Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Millet: Not Just for the Birds

Although the cultivation of millet as an edible cereal grain has been traced as far back as 2000 BCE, it is familiar to westerners primarily as a component of commercial bird seed mixtures. (It's the little round yellow one). Millet, not rice, was a staple in prehistoric Asian societies. After the Vietnam war, it was rumored that the North Vietnamese soldiers, who had only millet to eat, had triumphed over the South Vietnamese troops because of millet's nutritional superiority over white rice. Millet, which technically is a seed and not a grain, is widely grown and eaten in Africa and India, and has a long history in Eastern Europe as well.

I like millet because of its beautiful yellow color when cooked, its nutty mild flavor, its versatility, and its relatively short cooking time. (About 30 minutes). Although the price of most rice varieties has doubled recently, millet remains very affordable at almost half the cost of rice. Natural food stores sell millet, which will keep for months in your pantry in a tightly closed jar. (I do always keep a little extra on hand in winter for my backyard birds).

A cup of cooked millet contains more than 6 grams of protein and is high in manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and tryptophan; it is also an excellent source of insoluble fiber. As a whole grain, millet provides many essential nutrients which are largely missing from the standard American diet, and which cannot be replicated by vitamin supplements. Since millet is not in the wheat family, it may be eaten safely by those who must avoid gluten.

Perhaps it's time to learn something from the birds and elevate millet from its humble place as a lowly but ancient source of valuable life sustaining food.

See next post for a simple millet recipe and several serving suggestions.