Despite having not been widely used in British kitchens until recently, millet is said to be the first cereal grain utilised in a domestic setting. Grown extensively in China since 2700 BC, to this day millet is said to feed a massive proportion of the world’s population – 1/3 in fact!
As well as being a predominant part of the Chinese diet since Neolithic times, due to its hardy resistance to drought conditions, millet also flourishes in the arid regions of Asia, Africa and India, and has long been a staple in countries that are dependent on a highly nutritional diet that is packed full of sustenance.
Due to our relatively stable weather conditions and regular rain, millet is a highly attractive crop to British farmers; providing a good, healthy annual yield with a growing demand for the end product. Traditionally, millet in this country was grown predominantly for bird feed, however with increased awareness of its high nutritional content and versatility in the kitchen, this mildly sweet, nutty super-grain is swiftly becoming a British store-cupboard staple.
Similar to buckwheat and quinoa, millet is non-glutinous, and is therefore a brilliant alternative for those with an intolerance to gluten. Not only this but with it being high in protein and particularly high in fibre, millet is one of the most easily digestible grains on the market.
Millet grain is a delicious gluten-free alternative to barley in casseroles, soups and stews, adding texture and sustenance to dishes. The flaked variety can be used at breakfast just like oats to make creamy porridge, overnight oats or used in granola bars and breads.
Not only is millet highly versatile, it is also an amazingly comforting ingredient and is known to be a warming grain – it helps to heat your body when digesting therefore naturally warming you from the inside out.
How to cook with millet
To cook basic millet, simply wash and drain your grain. Working on a 1:2 1/2 ratio of millet to water, place the grain and water in a pan and bring to the boil. When boiling, reduce to a medium heat and gently simmer for approximately 15 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the heat and leave to sit uncovered for 15 – 20 minutes. Add a dash of oil or knob of butter and run through a fork to fluff up the grain.
For a more delicate texture, and low-carb alternative to mashed potato, simply increase the water content ( 1:3 1/2) and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed – this will take up to an hour.
Millet provides great texture and flavour if the grain is lightly toasted before using. Simply pop in a dry pan and toast on a medium heat for a couple of minutes, then sprinkle over salads or porridge. This gives the grain intense nuttiness and fragrancy making it even more delicious.
Words by Helen Upshall