Millet is the name used for a number of different grains, all of them with very small seeds, 1-2 mm in diameter. These includes, plants from the Panicum, Setaria, Pennisetum and Eleusine species. The millets are native to Africa and Asia, and have been cultivated for 6000 years. They're especially important in arid lands because they have one of the lowest water requirements of any cereals and will grow in poor soil and is unique due to its short growing season. It can develop from a planted seed to a mature, ready to harvest plant in as little as 65 days. Millet is a tall erect annual grass with an appearance strikingly similar to maize. The seeds are enclosed in colored hulls, with color depending on variety, and the seed heads themselves are held above the grassy plant on a spike like panicle 6 to 14 inches long and are extremely attractive. Because of a remarkably hard, indigestible hull, this grain must be hulled before it can be used for human consumption.
Millet is highly nutritious, gluten free and like buckwheat and quinoa, is not an acid forming food so is soothing and is considered to be one of the least allergenic and most digestible grains available.
Millet is tasty, with a mildly sweet, nut-like flavor.
Millets protein content varies between 16 and 22%, it is also high in fiber, B-complex vitamins including niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin, the essential amino acid methionine, lecithin, and some vitamin E. It is particularly high in the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. The typical nutritional value of a 120 g serving is as follow: Energy 433 cals or 1812 kJ ; Total Fats 3.5 g (no cholesterol, no saturated fat, no polyunsaturated, 3.5 g monoinsatured fat); Carbohydrates 87.5 g ; Protein 11.9 g ; Fibre 3.8 g ; Sodium 144 mg ; Potassium 390 mg ; Iron 8.2 mg ; Calcium 24 mg.
The seeds are also rich in phytochemicals, including Phytic acid, which is believed to lower cholesterol, and Phytate, which is associated with reduced cancer risk.
A characteristic of millet is the presence in the hulls and seeds, of small amounts of a goiterogenic substances that limit uptake of iodine to the thyroid. In large amounts these "thyroid function inhibitors" can cause goiter and some researchers feel this may explain, at least in part, the perplexing correlation between millet consumption and goiter incidence in some of the developing countries where millet constitutes a significant part of the diet.
These substances are diminished during the hulling process but there is definitely controversy concerning the idea that the process of cooking largely destroys those that are left in the seed itself. Some researchers including Dr. Jeffrey Bland believe that cooking greatly diminishes these substances; others claim that it doesn’t and that in fact if millet is cooked and stored in the refrigerator for a week, a practice common in many cultures, these substances will actually increase as much as six fold I have to say I haven't found any serious proof and studies results to make my mind on a good way to minimize the effect of these substance, so if you have any thyroid gland problems avoid this cereal.
There are other vegetables clother to us that also contain these goiterogenic substances such as brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, spinach, turnips, rutabagas, cassava, soy beans, peanuts, peaches, and pears.
Millets is used in various cultures in many diverse ways: The Hunzas, who live in a remote area of the Himalayan foothills are known for their excellent health and longevity and for whom millet is used as staple in their diet use millets as a cereal, in soups.
In Eastern Europe millet is used in porridge and kasha, or is fermented into a beverage and in Africa it is used to make bread, as baby food, and as uji, a thin gruel used as breakfast porridge.
The general guideline to cook millet is 3 parts water or stock and 1 part grain, and cook for approximately 30 to 40 minutes or until water is completely absorbed. The grain has a fluffier texture when less water is used and is very moist and dense when cooked with extra water. If millet is presoaked the cooking time is shortened by 5 to 10 minutes. There is an interesting cooking method that I came across in a book called "Hunza Health Secrets" is to soak the grain overnight, steam over boiling water for thirty minutes.
The flavor of millet can be enhanced by lightly roasting the grains in a dry pan before cooking; stir constantly for approximately three minutes. Millet is a tasty cereal add on in casseroles, breads, soups, stews, soufflés, pilaf, and stuffing. It can, also, be served as a side dish or served under sautéed vegetables or with beans and can be popped like corn for use as a snack or breakfast cereal. Millet can be, safely, sprouted for use in salads and sandwiches.
Millet flour produces light, dry, delicate baked goods and a crust that is thin and buttery smooth. For yeast breads up to 30% millet flour may be used, but only combined with glutinous flours to enable the bread to rise (cf dough and batters part I)
Useful links about gluten intolerance: