Millet: Know Your Fruits and Veggies™

By Dawn M. Swidorski

Most of us are familiar with millet, though they might not associate it as people food. Millet is most often seen as the main ingredient in bird seed – I assure you though, it is not just “for the birds.”



Millet is actually a seed and not a grain, though for culinary purposes it is used as a grain. Millet is tiny in size and round in shape and can be white, gray, yellow or red. The most widely available form found in stores is the hulled variety, though cracked can also be found.

Archaeologists believe the cultivation of millet was of greater importance in prehistory than rice, especially in northern China and Korea. It was millet, rather than rice, that formed important parts of the prehistoric diet in Indian, Chinese Neolithic and Korean societies. Some of the earliest evidence of  cultivation in China dates to 8300–6700 BC and in Korea from 3500–2000. Millet made its way from China to the Black Sea region of Europe by 5000 BC. The cultivation has been attributed to its resistance to drought and has been suggested this aided in its spread.

In the Middle Ages, before potatoes and corn were introduced, millet became a staple grain in Europe, especially in countries in Eastern Europe. The Setaria variety of millet was introduced into the United States in the 19th century.

Millet is still an extremely important food staple in Africa where it is finely ground and used to make a traditional flat bread. It is still a major food sources in arid and semi-arid regions of the world, and feature in the traditional cuisine of many others.While millet has been used primarily for birdseed and animal fodder in Western Europe and North America, it is now gaining popularity for its unique virtues and it’s a gluten-free grain alternative to wheat.

The protein content in millet is very close to that of wheat; both provide about 11% protein by weight. It is rich in B vitamins, especially niacin, B6 and folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

Millet porridge is a traditional food in Russian, German and Chinese cuisine. In Russia it is eaten sweet with milk and sugar added or savory with meat or vegetable stews. In China it is eaten plain, with beans, sweet potato, and/or various types of squash.

Depending on how it’s cooked millet can be creamy like mashed potatoes or fluffy like rice. Any way you serve it, millet is a delicious grain that can accompany many types of food.

How to Select and Store

Millet is available in its hulled and whole-grain form. Whether purchasing millet in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture.

Store millet in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place, where it will keep for several months.

How to Enjoy

Rinse millet thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris. After rinsing, add one part millet to two and a half parts boiling water or broth. After the liquid has returned to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. The texture of millet cooked this way will be fluffy like rice. If you want the millet to have a more creamy consistency, stir it frequently adding a little water every now and then.

To give a nuttier flavor to the cooked millet, place the grains in a dry skillet over medium heat and stir them frequently. When they have achieved a golden color, add them to the boiling cooking liquid.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

  • Cooked millet can be served as a breakfast porridge to which you can add your favorite nuts and fruits.
  • Ground millet can be added to bread and muffin recipes.
  • Toss cooked and chilled millet with chopped vegetables and chicken or tofu. Add a nice vinaigrette dressing and you have an easy to prepare meal.

Next time you are looking for an alternative to rice or potatoes, serve millet instead.