pradesh and Kuthirai vaali in Tamil Nadu
and Bhagar or Varai in Maharashtra),
Echinochloa stagnina: Burgu millet
Echinochloa crus-galli: Common barnyard grass (or Cockspur grass).
Paspalum scrobiculatum: Kodo millet (also known as Varigalu in Andhra
Pradesh and Varagu in Tamil Nadu)
Brachiaria deflexa: Guinea millet
Urochloa ramosa: Browntop millet (also known as Korle in Karnataka)
Andropogoneae tribe also in the subfamily Panicoideae:
Sorghum - usually considered a separate cereal, but
sometimes known as Great millet
Coix lacryma-jobi: Job's tears, also known as adlay millet.
Chinese legends attribute the domestication of millet to Shennong, the
legendary Emperor of China. Similarly, millets have been mentioned
in some of the oldest extant
Yajurveda texts, identifying foxtail
Barnyard millet (aanava) and black finger millet
(shyaamaka), indicating that millet consumption was very common,
dating to 4500 BC, during the Indian Bronze Age.
Common millet is currently believed to have been the first
domesticated millet dating back some 10,300 years before the
present. 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
China and Korea. Millets also formed important parts of the
prehistoric diet in Indian, Chinese
Neolithic and Korean Mumun
societies. 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). Cishan dates for common millet husk
phytoliths and biomolecular components have been identified around
8300–6700 BC in storage pits along with remains of pit-houses,
pottery, and stone tools related to millet cultivation. Evidence at
Cishan for foxtail millet dates back to around 6500 BC. A
4,000-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 have found evidence of the cultivation of millet
Korean Peninsula dating to the Middle Jeulmun pottery period
(around 3500–2000 BC).
Millet continued to be an important
element in the intensive, multicropping agriculture of the Mumun
pottery period (about 1500–300 BC) in Korea. Millets and their
wild ancestors, such as barnyard grass and panic grass, were also
Japan during the
Jōmon period some time after 4000
Asian varieties of millet made their way from
China to the Black Sea
Europe by 5000 BC. The cultivation of common millet as
the earliest dry crop in East Asia has been attributed to its
resistance to drought, and this has been suggested to have aided
Pearl Millet was domesticated in the
Sahel region of West Africa,
where its wild ancestors are found. Evidence for the cultivation of
Pearl Millet in
Mali dates back to 2500 BC, and
Pearl Millet is
found in South Asia by 2300 BC
Finger Millet is originally native to the highlands of East Africa,
and was domesticated before the third millennium BC. It's cultivation
had spread to South
India by 1800 BC.
Research on millets is carried out by the International
Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and ICAR-Indian Institute of
Millets Research in Telangana, India, and by the USDA-ARS at Tifton,
Georgia, United States.
Pearl millet is one of the two major crops in the semiarid,
impoverished, less fertile agriculture regions of Africa and southeast
Asia. Millets are not only adapted to poor, droughty, and
infertile soils, but they are also more reliable under these
conditions than most other grain crops. This has, in part, made millet
production popular, particularly in countries surrounding the Sahara
in western Africa.
Millets, however, do respond to high fertility and moisture. On a per
hectare basis, millet grain produced per hectare can be two to four
times higher with use of irrigation and soil supplements. Improved
breeds of millet improve their disease resistance and can
significantly enhance farm yield productivity. There has been
cooperation between poor countries to improve millet yields. For
example, 'Okashana 1', a variety developed in
India from a
natural-growing millet variety in Burkina Faso, doubled yields. This
breed was selected for trials in Zimbabwe. From there it was taken to
Namibia, where it was released in 1990 and enthusiastically adopted by
farmers. Okashana 1 became the most popular variety in Namibia, the
only non-Sahelian country where pearl millet – locally known as
mahangu – is the dominant food staple for consumers. 'Okashana 1'
was then introduced to Chad. The breed has significantly enhanced
Mauritania and Benin.
Millet production – 2016
Production (millions of tonnes)
FAOSTAT of the United Nations
In 2016, global production of millet was 28.4 million tonnes, led by
India with 36% of the world total (table).
Niger also had significant
Tongba, a millet-based alcoholic brew found in the far eastern
mountainous region of
Nepal and Sikkim, India
Millets are traditionally important grains used in brewing millet beer
in some cultures, for instance by the
Tao people of Orchid
Island and the Amis or Atayal of Taiwan. Various
East Africa brew a drink from millet or sorghum known as
ajono, a traditional brew of the Teso. The fermented millet is
prepared in a large pot with hot water and people share the drink by
sipping it through long straws.
Millet is also the base ingredient for the distilled liquor rakshi in
Nepal and the indigenous alcoholic drink of the Sherpa, Tamang, Rai
Limbu people, tongba, in eastern Nepal. In Balkan countries,
Romania and Bulgaria, millet is used to prepare the
fermented drink boza.
As a food source
Awaokoshi, candied millet puffs, are a specialty of Osaka, Japan. This
millet confection tradition began when it was presented to Sugawara no
Michizane when he stopped in Naniwa during the early Heian period,
about 1000 years ago.
Millets are major food sources in arid and semiarid regions of the
world, and feature in the traditional cuisine of many others. In
western India, sorghum (called jowar, jola, jonnalu, jwaarie, or
jondhahlaa in Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi and Marathi languages,
respectively; mutthaari, kora, or panjappullu in Malayalam; or cholam
in Tamil) has been commonly used with millet flour (called jowari in
western India) for hundreds of years to make the local staple,
hand-rolled (that is, made without a rolling pin) flat bread (rotla in
Gujarati, bhakri in Marathi, or roti in other languages). Another
cereal grain popularly used in rural areas and by poor people to
consume as a staple in the form of roti. Other millets such as ragi
(finger millet) in Karnataka, naachanie in Maharashtra, or kezhvaragu
in Tamil, "ragulu" in Telugu, with the popular ragi rotti and Ragi
mudde is a popular meal in Karnataka. Ragi, as it is popularly known,
is dark in color like rye, but rougher in texture.
Millet porridge is a traditional food in Russian, German, and Chinese
сuisines. In Russia, it is eaten sweet (with milk and sugar added at
the end of the cooking process) or savoury with meat or vegetable
stews. In China, it is eaten without milk or sugar, frequently with
beans, sweet potato, and/or various types of squash. In Germany, it is
also eaten sweet, boiled in water with apples added during the boiling
process and honey added during the cooling process.
Per capita consumption of millets as food varies in different parts of
the world with consumption being the highest in Western Africa. In the
Sahel region, millet is estimated to account for about 35 percent of
total cereal food consumption in Burkina Faso,
Chad and the Gambia. In
Mali and Senegal, millets constitute roughly 40 percent of total
cereal food consumption per capita, while in
Niger and arid
is over 65 percent (see mahangu). Other countries in Africa where
millets are a significant food source include Ethiopia,
Millet is also an important food item for the population
living in the drier parts of many other countries, especially in
eastern and central Africa, and in the northern coastal countries of
western Africa. In developing countries outside Africa, millet has
local significance as a food in parts of some countries, such as
Burma and North Korea.
The use of millets as food fell between the 1970s and the 2000s, both
in urban and rural areas, as developing countries such as
experienced rapid economic growth and witnessed a significant increase
in per capita consumption of other cereals.
People affected by gluten-related disorders, such as coeliac disease,
non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy sufferers,
who need a gluten-free diet, can replace gluten-containing cereals in
their diets with millet. Nevertheless, while millet does not
contain gluten, its grains and flour may be contaminated with
It is a common ingredient in seeded bread.
Millets are also used as bird and animal feed.
In addition to being used for seed, millet is also used as a grazing
forage crop. Instead of letting the plant reach maturity it can be
grazed by stock and is commonly used for sheep and cattle.
Millet is a C4 plant which means it has good water-use efficiency and
utilizes high temperature and is therefore a summer crop. A C4 plant
uses a different enzyme in photosynthesis from C3 plants and this is
why it improves water efficiency.
Australia millet is used as a summer quality pasture,
utilizing warm temperatures and summer storms.
Millet is frost
sensitive and is sown after the frost period, once soil temperature
has stabilised at 14 °C or more. It is sown at a shallow depth.
Millet grows rapidly and can be grazed 5–7 weeks after sowing, when
it is 20–30 cm high. The highest feed value is from the young
green leaf and shoots. The plant can quickly come to head, so it must
be managed accordingly because as the plant matures the value and
palatability of feed reduces.
The Japanese millets (
Echinochloa esculenta) are considered the best
for grazing and in particular Shirohie, a new variety of Japanese
millet, is the best suited variety for grazing. This is due to a
number of factors: it gives better regrowth and is later to mature
compared to other Japanese millets; it is cheap – cost of seed is
$2–$3 per kg and sowing rates are around 10 kg per hectare for
dryland production; it is quick to establish; it can be grazed early;
and it is suitable for both sheep and cattle.
Compared to forage sorghum, which is grown as an alternative grazing
forage, animals gain weight faster on millet and it has better hay or
silage potential, although it produces less dry matter. Lambs do
better on millet compared to sorghum.
Millet does not contain
prussic acid which can be in sorghum.
Prussic acid poisons animals by
inhibiting oxygen utilisation by the cells and is transported in the
blood around the body — ultimately the animal will die from
asphyxia. There is no need for additional feed supplements such as
Sulphur or salt blocks with millet.
The rapid growth of millet as a grazing crop allows flexibility in its
use. Farmers can wait until sufficient late spring / summer moisture
is present and then make use of it. It is ideally suited to irrigation
where livestock finishing is required.
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
1,582 kJ (378 kcal)
Pantothenic acid (B5)
Full Link to
USDA Database entry
μg = micrograms • mg = milligrams
IU = International units
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for
In a 100 gram serving, raw millet provides 378 calories and is a rich
source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of protein, dietary fiber,
B vitamins and numerous dietary minerals, especially manganese
at 76% DV (
USDA nutrient table). Raw millet is 9% water, 73%
carbohydrates, 4% fat and 11% protein (table).
Comparison with other major staple foods
The following table shows the nutrient content of millet compared to
major staple foods in a raw form. Raw forms, however, are not edible
and cannot be fully digested. These must be prepared and cooked as
appropriate for human consumption. In processed and cooked form, the
relative nutritional and antinutritional contents of each of these
grains is remarkably different from that of raw forms reported in this
table. The nutritional value in the cooked form depends on the cooking
Nutrient profile comparison of millet with other food staples
Synopsis ~ composition:
(per 100g portion, raw grain)
pantothenic acid (mg)
Nutrient Content of Various Millets with comparison to
Rice and Wheat
Millet Network of India, http://www.milletindia.org )
Crop / Nutrient
List of ancient dishes
List of ancient dishes and foods
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Millet.
"Millet". Encyclopædia Britannica. 18 (11th ed.). 1911.
"Millets". Alternative Field
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