The millet seed is a small, round, ivory colored seed about 20 mm in diameter. There are 6,000 varieties of millet grown around the world. The variety sold in North America for human consumption is called Pearl Millet. It has a rather alkaline pH which makes it a really easy grain to digest. Used mainly as bird feed, millet has a rather bland flavor.
Millet is thought to be one of the first grains cultivated by man. The first recorded comments regarding millet date back to 5,500 BC in China. Millet could have been domesticated hundreds or even thousands of years before this in Africa where it still grows wild throughout the continent. Found in ancient pottery and ancient writings alike throughout China, millet was an extremely important grain but diminished somewhat with the advent of rice and maize. Although it's role has diminished through the centuries, millet is still a food under wide cultivation in parts of Africa, India and China where it's a staple food. Much of millet's success in surviving through the ages has been it's ability to produce well in hot, arid, drought prone areas where nothing else will grow. As another plus, it can be harvested only 45-65 days after planting. Through the centuries, Millet spread it's way through Europe and was most often eaten boiled whole as a porridge but was sometimes made into a flat bread which the Egyptians first developed.
Millet contains more calories than wheat, probably because of it's higher oil content of 4.2% which is 50% polyunsaturated. Millet is rich in B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc copper and manganese. It's protein content is a little lower than that of wheat as are the essential amino acids. Like wheat, lysine is millet's limiting amino acid. However, millet contains enough protein to still be considered a good protein source.
Millet is a gluten free grain and is the only grain that retains it's alkaline properties after being cooked which is ideal for people with wheat allergies. With a texture much like brown rice, millet can be used in pilafs, casseroles or most oriental dishes that call for rice, quinoa or buckwheat. It can be ground into flour and used in flat breads or mixed up to 25% with wheat flour for use in yeast breads. After it has been soaked for a couple of hours, millet in it's whole grain form cooks like rice in about 20 minutes. Millet cooks well into vegetable loaves and adds body to soups and stews. Millet added dry to your biscuit, bread and roll doughs adds a crunchy texture and brings variety to your baked goods. Able to be popped like popcorn, popped millet goes well in breakfast cereals, granola and bread. Increasing in volume more than any other grain, a cup of dry millet expands to three cups of cooked millet which takes on the form of a fluffy, delicate flavored hot cereal you are sure to appreciate.
For baked dishes, cook millet at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Boiled millet cooks in 10-20 minutes. Steamed millet, cooked in a saucepan, cooks in 15 to 30 minutes.
Millet is a good storing grain which will store without any special considerations for one to two years. If you want to put millet into long term storage, package it inside air-tight containers and use oxygen absorbers. Stored in this fashion and put in a cool place, millet should keep well for many years