When people speak about millet, they usually mean proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), which is also known as common millet, broomcorn millet, and hog millet.
Millet is gluten-free and can be eaten both raw and cooked.
Proso millet can be prepared by boiling like rice or risotto. If you soak the millet overnight, the cooking time is reduced from 15 minutes to 5–10 minutes. Either way, it takes about 20 minutes until most of the water is absorbed. Like semolina, coarsely ground millet can be used to make sweet or savory porridge. Couscous can be made from millet, however, this is not always the case. Alternatives to millet for making couscous are durum wheat and barley.
Millet can be finely ground to make flour that can be used for baked goods such as biscuits. In India, millet has long been used to prepare unleavened flatbread. By itself, millet flour is not really suitable for baking cakes or making bread, as it does not contain gluten.
However, millet’s nutty flavor makes it a great ingredient for stews and soups, and served cold in salads. Millet also works well in sweet dishes and smoothies.
Raw millet can be soaked for 5 hours or left to sprout for a maximum 24 hours and then eaten fresh, for example, in a salad. Millet can also enrich muesli; in fact, it is an essential ingredient of Erb Muesli. Sprouting millet produces numerous complex nutrients and enzymes, which make the seedlings much more nutritious than the seeds. See the article phytic acid (phytate) and soaking versus sprouting.
In Africa, millet is also used to produce gluten-free beer.1 In northern China, proso millet is used to make wine, which is very similar to rice wine.
Vegan recipe for Millet Porridge with Raspberries:
To make this recipe for two servings, boil 150 g millet with 300 mL soy milk. When the millet is al dente, add 8 pitted dates (cut into rings). Add one tablespoon of almond butter, season the porridge to taste with ground vanilla and garnish with hemp seeds, flaxseed, and/or chia seeds. Top with fresh raspberries and enjoy warm.
Vegan recipe for Savory Millet Fritters:
First cook 100 g millet in vegetable stock and then mash it coarsely. Sauté a diced onion and a minced garlic clove in a skillet with a little oil to make it flavorsome. Knead with 2 tablespoons lupine flour to create a dough and season with nutmeg and pepper. If you’d like, you can also add cooked peas or grated carrots. Form into fritters and fry until golden brown. Serve with fresh salad or guacamole.
Purchasing — where to shop?
The term millet is actually a collective term for a variety of grasses that produce small, rounded seeds . One way that different types of millet can be distinguished is through how they are labeled on the market. In trade, golden millet means millet that has had its husk removed and appears yellowish or golden. Red, brown, and almost white varieties of millet are also available. Millet sold in Europe is almost exclusively proso millet, and the cultivation thereof is continually increasing. In the US, Proso millet and foxtail millet are grown in several states. You can buy millet in most major supermarkets including Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Extra Foods, Metro, and Freshmart (Canada); Asda, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco (Great Britain); and Woolworths, Coles, and Harris Farm (Australia). You may be able to find organic millet at major supermarkets as well as at organic supermarkets, health food stores, and online.
In Central Europe, proso millet is found in the wild in dumps, ports, and around railway infrastructure. You may be able to find feral millet in gardens that grew from millet birdseed falling to the ground. Brown millet is also often referred to as a primordial or wild food, as it has not been bred, hybridized, or genetically modified.
Like other grains, millet lasts a very long time when stored in a dry, airtight, and light-protected place. Gluten-free millet flour, on the other hand, spoils very easily and therefore should be consumed quickly. It is possible to have long-life millet flour, but it has usually at least undergone a heating process.
Nutrients — nutritional information — calories:
What nutrients does millet contain? Carbohydrates make up about 70 % of millet, while protein makes up 11 % and fat 4 %. However, millet contains an unhealthy ratio of linoleic acid (LA, omega-6 fatty acid) to alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, the sought-after omega-3 fatty acids): 17:1. You should therefore combine millet with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids to achieve a ratio of 5:1 or less. See the nutrient tables below this text.
Millet contains valuable B vitamins such as thiamine (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3), and pyridoxine (vitamin B6). It is also a good source of folic acid (folate, 85 µg). Flaxseed (87), amaranth (82), and avocado (81) provide comparable amounts of folate; however, they trail far behind leading sources such as mung beans (625), chickpeas (557), and lentils (479). Millet contains valuable minerals such as manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. The manganese content is similar to that of cashews (1.66 mg), garlic (1.67 mg), and raw peanuts (1.7 mg). Significantly more manganese can be found in hemp seeds (7.6 mg), chickpeas (21.3 mg), and various spices.2 Although millet husks are removed, they are nonetheless very high in fiber.
Unhulled millet contains much more fiber, minerals, and trace elements than hulled millet, but it also contains a considerable amount of prussic acid. Unhulled millet is rather unsuitable for human consumption. Despite not containing its husks, millet’s nutritional values are comparable with whole grains as the nutrients are evenly distributed throughout the grain. In other types of grains, beneficial nutrients are mainly found in the outer layers of the grain and are lost when the husks are removed.
Brown millet has a slightly softer skin, but it is not easy to peel. This is why brown millet has a higher fiber content. But it is not advisable to eat too much brown millet as it contains a higher amount of certain phytonutrients.
Health aspects — effects:
What is millet good for? You can tell what nutrients different species of millet contain based on their color: beta-carotene is in the yellow varieties and anthocyanins (flavonoids) in the red ones. Red or brown millet contains more antioxidants than lighter varieties.3
Millet also contains a lot of silicon. This nonessential trace element is said to have a very positive effect on bones, teeth, and connective tissue, but also on hair and skin. Silicon (silica) is recommended to fight arthritic diseases.4 The amount of silica required for it to be effective has unfortunately not been clearly determined.
Dangers — intolerances — side effects:
Millet contains phytonutrients such as tannins, phytic acid, and oxalic acid, which are mainly found in its outer layers. These phytonutrients have a rather negative reputation, although they do have positive effects. However, if one were to have a diet almost exclusively of species of millet, symptoms of deficiency may occur. Tannins can bind protein and thus reduce its bioavailability. Phytinic and oxalic acids bind iron and calcium. Phytic acid, oxalic acid, and tannins can be reduced by soaking, fermenting, or sprouting millet.5
Brown millet contains a higher content of these phytonutrients. It is important to know that the endosperm of brown millet is very firmly attached to the husk, which is why it cannot be husked. In special mills (Zentrofan mills) millet with a hard husk is ground very finely. You can also use the raw flour in moderation (1–2 tablespoons per day), for example, in muesli or smoothies, or added to baked recipes.
Pearl millet (brown millet and sorghum) contains cyanogenic glycosides (dhurrin), which release prussic acid when the grain is split. This prussic acid can impair one’s iodine metabolism and lead to an enlargement of the thyroid gland. For this reason, these millet forms should be avoided in cases of hypothyroidism. Yellow-grained varieties of millet contain little or no dhurrin. These are the only types of millet that do not cause the development of goiter, which is a disease that is almost always associated with iodine deficiency, malnutrition, or nutritional imbalance.5
Traditional medicine — naturopathy:
People who have a sensitivity to other grains that are mucus-forming swear by millet for easing respiratory diseases. Millet is said to have invigorating, warming, rejuvenating, nerve strengthening, dehydrating, detoxifying, and anti-inflammatory effects.6
Description — origin:
Proso millet originated in Central Asia. This millet is one of the earliest cultivated grains. Findings confirmed that it was used in the Paleolithic Age. Millet was also a major grain in Europe in the Late Bronze Age.7 The higher yield of other cultivated grains meant that millet was increasingly replaced, first by barley, then by rye and wheat.8 Today, proso millet is mainly cultivated in Central Asia, Northern China, Japan, and India. The demand for gluten-free grains is steadily increasing, meaning that the cultivation of millet is once again on the rise in European countries.8
Cultivation — harvest:
Proso millet requires warm temperatures to flourish but is less heat-dependent than other species. Natural millet cultivation requires similar growing conditions to maize. Millet needs very little water to grow. Millet seeds do not ripen simultaneously, so they are harvested before they are fully ripe. Proso millet’s yield is rather low, between 1 and 5 tons/ha. In the Himalayas, proso millet is cultivated at altitudes of up to three thousand meters.8
The proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) belongs botanically to the sweet grass family (Poaceae) and of the genus Panicum. Though technically a seed, millet functions like a grain. Many genera of sweet grass have been used as staple food in Central Asia for eight thousand years.
Sorghum and Coix (job’s tears) are related to millet. Sowi millet, kutki millet, fall panicgrass, and switchgrass are also in the Panicoideae subfamily. Millet encompasses the genera Setaria (e.g., foxtail millet), Pennisetum (pearl millet), Paspalum (kodo millet), Echinochloa (cockspur grass and Japanese millet), Digitaria (e.g., fonio millet), Brachiaria (guinea millet), and brown millet.
The genera Eleusine coracana (finger millet) and Eragrostis (teff) belong to the subfamily Chloridoideae.
According to Wikipedia, there are three subspecies of proso millet:9
- Cultivated millet (Panicum miliaceum subsp. miliaceum)
- Broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum subsp. ruderale)
- Loggerhead weed millet (Panicum miliaceum subsp. agricolum)
Most millet species are primarily used for animal feed, with the exception of proso millet. Foxtail millet is mainly used as bird food (e.g., in Austria). Switchgrass is used in the United States for the production of cellulosic ethanol. Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) is also used as an energy crop for producing biogas.
Literature — sources:
Many researchers do not believe that Wikipedia is an authoritative source. One reason for this is that the information about literature cited and authors is often missing or unreliable. Our pictograms for nutritional values provide also information on calories (kcal).
- Franke W. Nutzpflanzenkunde. Nutzbare Gewächse der gemäßigten Breiten, Subtropen, und Tropen. 4. Auflage. Thieme Verlag: Stuttgart; 1989.
- USDA United States Department for Agriculture
- Kumari D, Majhujith T, Chandrasekara A. Comparison of phenolic content and antioxidant activities of millet varieties grown in different locations in Sri Lanka. Food Science Nutrition. August 2016.
- Ulmer GA. Die besonderen Heilwirkungen von Hafer und Hirse. Ulmer Verlag: Tuningen;1991.
- Sedghi M, Golian A et al. Relationship between color and tannin content in sorghum grain: application of image analysis and artificial neural network. Rev Bras Cienc Avic. Jan/Mar 2012.
- Awika JM, Rooney LW. Sorghum phytochemicals and their potential impact on human health. Phytochemistry. Mai 2004.
- Stika HP, Heiss AG. Plant Cultivation in the Bronze Age. Harry Fokkens, Anthony Harding (Hrsg.). The Oxford Handbook of the European Bronze Age. Oxford University Press: Oxford; 2013.
- Körber-Grohne U. Nutzpflanzen in Deutschland von der Vorgeschichte bis heute. Theiss: Stuttgart; 1995.
- Wikipedia Hirse / Rispenhirse.