The 25th and 26th of July, 2017, saw a beautiful workshop on millet foods being conducted at the MS Ramaiah campus in Matthikere. This workshop – Workshop On Millet Foods For Dieticians And Chefs – was organised by the Government of Karnataka, in association with MS Ramaiah Institute, with the intention of spreading more awareness about millets and millet-based foods. This is an extension to the #LetsMillet campaign being vigorously undertaken by the Government of Karnataka, an attempt to reach out to the masses after the hugely successful Organics And Millets Mela held in April 2017.
I am thankful to have been offered an invite to attend and cover the workshop which, I think, was just as successful as the Organics And Millets Mela. It was met with a wonderful, enthusiastic response from chefs, dieticians, students, home cooks and various dignitaries from the worlds of food, nutrition and politics.
To say I am overwhelmed and enlightened by the experience of attending the workshop would be an understatement. I’ve learnt so much in these two days; watched so much of magic being unravelled; life in my kitchen is never going to be the same again, I’m sure.
Some of the most commonly asked questions about millets were answered, this first day of the workshop. Here’s a glimpse of all that happened on Day 1 of the workshop, and the key take-aways, for your viewing and reading pleasure.
We’ve been hearing about this ‘millets’ thing day in and day out. But what are they, really?
Millets are actually grasses with tiny seeds, something that has been cultivated in India since ages. They are hardy crops that can be grown with little investment and little usage of water, and hold immense nutrition within their tiny selves.
If they are so good for us, why aren’t we using more of millets?
Once upon a time, millets were consumed in generous quantities by Indians, and were extensively used to feed cattle as well. However, with advancing times and the increasing influence of Western culture, millets began to be looked down upon. They began to be called ‘poor man’s food’ or ‘cattle feed’, and our diets changed to include primarily wheat- or rice-based products. Our consumption of millets has gone down drastically, both in urban and rural areas, so much so that it is negligible. People have forgotten how to use these ancient powerhouses of nutrition aka millets.
Today, when global warming is a scary reality that we are slowly waking up to and water conservation is the need of the hour, millets can be of great help. Growing 1 kg. of rice consumes about 4,000-5,500 thousand litres of water, while growing a kg. of millets needs just about 20% of that. Moreover, millets can be grown even in bad weather conditions, in poor soil conditions. They are sturdy crops that aren’t usually infested by insects or diseases and, hence, require little or no pesticides and fertilisers. Therefore, the cost of growing millets is much, much lower than that of cultivating wheat or rice.
Sadly, though, there is little demand for millets today. Today, millets are grown only by those farmers who are unable to grow anything else, because they are extremely pressed for money or have land that has extremely poor conditions. Millets are good for the farmer in a lot of ways. So, if you begin to include more millets in your daily diets, you are actually helping the poorest of farmers, saving them from a life of misery.
By buying millets, you also contribute to environmental good health, by reducing the stress on already stressed-out water resources. You also help in cutting down the use of fertilisers and pesticides. Millets are, therefore, good for the environment, too.
This is not all. Millets are good for our health, too. Today, non-communicable or lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol are rampant in rural and urban India. Many of these diseases occur because of our sedentary lifestyles, increasing stress levels, and an unbalanced diet (read: increasing use of junk food and drinks, a high level of wheat- or rice-based foods, and a lack of inclusion of different types of fruits, grains, vegetables and other ingredients). Thanks to their high nutritional content, the inclusion of millets in our daily diets can be one of the ways out of this situation. It is rather sad that people today are turning to foreign grains like quinoa and oats for their nutritional values, but ignoring our very own millets, which are far superior to these foods (even to rice and wheat, in case of most nutrients).
What’s this #LetsMillet thing? Who are the various stakeholders?
The Government of Karnataka is presently on a mission to propagate awareness about millets through workshops like this one, to encourage people to use more of them, and to teach them different ways in which they can do so. Check out the #LetsMillet hashtag on Facebook and Instagram to take a look at the considerable work that has been done in this regard.
Chefs, dieticians, food bloggers and other social media influencers have an important role to play in contributing towards this end.
So, millets can be used just to make stuff like ragi mudde, right?
Millets can be used in a variety of dishes, traditional and contemporary, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Also, people take millets to mean just ragi (finger millet) or bajri (pearl millet), while that is so not the case. These are just two types of millet – there’s a whole millet family out there, for you to explore and get the benefit of. Pearl millet, kodo millet, little millet, proso millet, finger millet, barnyard millet.. there are so many varieties of millets! Most people today don’t even know what these grains look like!
Further, these grains can be used to make anything from gobi manchurian, dosa, idli, curd rice and bisi bele bath to risotto, ravioli, cakes and breads. For the last two years or so, chefs, home cooks and food bloggers have been experimenting with different types of millets, and there is now a wealth of recipes to be explored. So, millets does not translate into just stuff like ragi mudde.. almost anything can be made from them! They can be used in place of wheat and rice in all the dishes you commonly consume today, like curd rice or sambar rice, and they can be made into delicacies like payasam and kesari bath, too. That said, millets possess certain qualities that are inherent to them, and a chef should work around them while trying to develop dishes with them.
Should I use millets just because my ancestors used them?
The Honourable Minister of Agriculture ended his speech with a request to everyone to consider increasing the use of millets in their daily diets. He stated that he does not solicit people’s co-operation because increasing consumption of millets is a political agenda, or because our ancestors used these grains, but because they are good for us in so many different ways, a fact that has been backed up by a whole lot of systematic scientific research.
What are the various nutrients that millets possess?
- They are high in dietary fibre, so they fill you up with lesser portion sizes. Therefore, they are helpful in weight management. They also help in lowering constipation.
- They possess a low Glycemic Index (GI), and are thus useful in controlling diabetes.
- They have anti-tumour and anti-carcinogenic properties too.
- They are low in sodium, so they are helpful in the management of hypertension.
- They help in the lowering of serum cholesterol and triglycerides.
- They possess a highly alkaline nature, thereby helping in preventing and lowering the effects of irritable bowel syndrome, acidity, gallstones and stomach ulcers.
- They are rich in anti-oxidants.
- They possess hypo-allergenic properties and, hence, help in preventing allergic reactions.
- They are rich in iron, thereby helping in the prevention of anaemia.
- They are useful in the prevention of liver disorders.
- They are completely gluten-free.
- Millets are far superior to wheat and rice and even quinoa, as far as various micro-nutrients are concerned.
- They are quite high in protein, and hence, play a crucial role in a vegetarian diet, wherein protein sources are limited.
If millets are so high in nutrients, should I be switching over to an all-millet diet then?
No, that kind of extreme switching over in diet is not advisable, not recommended by dieticians or nutritionists. Yes, millets are very high in nutrients, but they do need to be supplemented by wheat, rice, pulses, vegetables, milk, meat, eggs and a variety of other foods, so as to provide complete health to a human being.
What is advocated, really, through campaigns like this is an open mind, an acceptance to trying out different kinds of millets, at least a basic introduction of millets in your daily diet. All meals/snacks that you consume in a day need not be millet-heavy, but it would be great if at least one of them is.
Also, millets are not a miracle cure for all your ailments. The increase in lifestyle diseases in today’s times in not just a product of an imbalanced diet, which can be cured by the introduction of millets in your diet. There are other steps that need to be taken, too, to curb this, such as lowering overall stress levels, incorporating more physical activity in our lives, etc.
What are the things that I should keep in mind while introducing millets in my daily diet?
- Millets can be used by people of all age groups, from a 6-month-old baby to a geriatric person, irrespective of their health condition. However, millets are believed to be goitrogenous in nature (i.e. they can enlarge one’s thyroid gland) and, hence, it would be advisable to consult a doctor before beginning to consume millets if you have a thyroid condition. If you have any other chronic ailment, too, you should ideally consult with a doctor to check on how much of millets you should consume in your daily diet, and in what form.
- Soaking millets and throwing away the water, sprouting, cooking, roasting and fermenting are some techniques that are recommended to reduce the negative goiterogenous properties of millets.
- Do not get carried away when you are just beginning to introduce millets into your daily diet. Do not go overboard. Introduce them slowly, little by little, into your diets, and wait and check whether they suit you. To start with, you may consume just one type of millet for a while, mixing it with rice or pulses, about twice a week, to see how they agree with you. Slowly and gradually, you may increase the quantity of millets you use.
- Since millets are non-glutinous, baking with them can be tough. You might have to mix whole wheat flour or maida to them, to get good results.
- There might be a slight difference in texture, when you substitute millets for rice in a dish known to you. For instance, pongal made with barnyard millet or proso millet might be grainier in texture as compared to that made with rice. That is something you should keep in mind while using millets.
Well, that’s how Day 1 of the workshop ended. I hope you enjoyed reading the post, and found it informative!