Millet – Rich In Vital Substances, Gluten-Free, And Easily Digestible

Millet is a very special food. For a long time, the small-grain cereal was somewhat forgotten, but in recent years it has been making a well-deserved comeback. Millet provides many valuable nutrients, special trace elements, and protective antioxidants.

Millet is not just millet

Millet is not a single plant species, but a collective name for 10 to 12 different small-fruited husk grain genera, which include countless millet species. Like spelled, wheat, corn, etc., they all belong to the sweet grass family (Poaceae) and have a lot in common.
Depending on the nature of the millet grains, a rough distinction is made between:

  • Sorghum: There are around 30 species of the genus Sorghum, e.g. B. the sorghum. Sorghum millets are characterized by larger grains (17 to 22 grams of a thousand grains) and higher yields and are used as food and bird seed. For comparison: Wheat has a thousand-grain mass of 40 – 65 grams.
  • Millet millets are also known as small or real millets. They include most types of millet, e.g. B. proso millet, foxtail millet, pearl millet, finger millet, and teff. The small grains (about 5 grams per thousand grains) are valued by humans and animals alike. For food production for humans u. Proso millet is mainly cultivated in Europe.

Yellow millet supplies beta-carotene, red millet supplies anthocyanins

Millet comes in many different colors: yellow, white, red, brown, and almost white. It is interesting that you can learn a lot about the ingredients from the coloring of the millet grain. The yellow color of golden millet indicates that it contains beta-carotene, while red varieties contain anthocyanins (flavonoids).

While carotenoids are formed particularly abundantly in a dry, hot climate, according to a study at the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, which showed: The drier the climate, the stronger the antioxidant effect – the carbohydrate content increases in cool and wet years.

In the latter case, the grain of millet assumes a lighter, whitish color. Translucent or glassy millet grains are a sign of increased protein content. Basically, red and brown millet grains contain more antioxidants than other colored ones.

Millet: staple food in many countries

Millet has been an indispensable staple food in Asia and Africa for thousands of years. Around 90 percent of the world’s harvest is produced there – especially in countries like India, Nigeria, and Niger. Because the millet plants have a great advantage that they are extremely undemanding, thrive even on poor soil, are protected against drought, and have a very short growing season (around 100 days). Harvest failures are therefore extremely rare.

In Europe, the small grains have had a shadowy existence compared to other grains such as wheat and corn for a long time – but this was not always the case.

Millet: A look into the history

Millet is one of the oldest types of grain and was used as food by nomads and semi-nomads as early as the Stone Age. During archaeological excavations in China, grains of proso and foxtail millet dating back to 7,000 to 8,000 years BC have been discovered. were dated. According to researchers from Kiel University, millet may have been domesticated in the Far East and reached Central Europe via the Silk Road.

In ancient times, millet was already cultivated across the board in Asia and Europe and ensured human nutrition in many cultures. It was seen as a symbol of diligence and fertility, which led to the custom of throwing grains of millet at the bride.

In medieval Germany, proso millet and foxtail millet were among the main cereals. The millet grains were processed into bread or porridge and were considered a simple and highly filling, but tasty and popular meal. The term “poor man’s fruit” comes from the fact that large quantities of millet grains were stored in cities as emergency reserves. If there was no famine for ten years, they were distributed as alms.

Millet cultivation declined in Europe in the 17th century due to the introduction of new crops such as potatoes and maize. In addition, millet has been pushed back by other cereals such as wheat and rye, as their yield per hectare is significantly higher. As a result, millet was given the status of a secondary grain during the 18th century and gradually fell into oblivion.

It was not until the 21st century that millet finally experienced a renaissance in Europe and, due to its nutritional value, it can now be found more and more often on the menus of health-conscious people.

For a long time, the supply was based exclusively on imports from countries such as the USA, Canada, and China, but meanwhile, numerous European farmers have discovered the forgotten grain for themselves and grow proso millet, e.g. B. in Brandenburg (Germany), in Lower Austria (Austria) or in the Zurich Oberland (Switzerland).

Millet is always sold peeled

Millet is – like oats, barley, and rice – a husk grain and must therefore be freed from the husks and the hard, pebbly fruit skin in order to be suitable for consumption. The millet grains are offered whole but are also processed into flour, semolina, or flakes.

Strictly speaking, millet is not a whole-grain product. Accordingly, the fiber content is lower. However, since the nutrients are distributed throughout the millet grain and are not primarily found in the outer layers (fruit and seed coat) as is the case with other types of grain, the peeled millet can be compared to whole grain cereals.

Golden millet and brown millet: the difference

Both the yellow millet and the brown millet are usually forms of proso millet that differ from each other in terms of their color. While the yellow millet grain is golden yellow and is therefore also referred to as golden millet, the color tones of brown or red millet range from red-orange to red to brown and black.

But there is another crucial difference: Although the brown millet is also de-husked, it is – unlike golden millet – not suitable for peeling because the endosperm and the peel are firmly connected. The whole grains are ground very finely into flour with special mills (e.g. centrophan mills) together with the hard shell. This can be used raw in small amounts (about 1 to 2 tablespoons per day) to enhance muesli or smoothies or for cooking or baking.

Compared to golden millet, brown millet has the advantage that it is in fact a whole-grain product. Brown millet, therefore, contains even more dietary fiber and vital substances and a larger portion of silicic acid (silicon), all of which adhere to the outer layers.

Nevertheless, the golden millet does not have to hide behind the brown millet in terms of nutrient content, especially since larger quantities can be consumed, which is not the case with brown millet.

The nutritional values of millet

The very term “millet” indicates that it is a very nutritious grain. Because it comes from Indo-European and means something like satiety and nutritiousness. Millet dishes are indeed filling for a long time, although 100 grams of cooked golden millet – which corresponds to about 40 grams of raw golden millet – contain just 114 kilocalories.

Natural iron for healthy blood

Millet in particular is a very good source of iron and magnesium. When it comes to iron, it is one of the front runners compared to other types of grain. The valuable grain contains two to three times more iron than wheat and thus makes an optimal contribution to blood formation.

With approx. 2.5 – 3.5 mg of iron, 100 grams of cooked millet per day already cover up to a quarter of the human iron requirement. However, iron has other tasks to fulfill in the body. The trace element helps with oxygen transport, energy generation, and cell division.

Sufficient iron intake is important for the body to fulfill all these diverse tasks. Iron is also an important helper in the case of chronic fatigue. So that the iron can be better absorbed by the body, vitamin C-rich foods should be eaten, e.g. B. broccoli or pepper vegetables or salads.

Millet is good for diabetics

Canadian researchers from the Memorial University of Newfoundland are of the opinion that millet can counteract postprandial hypoglycemia and thus excessive insulin secretion. An Indian study at the University of Agricultural Sciences showed that millet is a very helpful meal for patients with type 2 diabetes: the 28-day millet regimen (see below) tested in the study resulted in a significant reduction in blood sugar levels and an increase in good HDL cholesterol.

Millet is gluten-free and protects the intestinal mucosa

Millet contains almost as much protein as wheat but has the great advantage that it does not contain gluten (cereal protein contained in wheat, spelled, rye, etc.), which is particularly interesting for people who suffer from celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Studies have shown that more and more people are concerned about wheat. According to an Italian research team from the Università Politecnica Delle Marche, the occurrence of celiac disease has increased fivefold in the last 25 years. The causes include, on the one hand, eating habits – the consumption of wheat has increased – and, on the other hand, the breeding of extremely gluten-rich wheat varieties.

A study by Dutch scientists from the Leiden University Medical Center has shown that dwarf millet – i.e. teff – is particularly good for celiac disease patients. Of around 1,830 study participants who consumed teff, only 17 percent suffered from clinical symptoms, while more than 60 percent of those patients who never used teff did have symptoms despite following a gluten-free diet.

Teff, therefore, seems to have a healing effect on the attacked intestinal mucosa, which i.a. is attributed to the particularly high fiber content of this type of millet.

Millet is very rich in secondary plant substances

According to a study at Bharathiar University in India, millet has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties and counteracts conditions such as diabetes, vascular calcification, and cancer. This is attributed, among other things, to their secondary plant substances.

These primarily include various polyphenols, including phenolic acids, flavonoids, and tannins (tannins) as well as phytic acid and oxalic acid.

Millet really is an exceptionally good source of phytochemicals and is even equated with fruits and vegetables by scientists in terms of its antioxidant effects. Brown millet is particularly rich in secondary plant substances, as these can be found more often in the outer layers of the grain.

Millet and phytic acid

Unfortunately, some of the secondary plant substances contained in millet do not have a good reputation. Tannins, for example, are said to bind protein and thus reduce its bioavailability and inhibit starch digestion, while phytic acid and oxalic acid contain minerals such as e.g. B. bind to iron and calcium. For this reason, the consumption of millet – especially brown millet – is often quickly discouraged.

The fact is, however, that tannins are particularly found in certain sorghum millets that are primarily grown and eaten in African countries. Deficiency symptoms caused by secondary plant substances also occur practically only in developing countries, where people have to feed themselves almost exclusively on grain – simply because they have no other food available.

However, the criticism also does not stand up because brown millet is only consumed in small quantities anyway and the content in golden millet would not be sufficient to have a negative effect on health. On the contrary. Studies have shown that the levels of phytic acid and oxalic acid found in healthy and properly prepared foods target cancer cells, while tannins have antiviral and antibacterial properties. The supposedly harmful substances are not harmful at all. They might only be if you wanted to live off millet only.

There is also the possibility of influencing the content of tannins, phytic acid, and oxalic acid by the way the millet is prepared. Because these substances are partly reduced not only by heating, but also by soaking, fermenting, and germinating.

Does millet damage the thyroid?

In connection with thyroid health, the consumption of millet is also discouraged in some places, as millet is said to harm the thyroid. This is attributed to cyanogenic glycosides (dhurrin), which release hydrocyanic acid during cleavage, thereby impairing the iodine metabolism and as a result, can lead to an enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter). For this reason, millet is simply counted among the goitrogenic, i.e. goitrous foods that should be avoided – especially in the case of hypothyroidism.

But hardly anyone takes the trouble to go into this somewhat complicated topic in more detail. Because whether millet actually contains dhurrin depends not only on the type of millet but also on the respective type of millet. In the scientific literature, dhurrin is primarily reported in connection with pearl millet and sorghum (e.g. Sorghum bicolor), but not with regard to proso millet, which is eaten in Europe.

Apart from that, there are countless sorghum varieties that contain little or no dhurrin, always depending on the genetics of the plants. Incidentally, varieties with yellow grains are the least affected. This also explains why goiter formation occurs very frequently in certain regions of Africa, for example in Sudan, and not at all in other regions.

In addition, the frequent occurrence of thyroid diseases in this regard is not solely attributed to the consumption of millet but is also determined by various other factors such as iodine deficiency, malnutrition, and an unbalanced diet – i.e. factors that exist in the poorest countries of our world, but not in the rich ones “western world” meet.

So it makes no sense to warn against millet dishes in connection with the thyroid. Because even if you regularly bought or ate a type of millet that contained dhurrin, the amount would by no means be enough to cause (thyroid) disease!

Millet in folk medicine

Millet has not only been a valued food for thousands of years, but it is also an ancient medicinal plant that is still used in traditional folk medicine today. It is no longer a secret that millet can contribute to the beauty of the skin, hair, and nails. In addition, it has a constructive, warming, rejuvenating, nerve-strengthening, draining, detoxifying, and anti-inflammatory effect. The areas of application include:

  • connective tissue weakness
  • hair loss
  • Cracked nails
  • diseases of the vessels
  • joint problems
  • varicose veins
  • hemorrhoids
  • indigestion
  • forgetfulness
  • fatigue
  • a cold

In contrast to other types of grain such as wheat or spelled, millet is a very good helper for diseases of the respiratory tract because it does not have a mucus-forming effect on sensitive people. Millet is also said to help with seasonal depressions, which is why it was called the “happy grain” as early as the Middle Ages.

Millet pillow for heat and cold therapy

Externally, millet can be used in the form of a grain pillow. To do this, simply wrap the small grains in fabric and heat them on a plate at 100 degrees for a maximum of 15 minutes on the lower shelf of the oven or place them in the freezer to cool. Areas of application include tension, muscle pain, sprains, bruises, menstrual cramps, and tired and heavy eyes.

Millet grains are characterized by optimal storage properties: The desired temperature can therefore be maintained continuously and stored for a longer period of time. While heat applications increase blood circulation and have a muscle-relaxing effect, cold applications have an anti-inflammatory effect. Be sure to find out from your doctor or alternative practitioner which application – whether warm or cold – is suitable for your condition.

Compared to grain pillows, hot water bottles made of rubber have the disadvantage that direct skin contact exposes the body to chemicals, and – especially in children – there is a risk of burns. In addition, when the grains are heated, moisture is released from the grains, so that the heat penetrates deeper than with a hot water bottle.

Millet cure: detoxification of the organism

The positive thing about millet is that you only have to eat it regularly to benefit from its healing powers. However, specific millet cures are also recommended in folk medicine for all kinds of ailments, as this is said to gently detoxify and strengthen the body, which in turn has a positive effect on the mind and soul.

Apart from the symptoms already mentioned, the millet cure is considered a good therapy for fibroids (benign growths in or on the uterus). In traditional medicine, fibroids as well as cysts and polyps are understood as an emergency reaction to excessive toxic exposure. Detoxification through the menstrual period can be hampered by taking the pill. This, in turn, leads to increased exposure of the uterine tissue to toxins. Detoxification with the help of millet could be useful here.

During a millet cure, only 70 percent millet and 30 percent raw and/or steamed vegetables and fruit are consumed for 7 days. To do this, prepare the entire daily millet ration in the morning. Natural spices and high-quality, cold-pressed vegetable oils are also permitted. There are therefore many ways to prepare the millet tasty so that there is no boredom.

It is important that you drink enough, i.e. 2 to 3 liters of water and unsweetened herbal tea daily. medicinal plants such as B. the nettle, the birch or the milk thistle support the detoxification.

If a whole week seems too long for you, you can also plan a millet day once a week, where there is a millet dish in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.

Buy millet

It is no longer a problem to buy high-quality millet. You will definitely find what you are looking for in your health food store, health food store, or supermarket. When buying, it is best to rely on organic millet from your region or a neighboring region. In addition to the millet grains, there are a number of other products such as e.g.:

  • Millet grist: The coarsely chopped millet grains are ideal for making a delicious breakfast porridge.
  • Millet flakes: The pressed and steamed millet grains are a great alternative to cereal flakes containing gluten in the event of gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity.
  • Millet flour: The ground millet grains are ideal for muffins, flatbreads, or pancakes.
  • Although millet husks are not intended for consumption, they are used as a health-promoting pillow filling. Because they are small and mobile, they give way under pressure from the head and neck. As a result, they adapt to every turn of the head and counteract tension. The millet husks should be replaced every 2 years.

Millet: The storage

It is best to store your millet dry, cool, and protected from light. It is important to reseal the packs well after opening each time. Millet flour can be stored in tightly sealed containers such as glasses or stainless steel cans.

However, millet cannot be stored for a particularly long time due to its relatively high-fat content. For this reason, you should not buy millet products in large quantities and use them up as quickly as possible after opening the packaging. Pay attention to the expiration date. Cooked millet can be stored in the refrigerator for about 3 days.

Millet: what to consider before preparing it?

When dehusking millet, it cannot be completely avoided that the seedling is easily damaged. As a result, the germ oil wraps around the millet grain like a thin coat. While this oil is of high quality, it is also very sensitive to oxygen and oxidizes easily. This means that the millet can taste a bit bitter. However, if you rinse the millet grains in a fine sieve with hot water before you prepare them, traces of oil and the bitter taste will be safely removed.

Millet: the preparation

The preparation of millet is very simple and requires little effort, but there are many different options. Millet can be soaked for a few hours or overnight before cooking to reduce substances such as phytic acid. The soaking water is then discarded. The disadvantage is that in this way other water-soluble ingredients such as vitamins from the B group also end up in the drain.

You can prepare millet pure or like a risotto by first sautéing the finely chopped onion, the remaining ingredients, and the millet and then adding double or triple the amount of water or broth. Let the unsoaked millet simmer for about 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to low and let it sit, covered, for 20 minutes. Avoid stirring the millet while it is swelling, otherwise, it will become sticky.

Millet can also be steamed at 100°C for around 35 minutes. If it has been soaked overnight, a cooking time of 5 to 10 minutes is sufficient. The swelling time remains at 20 minutes.

Millet in the kitchen – A culinary enrichment

Millet is finding more and more followers in the kitchen because of its health value, its aromatic, nutty taste, and its diversity. Whether sweet, sour, or spicy: millet is an all-rounder and can be wonderfully combined with vegetables and fruit.

The whole millet grain, but also millet meal and millet flakes are ideal for creating a healthy breakfast, e.g. B. in the form of muesli or sweet millet rice, which is spiced up with fruit of your choice. You can also use millet as a side dish, for example with vegetable curry, mix it into a colorful salad or soup, create a filling for vegetables such as peppers or courgettes or conjure up a hearty casserole. Millet is also good in stews – or how about millet patties or a tasty “hirsotto” – as an alternative to risotto?

Since millet flour does not contain gluten, it does not have the same baking properties as e.g. E.g. wheat flour, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t suitable for baking! Because you can use millet flour, e.g. B. flatbreads or pancakes.

However, if you want to bake leavened bread, a cake, or pizza, millet is recommended mix flour with gluten-containing flour (e.g. spelled flour). If the millet flour content is 20 to 30 percent, you don’t even have to change anything in your beloved original recipe.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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