This ancient grain, once a staple of the diets of India and South Africa, is actually made up of tiny seeds that come from herbs including pearl millet, the most common type, as well as funio and teff. (The class is referred to in India as plural, melis, and singularly elsewhere.) It can be served simply as a porridge-style dish or mixed into salads, soups, and stews.
Millet global public relations campaign brought a lot of attention this year. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations named the year 2023 International Year of Millet, resulting in the ingredient popping up everywhere, from restaurants in Indian hotels to parliamentary canteens in India. Modi has been aggressively promoting grain at home and abroad.
As fine Indian food gains worldwide recognition, millet is appearing on more top restaurant menus. In Dubai, Chef Rahul Rana uses millet in his Avatara menu It won a Michelin star this year. He says millet is proving an important staple in the vegetarian restaurant, and he plans to incorporate it into additional dishes in the next iteration of the 16-course degustation menu.
“It’s one of the nicest ingredients to cook in the kitchen,” he says, describing millet as having mild, inviting flavours. It’s also gluten-free, which is an important plus when restaurants are increasingly expected to offer options for various dietary restrictions.
Millet was once called the “poor man’s grain” after radical changes in agriculture around the world in the 1960s led to increased production of wheat and rice.
FMCG companies are betting on increasing demand with innovative millet-based snacks. Big companies incl Nestle SAAnd Britannia Industries LimitedAnd Tata consumer products ltd and Slurrp Farm are creating millet-based products such as cereals, biscuits, and pancake mix to help make the grain more available to the mainstream public.
“Millet cereal falls at the sweet spot of the intersection between sustainability, health and going back to our roots,” says Prashant Parameswaran, managing director at Tata Consumer Soulfull, which makes millet-based products for children and adults. “These grains are making their way back to modern Indian kitchens, where consumers are looking for healthy food options.
Global investment in millet has largely stagnated, says Makiko Taguchi, agricultural officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Hopefully it will start to increase slowly in general. However, it won’t be a huge increase,” she says.
Advocates who focus on hunger and climate change hope interest in millet will pick up. As a drought-tolerant grain, it is an excellent climate-conscious crop when severe weather wreaks havoc on crops in the Indian agricultural economy. The effects of the weather have been so severe that the government is considering banning the export of several types of rice to keep domestic prices low.
Millet is a better choice than many starches. Rich in protein and iron, millet can help prevent ulcers, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, prompting some to say millet needs to regain its status as a staple. “At least one meal a day should be with millet cereal,” says Avola Laxmiah, National Secretary of the Dietetic Society of India.
Millet is very hardy and can withstand temperatures up to 50°C. 1 kilogram of rice requires 4,000 liters of water; A kilogram of millet needs only 400 liters.
A batch of millet would be a boon for India, one of the largest exporters of the grain. The country is poised to become the global center for millet with a production of more than 17 million tons annually – about 80% of Asia’s production.
However, challenges remain in getting millet onto plates. The supergrain now costs twice as much as wheat-based products, thanks to government subsidies for competing crops. Parameswaran says that as more players enter the market, and millet-based products become more widely available, costs are likely to equalize.
“As more people start to see products that match their preferences and blend well with their lifestyle, broad acceptance of these pills will grow,” he says. DM