So I have waxed enthusiastically about sama, korra, kodo, ragi, and other millets grown in India. Readers in the US have asked, how can we use local grains? What can I do with the millet available in the grocery stores? And: what kind is the millet available in the grocery stores in the US? And is it as wonderful for our people and planet as all the millets we hear about in India?
Does it live up to the motto of The Cambridge Food Co-op?
Here is the folks at Wikipedia have to say about Proso Millet which grows in the United States:
Proso is well adapted to many soil and climatic conditions; it has a short growing season, and needs little water. The water requirement of proso is probably the lowest of any major cereal. It is an excellent crop for dryland and no-till farming.
So it is good for the farmer and great for the land. Is it good for us? Of course! Millet helps us diversify the grains in our diet and is rich in minerals, fiber, antioxidants and vital micronutrients.
Many people, when they think of millet, go to the hardware store rather than the grocery store. The bulk of the millet in the United States bypasses humans in favour of a more flighty species. While we are all in favour of feeding our avian friends, eating millets ourselves would help the whole planet, ourselves and the birds included. Every acre of millet requires fewer inputs and offers more nourishment to the ecosystem than an acre of wheat or rice. Imagine how the land would rejoice if we shifted just 10% of our grain consumption from wheat or rice to millet? In 2014 farmers in the United States harvested millet from 430,000 acres of land, compared to more than 46 million acres of land devoted to wheat and nearly 3 million acres for rice. (USDA Crop production Summary, January 2015)
I called the Whole Foods Market in Mount Washington and asked what kind of millet they stocked in the bulk section. The manager did not know and said, “it is just millet.” I explained that around the world there were many kinds of millet such as Barnyard, Proso, Foxtail Millet, to name a few. I was not sure which ones were commonly sold in the US.
“Is it possible that what we have is just “Millet” and not any particular kind of millet?”
“Well that would be like telling someone who asked you what kind of cheese you had, that it was just ‘cheese'” I replied.
What a day it would be when it is as easy to find several varieties of millets as it is to find different kinds of cheese. When I suggested that she consider carrying an additional kind of millet, such as foxtail, she said “I don’t have room for more than one kind of millet.”
On the one hand quinoa, which has to be imported all the way from the Andes, has become so popular in the United States (and the US-imitating subcultures of countries such as India) that its prices have gone out of reach of ordinary people of Bolivia. On the other hand Foxtail, Pearl and Proso millets grown in the United States are often left for pasture or even for hay! (As Whole Foods reminds us: Millet’s Not Just For The Birds.)
“We order our millet from UNFI,” the Whole Foods manager explained. “Next time I place an order I will ask them and get back to you.” Stay tuned. According to the Bird article it is Yellow Proso but I would like to see what she finds out, and especially whether it is possible to get more than one kind.
Next I talked with Madison at To Your Health, the company from which I bought my sprouted millet flour. He didn’t know what kind of millet they sold either but after a little investigating, he called me back and said that the millet they sold was White Proso Millet grown in the western part of the US. Though the name may be White Proso, it is yellow in color and makes lovely golden brown waffles.
I explained that many Ask Amma readers, who were familiar with the varieties of millets grown in India wanted to know about what kind of millet was available in the US and how they could use it.
“Yes,” he replied enthusiastically, “when I did a google search on millets, I got a number of results from India!” (Of course this can happen with a lot more than millets.)
“Now is there anything I should know about millets and why they are so popular?” he continued.
“Oh yes, I said, they are very nutritious, and easy on the land and the farmer, they will survive even when rains are low, they are less expensive than other grains. Now people are rediscovering them.”
“I have been wondering why were selling so much!” he said with a smile that I could hear across the phone lines.
Keep the farmers smiling! The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center says:
Proso millet is often planted as an emergency cash crop for situations where other crops have failed, been hailed out or were never planted due to unfavorable conditions. Proso millet may also be beneficial in a crop rotation. In a rotation, it has the advantage of enhancing weed control, especially with winter annual grasses in winter wheat. Proso is versatile in that it can be successfully grown on many soil types and is probably better adapted than most crops to “poor” land, such as land with soils having low water holding capacity and low fertility.
Need I hear more? The revolution will be made of millet!
But how? Of course some people simply use millet in lieu of rice or cracked wheat and make upma, pulao, pulihara and other rice-based meals as usual. Recipes for millet pancakes, waffles, muffins and other American standards call for special ingredients such as arrowroot, amaranth or tapioca along with the millet. While there are a huge variety of dishes one can make with millet and other local grains, I wanted some basic foods in which I could easily replace rice or wheat with the local variety of millet, which in the US seems most likely to be proso millet. This way I could start right now and not wait for some special occasion.
So here especially for you are two dishes I have rustled up in the past two days, using millet grown in the USA. For the idlis, replace half or all of the rice with millet. You can use the same batter to make dosas. For the waffles, replace half of the whole wheat flour with millet flour. Stay tuned for recipes.
More about millet and other local grains of the United States
Golden Prarie: Millet: An American Super-Grain