The nutritional value of millets
- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared 2023 to be the ‘International Year of Millets’.
What are millets?
- Millets are fundamentally grasses.
- They are cultivated worldwide, but especially in the tropical parts of Africa and Asia, as cereal crops.
- Some of the more common varieties include pearl millet (Cenchrus americanus), barnyard millet (Echinochloa utilis), finger millet (Eleusine coracana), and foxtail millet (Setaria italica).
- There is both palaeontological and textual evidence to indicate that millets were being cultivated in the Indian subcontinent five millennia ago.
- According to the Agricultural and Processed Foods Development Authority, India is the world’s largest producer of millets.
- In 20212022, the country accounted for 40.51% of the world’s pearl millet production and 8.09% of sorghum.
- Within the country, pearl millet made up 60% of all the millet production, sorghum 27%, and ragi 11%.
Why are they sought after?
- Millets have two broad features that render them attractive
- Their nutritional value being comparable to that of major extant food crops (and better on some counts) and
- Their ability to reliably withstand harsh, resourcepoor conditions.
- They are droughttolerant, adapted to growing in warm weather, and require low moisture (axiomatically, they are particularly efficient consumers of water) and loamy soil.
- They don’t grow well in waterlogged or extremely dry soil which might occur after heavy rainfall or particularly bad droughts, respectively.
Are millets nutritious?
- The nutritional content of millets include carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, amino acids, and various minerals.
- Different millet varieties have different nutrient profiles.
- For example, pearl millet — one of the oldest cultivated varieties — has been found to have higher protein content than rice, maize, and sorghum, while being comparable to that of barley.
- According to various studies, foxtail millet is rich in the amino acid lysine; finger millet has more crude fibre than wheat and rice; proso millet has a significant amount of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and methionine.
- Overall, millets have been found to be important sources of micronutrients and phytochemicals.