Consumption of the minor millets has been practiced since the beginning of the ancient civilizations of the world. Generally, the millets are small-grained, annual, warm-weather cereals belonging to grass family. They are highly tolerant of extreme weather conditions such as drought and are nutritious compared to the major cereals such as rice and wheat. They contain low phytic acid and are rich in dietary fiber, iron, calcium, and B vitamins. Moreover, these millets release sugar slowly in the blood and also diminish the glucose absorption.
Major millets are the most widely cultivated species.
Eragrostideae tribe :Eleusine coracana : Finger millet (also known as Ragi, nachani,Mandua or Kezhvaragu in Tamil in India) - the fourth-most cultivated millet.
Paniceae tribe :Panicum miliaceum: Proso millet (syn. : Common millet, Broom corn millet, Hog millet or White millet, "Chena" or Chin in Hindi, "Pani-varagu" in Tamil, "Baragu" in Kannada) - the third-most cultivated millet.
Pennisetum glaucum: Pearl millet (also known as Sajjalu in Andhra Pradesh, Sajje in Kannada and Kambu as referred by other South Indian states and Bajra in Hindi) - the most cultivated millet.
Setaria italica: Foxtail millet - the second-most cultivated millet (also known as Korralu in Andhra Pradesh and "Thinai" in Tamil Nadu and Kang or Rala in Maharashtra, Kakum in Hindi).
Andropogoneae tribe :Sorghum bicolor: Sorghum - usually not considered being a millet, but sometimes known as Great Millet, as well as Jonna in Andhra Pradesh, Jolla' in Kannada, Vellai cholam in Tamil Nadu and Jowar in Hindi.
Andropogoneae tribe :Coix spp.: Job's tears - of minor importance as a crop.
Eragrostideae tribe :Eragrostis tef: Teff - often not considered to be a millet.
Paniceae tribe :Digitaria spp.: White fonio, Black fonio, Raishan, Polish millet - of minor importance as a crop.
Echinochloa spp.: Japanese barnyard millet, Indian barnyard millet (syn.: Sawa millet) (also known as Kodisama in Andhra Pradesh and "Kuthirai vaali" in Tamil Nadu and Bhagar or Varai in Maharashtra), Burgu millet, Common barnyard grass (or Cockspur grass). Collectively, the members of this genus are called barnyard grasses or barnyard millets. Other common names to identify these seeds include Jhangora, Samo seeds or Morio / Mario / Moraiaya seeds.
Panicum sumatrense : Little millet (also known as Samalu in Telugu and "Samai" in Tamil Nadu)
Paspalum scrobiculatum: Kodo millet (also known as Varigalu in Andhra Pradesh and "Varagu" in Tamil Nadu)
Urochloa ramosa :Browntop millet (also known as Korle in Karnataka)
Urochloa spp. (also known as Brachiaria): Guinea millet
Foxtail Millet is known to have been the first domesticated millet. Chinese legends attribute the domestication of millet to Shennong, the legendary Emperor of China. Similarly, millets have been mentioned in some of the oldest extant Yajurveda texts, identifying foxtail millet (priyangava), Barnyard millet (aanava) and black finger millet (shyaamaka), indicating that millet consumption was very common, pre-dating to 4500 BC, during the Indian Bronze Age. Specialized archaeologists called palaeoethnobotanists, relying on data such as the relative abundance of charred grains found in archaeological sites, hypothesize that the cultivation of millets was of greater prevalence in prehistory than rice, especially in northern China and Korea. Millets also formed important parts of the prehistoric diet in Indian, Chinese Neolithic and Korean Mumun societies. Broomcorn (Panicum miliaceum) and foxtail millet were important crops beginning in the Early Neolithic of China. For example, some of the earliest evidence of millet cultivation in China was found at Cishan (north). Cishan dates for common millet husk phytoliths and biomolecular components have been identified around 8300–6700 BC in storage pits along with remains of pit-houses, pottery, and stone tools related to millet cultivation. Evidence at Cishan for foxtail millet dates back to around 6500 BC. A 4,000-year-old well-preserved bowl containing well-preserved noodles made from foxtail millet and broomcorn millet was found at the Lajia archaeological site in China.
Palaeoethnobotanists have found evidence of the cultivation of millet in the Korean Peninsula dating to the Middle Jeulmun pottery period (around 3500–2000 BC). Millet continued to be an important element in the intensive, multicropping agriculture of the Mumun pottery period (about 1500–300 BC) in Korea. Millets and their wild ancestors, such as barnyard grass and panic grass, were also cultivated in Japan during the Jōmon period some time after 4000 BC.
Asian varieties of millet made their way from China to the Black Sea region of Europe by 5000 BC. The cultivation of common millet as the earliest dry crop in East Asia has been attributed to its resistance to drought, and this has been suggested to have aided its spread.
Pearl Millet was domesticated in the Sahel region of West Africa, where its wild ancestors are found. Evidence for the cultivation of Pearl Millet in Mali dates back to 2500 BC, and Pearl Millet is found in South Asia by 2300 BC
Finger Millet is originally native to the highlands of East Africa, and was domesticated before the third millennium BC. It's cultivation had spread to South India by 1800 BC.
Research on millets is carried out by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Telangana, India, and by the USDA-ARS at Tifton, Georgia, United States.
Pearl millet is one of the two major crops in the semiarid, impoverished, less fertile agriculture regions of Africa and southeast Asia. Millets are not only adapted to poor, droughty, and infertile soils, but they are also more reliable under these conditions than most other grain crops. This has, in part, made millet production popular, particularly in countries surrounding the Sahara Desert in western Africa.
Millets, however, do respond to high fertility and moisture. On a per hectare basis, millet grain produced per hectare can be two to four times higher with use of irrigation and soil supplements. Improved breeds of millet improve their disease resistance and can significantly enhance farm yield productivity. There has been cooperation between poor countries to improve millet yields. For example, 'Okashana 1', a variety developed in India from a natural-growing millet variety in Burkina Faso, doubled yields. This breed was selected for trials in Zimbabwe. From there it was taken to Namibia, where it was released in 1990 and enthusiastically adopted by farmers. Okashana 1 became the most popular variety in Namibia, the only non-Sahelian country where pearl millet – locally known as mahangu – is the dominant food staple for consumers. 'Okashana 1' was then introduced to Chad. The breed has significantly enhanced yields in Mauritania and Benin.
India is the world's largest producer of millet. In the 1970s, all of the millet crops harvested in India were used as a food staple. By the 2000s, the annual millet production had increased in India, yet per capita consumption of millet had dropped by between 50% to 75% in different regions of the country. As of 2005, most millet produced in India is being used for alternative applications such as livestock fodder and alcohol production. Indian organizations are discussing ways to increase millet use as food to encourage more production; however, they have found that some consumers now prefer the taste of other grains.
In 2010, the average yield of millet crops worldwide was 0.83 tonnes per hectare. The most productive millet farms in the world were in France, with a nationwide average yield of 3.3 tonnes per hectare in 2010.
Millets are traditionally important grains used in brewing millet beer in some cultures, for instance by the Tao people of Orchid Island and the Amis or Atayal of Taiwan. Various peoples in East Africa brew a drink from millet or sorghum known as ajono, a traditional brew of the Teso. The fermented millet is prepared in a large pot with hot water and people share the drink by sipping it through long straws.
Millet is also the base ingredient for the distilled liquor rakshi in Nepal and the indigenous alcoholic drink of the Sherpa, Tamang, Rai and Limbu people, tongba, in eastern Nepal. In Balkan countries, especially Romania and Bulgaria, millet is used to prepare the fermented drink boza.
Millets are major food sources in arid and semiarid regions of the world, and feature in the traditional cuisine of many others. In western India, sorghum (called jowar, jola, jonnalu, jwaarie, or jondhahlaa in Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi and Marathi languages, respectively; mutthaari, kora, or pangapullu in Malayalam; or cholam in Tamil) has been commonly used with millet flour (called jowari in western India) for hundreds of years to make the local staple, hand-rolled (that is, made without a rolling pin) flat bread (rotla in Gujarati, bhakri in Marathi, or roti in other languages). Another cereal grain popularly used in rural areas and by poor people to consume as a staple in the form of roti. Other millets such as ragi (finger millet) in Karnataka, naachanie in Maharashtra, or kezhvaragu in Tamil, "ragulu" in Telugu, with the popular ragi rotti and Ragi mudde is a popular meal in Karnataka. Ragi, as it is popularly known, is dark in color like rye, but rougher in texture.
Millet porridge is a traditional food in Russian, German, and Chinese сuisines. In Russia, it is eaten sweet (with milk and sugar added at the end of the cooking process) or savoury with meat or vegetable stews. In China, it is eaten without milk or sugar, frequently with beans, sweet potato, and/or various types of squash. In Germany, it is also eaten sweet, boiled in water with apples added during the boiling process and honey added during the cooling process.
Per capita consumption of millets as food varies in different parts of the world with consumption being the highest in Western Africa. In the Sahel region, millet is estimated to account for about 35 percent of total cereal food consumption in Burkina Faso, Chad and the Gambia. In Mali and Senegal, millets constitute roughly 40 percent of total cereal food consumption per capita, while in Niger and arid Namibia it is over 65 percent (see mahangu). Other countries in Africa where millets are a significant food source include Ethiopia, Nigeria and Uganda. Millet is also an important food item for the population living in the drier parts of many other countries, especially in eastern and central Africa, and in the northern coastal countries of western Africa. In developing countries outside Africa, millet has local significance as a food in parts of some countries, such as China, India, Burma and North Korea.
The use of millets as food fell between the 1970s and the 2000s, both in urban and rural areas, as developing countries such as India have experienced rapid economic growth and witnessed a significant increase in per capita consumption of other cereals.
People affected by gluten-related disorders, such as coeliac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy sufferers, who need a gluten-free diet, can replace gluten-containing cereals in their diets with millet. Nevertheless, while millet does not contain gluten, its grains and flour may be contaminated with gluten-containing cereals.
It is a common ingredient in seeded bread.
Millets are also used as bird and animal feed.
In addition to being used for seed, millet is also used as a grazing forage crop. Instead of letting the plant reach maturity it can be grazed by stock and is commonly used for sheep and cattle.
Millet is a C4 plant which means it has good water efficiency and utilizes high temperature and is therefore a summer crop. A C4 plant uses a different enzyme in photosynthesis from C3 plants and this is why it improves water efficiency.
In southern Australia millet is used as a summer quality pasture, utilizing warm temperatures and summer storms. Millet is frost sensitive and is sown after the frost period, once soil temperature has stabilised at 14 °C or more. It is sown at a shallow depth.
Millet grows rapidly and can be grazed 5–7 weeks after sowing, when it is 20–30 cm high. The highest feed value is from the young green leaf and shoots. The plant can quickly come to head, so it must be managed accordingly because as the plant matures the value and palatability of feed reduces.
The Japanese millets (Echinochloa esculenta) are considered the best for grazing and in particular Shirohie, a new variety of Japanese millet, is the best suited variety for grazing. This is due to a number of factors: it gives better regrowth and is later to mature compared to other Japanese millets; it is cheap – cost of seed is $2–$3 per kg and sowing rates are around 10 kg per hectare for dryland production; it is quick to establish; it can be grazed early; and it is suitable for both sheep and cattle.
Compared to forage sorghum, which is grown as an alternative grazing forage, animals gain weight faster on millet and it has better hay or silage potential, although it produces less dry matter. Lambs do better on millet compared to sorghum. Millet does not contain prussic acid which can be in sorghum. Prussic acid poisons animals by inhibiting oxygen utilisation by the cells and is transported in the blood around the body — ultimately the animal will die from asphyxia. There is no need for additional feed supplements such as Sulphur or salt blocks with millet.
The rapid growth of millet as a grazing crop allows flexibility in its use. Farmers can wait until sufficient late spring / summer moisture is present and then make use of it. It is ideally suited to irrigation where livestock finishing is required.
In a 100 gram serving, raw millet provides 378 calories and is a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins and numerous dietary minerals, especially manganese at 76% DV (USDA nutrient table). Raw millet is 9% water, 73% carbohydrates, 4% fat and 11% protein (table).
The following table shows the nutrient content of millet compared to major staple foods in a raw form. Raw forms, however, are not edible and cannot be fully digested. These must be prepared and cooked as appropriate for human consumption. In processed and cooked form, the relative nutritional and antinutritional contents of each of these grains is remarkably different from that of raw forms reported in this table. The nutritional value in the cooked form depends on the cooking method.