Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for both human food and fodder. They do not form a taxonomic group, but rather a functional or agronomic one. Millets are important crops in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa, with 97% of millet production in developing countries. The crop is favored
due to its productivity and short growing season under dry, high temperature conditions.
The most widely grown millet is pearl millet, which is an important crop in India and parts of Africa. Finger millet, proso millet, and foxtail millet are also important crop species. In the developed world, millets are less important. For example, in the United States the only significant crop is proso millet, which is mostly grown for bird seed.
While millets are indigenous to many parts of the world, millets most likely had an evolutionary origin in tropical western Africa, as that is where the greatest number of both wild and cultivated forms exist. Millets have been important food staples in human history, particularly in Asia and Africa, and they have been in cultivation in East Asia for the last 10,000 years.
Millets, like sorghum
, are predominantly starchy. The protein content is comparable to that of wheat
. Pearl and little millet are higher in fat
, while finger millet contains the lowest fat.
Barnyard millet has the lowest carbohydrate
content and energy value. Millets are also relatively rich in iron
. The bran layers of millets are good sources of B-complex vitamins
. However, millets also feature high fiber
content and poor digestibility of nutrients, which severely limit their value in nutrition and influence their consumer acceptability.
Finger millet has the highest calcium
content among all the foodgrains, but it is not highly assimilable.The protein content in millet is very close to that of wheat; both provide about 11% protein by weight, on a dry matter basis.
Millets are rich in B vitamins
(especially niacin, B6 and folic acid
), calcium, iron, potassium
, and zinc
. Millets contain no gluten
, so they are not suitable for raised bread. When combined with wheat (or xanthan gum for those who have celiac disease) they can be used for raised bread. Alone, they are suited for flatbread.
As none of the millets is closely related to wheat, they are appropriate foods for those with celiac disease or other forms of allergies/intolerance of wheat. However, millets are also a mild thyroid peroxidase inhibitor and probably should not be consumed in great quantities by those with thyroid disease.
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