Millet Notes

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Millet Notes

History of Millet

Millet is one of the oldest human foods and believed to be the first domesticated cereal grain. Though difficult to know exact origin, it's widely accepted that millet was domesticated and cultivated simultaneously in Asia and Africa over 7000 years ago during the Neolithic Era, and then spread throughout the world as a staple food. In the Old Testament, Ezekiel 4:9, millet is mentioned as a grain for making bread. It was a staple of the Sumerians and treasured plant grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon.

There is evidence that millet was grown during the Stone Age by lake dwellers in Switzerland and was eaten in Northern Europe at least since the Iron Age. It was a staple in arid areas of India and Africa for thousands of years. Millet was the prevalent grain of China before rice. In 2005 in northwestern China archeologists unearthed a perfectly preserved 4000 year old bowl containing long yellow noodles made from foxtail millet. Millet meal cakes have also been discovered. The earliest written record of millet, "Fan Shen Chih Shu" 2800 BC, gives detailed instructions for growing and storing the grain, and lists it as one of the five sacred Chinese crops along with soybeans, rice, wheat, and barley.

Greek historian Herodotus wrote that millet grew so tall in Assyria that he could not give its height for fear that he would not be believed. Early Egyptians learned how to grow millet in the arid Sahara around 3000 BC. The Moors in North Africa grew millet after discovering that it sprouted during the monsoon season and matured quickly. It was grown in southern Arabia as well and in what was once called Gaul (France). The Romans called millet milium and made a polenta-like porridge called puls, that was similar to the Etruscans' porridge pulmentum. The explorer Marco Polo wrote about food under the rule of Genghis Khan, "They have no shortage because they mostly use rice, panic or millet [panic is another species of millet], especially the Tartars and the people of Cathay and Manzi, they do not use bread, but simply boil these three sorts of grain." The Western European emperor Charlemagne ordered millet to be stored and used as a Lenten food. During the Middle Ages millet was the main staple grain in Europe and grown more widely than wheat.

Millet Today

Although its role has diminished, today millet ranks as the sixth most important cereal grain in the world, sustaining more than one-third of the world's population.

China, India, and Niger are the world's largest growers of millet today. The Hunza people living in the remote Himalayan foothills and known for their extraordinary health and longevity enjoy millet as their staple grain. They use it to make whole grain chapatti flat bread, soups, and porridge. In arid Western India millet is used to make roti, a dense, flat cake made from millet flour since ancient times. Another flat bread from India, bhakri is made from millet and sorghum flours. In Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Hungary, millet is used to make fermented beverages and sweet and savory porridges called kasha. In Africa millet is used in baby food and a thin porridge called uji. In Ethiopia the ancient flat bread called injera is still made from teff millet. In much of eastern Africa millet is used to make beer. Millet stalks are still used in making brooms found in households throughout the world.

Flat breads from various cultures — including Mexican tortillas, Scottish oat cakes, Indian chapatti and roti, Chinese pao ping, American johnnycake and Ethiopian injera — are all descendants of biblical and Neolithic unleavened breads, and utilize pretty much the same balance of ingredients. Grains used vary with location, but many of these flat breads are still made with millet as they have been for thousands of years.

In Food: An Authoritative and Visual History and Dictionary of the Foods of the World 1980, author/journalist Waverly Root writes, "The characteristics which once made millet an appropriate food for primitive times have kept it in our day... It is one of the hardiest of cereals, capable of fending for itself in the wild state; but when it is cultivated it responds gratifyingly to even the most rudimentary care. Its very small seeds facilitate its spread, with the aid of birds, for instance, or even of the wind. It keeps well in storage...millet is often stocked as a reserve good in case of famine."

Since the 1970s millet has been gaining popularity in Western Europe and North America as a nutritious, quick cooking and delicious whole grain. Another reason for millet's recent resurgence is that it is gluten free and therefore ideal for those with sensitivity to modern wheat or other grains that contain gluten. Because millet is gluten free it does not make good leavened bread when used alone; however, it can be milled and combined with other flours to make delicious breads.

Millet is the generic name given to more than 6,000 species of wild annual grasses found throughout the world. Those belonging to the Poaceae (Gramineae) or grain family are small seed annual grasses including a variety of cereals that may be used both as human food and for animal forage. Millets of the Poaceae family are divided into five main genera: Panicum, Setaria, Echinochloa, Pennisetum, and Paspalum all belong to the largest subfamily called Paniceae. Other grains belonging to the Poaceae family that are often referred to as millet are fonio (the smallest species from West Africa and Western India) and to a lesser degree, sorghum and Job's Tears.

Millet is divided into tropical and temperate varieties. The main tropical varieties are Eleusine and Pennisetum. The main temperate varieties are Panicum, Setaria, and Echinochloa. The most important cultivated food crop species of millet are foxtail Setaria italica, pearl or cattail Pennisetum glaucum, proso Panicum miliaceum, Japanese or barnyard Echinochola crusgalli, finger Eleusine coracana, browntop Panicum ramosum, koda or ditch Paspalum scrobiculatum, and teff Eragrostis tef. Archaeologists say that foxtail millet is so old that no wild plant of the species is known to exist today.

Eden Organic Millet is the variety proso Panicum miliaceum, a most nutritious and delicious temperate millet. Also known as broom corn, common millet, and white millet, proso is an ancient Slav name used in Poland, Russia and other eastern European countries. Proso millet is well suited for many soil types and climate conditions. It grows farther north than other millet and requires the least amount of water of any grain crop. As with all millet proso is a short season crop, reaching maturity 60 to 75 days after planting. It is most frequently grown as a late seeded summer crop. Proso millet grows three to four feet. Its compact panicle droops at the top like an old broom, hence the name broom corn. Its round seeds are about 1/8 inch wide and covered by a smooth, glossy hull.

Organically grown on Colorado and Nebraska family farms Eden Organic Millet is a versatile, gluten free, Heart Healthy* whole grain. Mildly sweet, light and fluffy, it cooks in 30 minutes. Use Eden Millet as a main dish, in soups and stews, to make grain burgers, croquettes, stuffing, millet mash potatoes (see this web site's recipe section), and with any other grain. Add cooked millet to pancake and waffle batter for great results.

* Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.