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Small Millets: Not ‘Small’ in Nutrition!

This topic describes the importance of small millets in human nutrition and how consumption of small millets can ensure nutritional security.

Introduction

A number of different small-grained cereal grasses are collectively described as ‘Millets’. Millets are one of the oldest cultivated foods known to humans. Two main groups of millets are major millets (sorghum and pearl millet) and small millets based on the grain size. Off late, the classification is also an indication of the area under these crops. Both major and small millets have traditionally been the main components of the food basket of the poor people in India. The group of small millets is represented by six species, namely finger millet (Eleusine coracana (L.)), little millet (Panicum sumatrance), kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum (L.)), foxtail millet (Setaria italica (L.)), barnyard millet (Echinochloa frumentacea (L.)) and proso millet (Panicum miliaceum (L.)), representing the area grown in that order. These crops have traditionally been the indispensable component of dry farming system in India and elsewhere. Small millets are known by different vernacular names at different parts of the country (Table 1).

Table 1. Vernacular names of small millets

English

Finger millet

Little millet

Kodo millet

Foxtail/ Italian millet

Barnyard millet

Proso millet

Hindi

Mandua

Kutki

Kodon

Kangni, Kakum

Sanwa, Jhangon

Barre

Sanskrit

Nandimukhi, Madhuli

-

Kodara

Kanguni

Shyama

Chiná

Kannada

Ragi

Same

Harka

Navane

Oodalu

Baragu

Tamil

Kelvaragu

Samai

Varagu

Tenai

Kuthiravaali

Panivaragu

Telugu

Ragulu

Samalu

Arikelu, Arika

Korra, Korralu

Udalu,

Kodisama

Varigulu, Varagalu

Malayalam

Moothari

Chama

Varagu

Thina

-

Panivaragu

Marathi

Nachni

Sava

Kodra

Kang, Rala

Shamul

Vari

Gujarati

Nagli, Bavto

Gajro, Kuri

Kodra

Kang

Sama

Cheno

Bengali

Mandua

Kangani

Kodo

Kaon

Shamula

Cheena

Oriya

Mandia

Suan

Kodua

Kanghu, Kora

Khira

Chinna

Punjabi

Mandhuka, Mandhal

Swank

Kodra

Kangni

Swank

Cheena

Kashmiri

-

Ganuhaar

 

Shol

-

Pingu

Geographic distribution

Among small millets, finger millet is the most important crop grown in many states of Southern, Central, Eastern, Western and Northern India from sea level in coastal Andhra Pradesh to 8000 feet altitude in Himalayas. The loss of area under finger millet has been less during the past 3 decades but with significant improvement in productivity. On the contrary the area under other small millets has reduced by more than half with proportionate reduction in total production. The productivity remained low and stagnant around 450 kg/ha. Though more recent and accurate statistics regarding each of the small millets is lacking a broad picture is that more than 60% of area under small millets is occupied by finger millet, distantly followed by little and kodo millets (just above 10%) and rest by barnyard, foxtail and proso millets.

Though small millets are grown in almost every state/region, the distribution of individual millet is not uniform. The kodo, little and foxtail millets are grown widely in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. In Madhya Pradesh, both kodo and little millet are predominant, while foxtail millet is important in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Barnyard millet and proso millet are grown largely in hills of Uttar Pradesh, North-Eastern region and plains of North Bihar and Western Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Physical properties and nutritional profile

The small millets are small seeded grains and resemble paddy or rough rice in the morphological features of kernel. The kernel consists of distinct husk, bran and endosperm tissues. Embryo is a distinct tissue, but its proportion in the kernel is around 2%. The husk is non-edible similar to the husk in rough rice or paddy where as bran may be part of the edible component but is separated to prepare milled millets for food uses. Normally, husk accounts to 15 to 20% of the kernel where as the bran amount to about 5% and the endosperm to about 75% of the kernel, respectively. These grains are round to oval shaped and their 1000-kernel weight and volume range from 1.9 - 5.5 g and 1.3 - 3.8 ml, respectively. The seed coat and husk of foxtail, little and proso millet are generally of single entity with glossy appearance whereas kodo and barnyard millet contain multiple layered seed coat. Normally the seed coat of kodo millet is of brown colour, foxtail millet is yellowish where as the other millets are grayish coloured. The husk is non-edible and unusually hard to digest similar to the husk in paddy, where as the bran is edible. To prepare edible items out of millets, the husk is separated by milling and along with that generally, the bran is also separated similar to milled rice. Hulling does not affect the nutrient value as the germ stays intact through this process (www.smallmillets.res.in).

Small millets are more nutritious compared to fine cereals. Finger millet is the richest source of calcium (300-350 mg/100 g) and other small millets are good source of phosphorous and iron. The protein content ranges from 7 to 12% and fat content from 1 to 5.0% (Table 2). The millet protein has well balanced amino acid profile and good source of methionine, cystine and lycine (Table 3). These essential amino acids are of special benefit to those who depend on plant food for their protein nourishment. The millet grain contains about 65% carbohydrate, a high proportion of which is in the form of non starchy polysaccharides and dietary fibre which help in prevention of constipation, lowering of blood cholesterol and slow release of glucose to the blood stream during digestion. Lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases, duodenal ulcer and hyperglycemia (diabetes) are reported among regular millet consumers. Millet grains are also rich in important vitamins viz., Thiamine, riboflavin, folin and niacin (Table 4). Millets are comparable to rice and wheat or rich in some of the minerals (Table 5) as well as fatty acids (Table 6). Millets vary largely in composition of carbohydrates as proportion of amylose and amylopectin content vary from 16-28% and 72-84%, respectively (Table 7).

Table 2. Nutrient composition of millets compared to fine cereals (per 100 g)


Food gain

Carbo-hydrates (g)

Protein
(g)

Fat
(g)

Energy (KCal)

Crude fibre
(g)

Mineral matter
(g)

Ca
(mg)

P
(mg)

Fe (mg)

Finger millet

72.0

7.3

1.3

328

3.6

2.7

344

283

3.9

Kodo millet

65.9

8.3

1.4

309

9.0

2.6

27

188

0.5

Proso millet

70.4

12.5

1.1

341

2.2

1.9

14

206

0.8

Foxtail millet

60.9

12.3

4.3

331

8.0

3.3

31

290

2.8

Little millet

67.0

7.7

4.7

341

7.6

1.5

17

220

9.3

Barnyard millet

65.5

6.2

2.2

307

9.8

4.4

20

280

5.0

Sorghum

72.6

10.4

1.9

349

1.6

1.6

25

222

4.1

Bajra

67.5

11.6

5.0

361

1.2

2.3

42

296

8.0

Wheat (whole)

71.2

11.8

1.5

346

1.2

1.5

41

306

5.3

Rice (raw, milled)

78.2

6.8

0.5

345

0.2

0.6

10

160

0.7

(Source: Nutritive value of Indian foods, NIN, 2007)

Table 3. Essential Amino acid profile of Millets (mg/g of N)

Millet

Arginine

Histidine

Lysine

Tryptophan

Phenyl Alanine

Tyrosine

Methionine

Cystine

Threonine

Leucine

Isoleucine

Valine

Foxtail

220

130

140

60

420

-

180

100

190

1040

480

430

Proso

290

110

190

50

310

-

160

-

150

760

410

410

Finger

300

130

220

100

310

220

210

140

240

690

400

480

Little

250

120

110

60

330

-

180

90

190

760

370

350

Barnyard

270

120

150

50

430

-

180

110

200

650

360

410

Sorghum

240

160

150

70

300

180

100

90

210

880

270

340

Bajra

300

140

190

110

290

200

150

110

140

750

260

330

Rice

480

130

230

80

280

290

150

90

230

500

300

380

Wheat

290

130

170

70

280

180

90

140

180

410

220

280

(Source: Nutritive value of Indian foods, NIN, 2007)

Table 4. Vitamin profile of Millets

Millet

Thiamin (mg)

Niacin (mg)

Riboflavin

Vit A (carotene) (mg/100g)

Vit B6 (mg/100g)

Folic Acid (mg/100g)

Vit B5 (mg/100g)

Vit E

(mg/100g)

Foxtail

0.59

3.2

0.11

32

-

15.0

0.82

31.0

Proso

0.41

4.5

0.28

0

-

-

1.2

-

Finger

0.42

1.1

0.19

42

-

18.3

-

22.0

Little

0.3

3.2

0.09

0

-

9.0

-

-

Barnyard

0.33

4.2

0.1

0

-

-

-

-

Kodo

0.15

2.0

0.09

0

-

23.1

-

-

Sorghum

0.38

4.3

0.15

47

0.21

20.0

1.25

12.0

Bajra

0.38

2.8

0.21

132

-

45.5

1.09

19.0

Rice

0.41

4.3

0.04

0

-

8.0

-

-

Wheat

0.41

5.1

0.1

64

0.57

36.6

-

-

(Source: Nutritive value of Indian foods, NIN, 2007; MILLET in your Meals, http://www.sahajasamrudha.org/)

Table 5. Micronutrient Profile of Millets (mg/100g)

Millets

Mg

Na

K

Cu

Mn

Mb

Zn

Cr

Su

Cl

Foxtail

81

4.6

250

1.40

0.60

0.070

2.4

0.030

171

37

Proso

153

8.2

113

1.60

0.60

-

1.4

0.020

157

19

Finger

137

11.0

408

0.47

5.49

0.102

2.3

0.028

160

44

Little

133

8.1

129

1.00

0.68

0.016

3.7

0.180

149

13

Barnyard

82

-

-

0.60

0.96

-

3

0.090

-

-

Kodo

147

4.6

144

1.60

1.10

-

0.7

0.020

136

11

Sorghum

171

7.3

131

0.46

0.78

0.039

1.6

0.008

54

44

Bajra

137

10.9

307

1.06

1.15

0.069

3.1

0.023

147

39

Rice

90

-

-

0.14

0.59

0.058

1.4

0.004

-

-

Wheat

138

17.1

284

0.68

2.29

0.051

2.7

0.012

128

47

(Source: Nutritive value of Indian foods, NIN, 2007; MILLET in your Meals, http://www.sahajasamrudha.org/)

Table 6. Fatty acid composition of millets

Millet

Palmitic

Palmoleic

Stearic

Oleic

Linoleic

Linolenic

Foxtail

6.40

-

6.30

13.0

66.50

-

Proso

-

10.80

-

53.80

34.90

-

Finger

-

-

-

-

-

-

Little

-

-

-

-

-

-

Sorghum

14.0

-

2.10

31.0

49.0

2.70

Bajra

20.85

-

-

25.40

46.0

4.10

Rice

15.0

-

1.90

42.50

39.10

1.10

Wheat

24.50

0.80

1.00

11.50

56.30

3.70

(Source: Nutritive value of Indian foods, NIN, 2007; MILLET in your Meals, http://www.sahajasamrudha.org/)

Table 7. Amylose & Amylopectin content of millets

Cereal grain

Amylose (%)

Amylopectin (%)

Proso millet

28.2

71.8

Foxtail millet

17.5

82.5

Kodo millet

24.0

76.0

Finger millet

16.0

84.0

Sorghum

24.0

76.0

Bajra

21.1

78.9

Short Grain Rice

12-19

88-81

Wheat

25.0

75.0

(Source: MILLET in your Meals, http://www.sahajasamrudha.org/)

Declining small millet cultivation

In spite of the extraordinary nutritional qualities of millet grains and capacities of millet farming systems, the area under millet production has been shrinking over the last five decades. The period between 1961 and 2009 saw a dramatic decrease in cultivated area under millets, more so in case of small millets (80% for small millets other than finger millet, 46% for finger millet). The area under all small millets other than finger millet has declined drastically in all states and the total production of small millets has declined by 76%. The productivity has remained more or less stagnant in the last two decades. The area declined by 83% from first five year plan to 11th plan whereas the production also fell by nearly 80%. The productivity of small millets (other than finger millet) remained almost stagnant till 11th plan with a slight decline during 3rd and 4th plans.

Small millets for nutritional security

From the data presented here it is evident that small millets are superior in some or most of the nutritional components compared to most widely consumed rice and wheat. These millets contribute towards balanced diet, and can hence ensure nutritional security more easily through regular consumption along with keeping the environment safe as they are low input crops mostly adapted to marginal lands. Declining small millets cultivation has resulted in reduced availability of these nutritious grains to needy population and also the traditional consumers have gradually switched over to more easily available fine cereals due to Government policies. This is a disturbing trend and needs urgent focus by the agricultural experts and policy makers. Immediate policy and market support, value addition and promotional activity are necessary for arresting the further decline not only in cultivation but also consumption. Improving productivity and enhancing demand should be the twin approaches. Development of health foods and their commercialization should receive focused attention to promote the millets among the urban elite, which would lead to reduction in life-style related disorders.

Suggested reading / Related resources

  1. MILLET in your Meals, Sahaja Samrudha Organic producer Company Ltd. No 569, Sajjan Rao Road, Near Trishal lodge V.V.Puram, Bangalore-560004. (http://www.sahajasamrudha.org)
  2. Supporting Millets in India: Policy Review & Suggestions for Action. 2012. Revalorising Small Millets in Rainfed Regions of South Asia (RESMISA). Prepared by DHAN foundation, Plot No. 8, Sixth street, Rajaji Nagar, Phase II, Krishnagiri – 635 001, Tamil Nadu, India.

Source: Dr. Hariprasanna K., ICAR-Directorate of Sorghum Research, Hyderabad - 500030

3.09523809524
Vinothini Feb 20, 2015 09:19 AM

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