Thoroughly Modern Millet - Article
By Lesa Sullivan, The Pink Hobart
Millet is a grain in dire need of a makeover. To most folks, the idea of eating these little blonde-colored seeds is just plain weird. Even I said “meh” when asked about it; the last time I purchased millet it was for some backyard wildlife. But just a little research into the bitty grain yielded a bushel full of health-related benefits. Even better, some tinkering in the kitchen showed me how wrong I was to think millet was for the birds.
Millet was the first major grain cultivated in northern China, long before rice and wheat appeared on the scene. Millet was esteemed for its sturdiness in harsh environments, quick growth and high yield. Varieties of millet have also been cultivated for thousands of years in Africa, India and Europe. Indian cookery uses millet flour for chapatti, roti and pappadum. In Africa the grains are partially processed and fermented for a nutritious porridge called oji. In Eastern Europe it is eaten as kasha, and in Italy it is baked into breads and boiled for millet polenta.
Disappointingly, the most common use for millet in the states is still-you guessed it-animal feed, as we’ve been in love with light, tender crumb of white flour for generations.
The dramatic up-tick in celiac disease and diabetes, the unending searches for more sustainable protein sources, and the growing awareness of glycemic index values have all contributed to the quest for a more perfect grain. As it happens, millet neatly fills the bill. Millet is about 11-15% protein by weight, and very high in B vitamins. It is extremely easy to digest due to its alkalinity, and is high in amino acids like tryptophan, which helps regulate sleep patterns and mood. It is a wonderful replacement for glutinous products; people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can eat millet with ease. Millet is the ultimate healthy convenience food, since, unlike many other whole grains, it has a very long shelf life and takes a short time to cook. If you’re interested in treating your gut with probiotics, ditch the commercial stuff: fermented millet is a wonderful warm breakfast dish or side.
Millet is a nutritional workhorse, but don’t think for a second that it’s some kind of heavy, grody gruel. It’s lighter and fluffier than a perfectly steamed couscous, and has the same kind of toothiness as white rice. Etruria Gourmet’s pearl millet is deliciously sweet and nutty. It is a direct descendant of the grains once used by the Lombardy to make polenta and pan d’angiol, the light and sweet “bread of angels”. It is grown in Umbria, according to Italy’s standardized rules for organic farming, and is also approved by the USDA as an organic product. Etruria Gourmet has been slowly reintroducing the world’s ancient grains to today’s palates, and millet and millet flour are the next new culinary superstars - and you read it here first. We just hope millet remembers us when it’s famous.
(c) ChefShop.com, 2010