Why You Should Be Eating Millet

Creamy Millet Porridge with Candied Sweet Potatoes and Pistachios © Shelly Westerhausen
By Sammy Goldfien Posted January 13, 2016

Here are four reasons to make millet a regular on your plate.

You’ve probably heard of millet; it’s a staple food in Africa and Asia, and is best known in the U.S. for being the main component of birdseed. What we call “millet” is not technically a single grain, but the seeds of several different grasses that come in a variety of colors. The most recognizable millet in North America is probably the tiny yellow Proso variety.

While millet is an “ancient grain” and has been cultivated for the past 10,000 years, it hasn’t quite caught on like its trendy cousin quinoa. I tried it for the first time last week and was pleasantly surprised. The texture was light and fluffy, similar to steamed rice, and it tasted a bit like corn tortillas. And yes, it was delicious mixed with beans and topped with cotija cheese. But millet has a lot more going for it than just the taste. Here are four reasons to make it a regular on your plate.

1. It’s healthy.
It’s a new year, which means many of us are trying to eat healthier. Eating more whole grains like millet is a great place to start. It’s higher in protein and fiber than wheat or corn, and contains antioxidants and essential minerals like magnesium, manganese and phosphorous. 

2. It’s easy to make.
The basic method of cooking millet is similar to that of couscous, but with a slightly higher water-to-grain ratio. To cook 1 cup of dry millet, bring it to a boil with 2 cups of water and 1/4 teaspoon table salt. Turn it down to a simmer and cook until the liquid is absorbed (about 15 to 20 minutes). Just try not to stir the millet while it’s cooking; you’ll damage the structure of the seeds and make it mushy. Once you’re ready to go beyond the basics, try a cheesy millet "risotto" or a sweet breakfast porridge.

3. It’s cheap.
Some health foods, especially trendy ones, can get pricey owing to high demand. Millet, being decidedly un-trendy, is actually one of the cheaper whole grains you can buy. My local health food store sells organic millet for $1.69 a pound, compared to organic quinoa at $4.29. If you’re looking for a nutritious bargain, you’ve found it.

4. It’s resilient.
Millet is an important crop in places like Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa because it grows quickly and reliably in arid environments. According to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), it needs less water than wheat or corn, and does well in poor soil without the use of fertilizer. As global temperatures rise, millet could become a strategic source of nutrition not only in Africa and Asia, but also places like California, which face drought because of the colossal amount of water spent on large-scale agriculture.

A nutritious grain that’s cheap, simple to prepare and doesn’t guzzle up our water supply sounds too good to be true. But it exists, and it’s something people in harsh climates have known about for millennia. As the limits of our planet’s resources become increasingly apparent, it might be wise to learn from cultures that survive with scarcity. Eating millet might not solve all of our planet’s problems, but it’s an inexpensive, healthy, easy way to try.

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