For other uses, see Millet (disambiguation).

Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for fodder and human food. They do not form a taxonomic group, but rather a functional or agronomic one. Millets are important crops in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa (especially in India, Nigeria, and Niger), with 97 percent of millet production in developing countries.[1] The crop is favored due to its productivity and short growing season under dry, high-temperature conditions.

The most widely grown millet is pearl millet, which is an important crop in India and parts of Africa.[2] Finger millet, proso millet, and foxtail millet are also important crop species. In the developed world, millets are less important. For example, in the United States only proso millet is significant, and it is mostly grown for bird seed.[1]

While millets are indigenous to many parts of the world, it is believed that they had an evolutionary origin in tropical western Africa, as that is where the greatest number of both wild and cultivated forms exist.[3] Millets have been important food staples in human history, particularly in Asia and Africa. They have been in cultivation in East Asia for the last 10,000 years.[4]


The height of the pearl millet plant may range from 0.5 to 4 metres. The pearl millet grain has great variation, and can be nearly white, pale yellow, brown, grey, slate blue or purple. The kernel shape has five different classifications and operates on a three-point system: obovate, hexagonal, lanceolate, globular, and elliptical.[1] Grains of pearl millet are about 3 to 4 mm long, much larger than those of other millets. The seeds usually weigh between 2.5 and 14 mg, with a typical mean of 8 mg. The size of the pearl millet kernel is about one-third that of sorghum. The relative proportion of germ to endosperm is higher in pearl millet than in sorghum.

The height of finger millet plant ranges from 40 cm to 1 metre, with the spike length ranging from 3 to 13 cm. The colour of finger millet grains may vary from white through orange-red, deep brown, purple, to almost black. The grains are smaller than those of pearl millet. The typical mean weight of finger millet seed is about 2.6 mg.[3]

Millet varieties

File:Indian Millets.png
varieties of millets grown in India

- Major millets (The most widely cultivated species)[2]

Eragrostideae tribe :

  • Eleusine coracana : Finger millet (also known as ragi, nachani or mandwa in India), fourth most cultivated millet.

Paniceae tribe :

  • Panicum miliaceum : Proso millet (syn. : common millet, broom corn millet, hog millet or white millet), 3ʳᵈ most cultivated millet.
  • Pennisetum glaucum : Pearl millet (also known as bajra in India only in Hindi states), the most cultivated millet.
  • Setaria italica : Foxtail millet, second most cultivated millet (also known as "kang or rala" in Maharashtra, India).

Andropogoneae tribe :

  • Maize and sorghum are occasionally counted as major millets.

- Minor millets

Andropogoneae tribe :

Eragrostideae tribe :

  • Eragrostis tef : Teff

Paniceae tribe :


Chinese legends attribute the domestication of millet to Shennong, the legendary Emperor of China.[5] 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,[6] 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.[4] Evidence at Cishan for foxtail millet dates back to around 6500 BC.[4] 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.[7]

Palaeoethnobotanists have found evidence of the cultivation of millet in the Korean Peninsula dating to the Middle Jeulmun pottery period (c. 3500–2000 BC) (Crawford 1992; Crawford and Lee 2003). Millet continued to be an important element in the intensive, multicropping agriculture of the Mumun pottery period (c. 1500–300 BC) in Korea (Crawford and Lee 2003). 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 (Crawford 1983, 1992).

Millet made its way from China to the Black Sea region of Europe by 5000 BC.[8] The cultivation of common millet as the earliest dry crop in East Asia has been attributed to its resistance to drought,[4] and this has been suggested to have aided its spread.[8]

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, USA.


Worldwide millet production, 2000
Worldwide millet production, 2005

Pearl millet is one of the two major crops in the semiarid, impoverished, less fertile agriculture regions of Africa and southeast Asia.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

Top 10 millet producers — 2013
Country Production (Tonnes) Footnote
Template:Country data India 10,910,000
23x15px Nigeria 5,000,000 F
23x15px Niger 2,955,000 *
23x15px China 1,620,000 F
23x15px Mali 1,152,331
23x15px Burkina Faso 1,109,000 *
23x15px Sudan 1,090,000
23x15px Ethiopia 807,056
23x15px Chad 582,000 *
23x15px Senegal 572,155
 World 29,870,058 A
No symbol = official figure, * = Unofficial figure, F = FAO estimate, A = May include official, semiofficial or estimated data

Source: Food And Agricultural Organization of United Nations: Economic And Social Department: The Statistical Division

Alcoholic beverages

Tongba, a millet-based alcoholic brew found in the far eastern mountainous region of Nepal and Sikkim, India

Millets are traditionally important grains used in brewing millet beer in some cultures, for instance by the Tao people of Orchid Island and in 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.

As a food source

File:Awaokoshi 01.jpg
Awaokoshi, candied millet puffs, are a specialty of Osaka, Japan. This millet confection tradition began when it was presented to Sugawara no Michizane when he stopped in Naniwa during the early Heian period, about 1000 years ago.

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, jwaarie, or jondhahlaa in Gujarati, Kannada, 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 rottiand 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. It is 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.[3]

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.[11]

People with coeliac disease can replace certain gluten-containing cereals in their diets with millet.

Millets are also used as bird and animal feed.

Grazing millet

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.

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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[14][15][16]


File:Checking pearl millet crop.jpg
Inspecting a pearl millet spike at a farm in Zimbabwe

Millets, like sorghum, are predominantly starchy. The protein content is comparable to that of wheat and maize. Pearl and little millet are higher in fat, while finger millet contains the lowest fat. Barnyard millet has the lowest carbohydrate content and energy value. Millets are also relatively rich in iron and phosphorus. The bran layers of millets are good sources of B-complex vitamins. However, millets also feature high fiber content and poor digestibility of nutrients, which severely limit their value in nutrition and influence their consumer acceptability.[3]

Finger millet has the highest calcium content among all the foodgrains, but it is not highly assimilable.

The protein content in millet is very close to that of wheat; both provide about 11% protein by weight, on a dry matter basis.

Millets are rich in B vitamins (especially niacin, B6 and folic acid), calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Millets contain no gluten, so they are not suitable for raised bread. When combined with wheat (or xanthan gum for those who have celiac disease) they can be used for raised bread. Alone, they are suited for flatbread.

As none of the millets are closely related to wheat, they are appropriate foods for those with celiac disease or other forms of allergies/intolerance of wheat. However, millets are also a mild thyroid peroxidase inhibitor and probably should not be consumed in great quantities by those with thyroid disease.

Comparison with other major staple foods

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.

Nutrient profile comparison of millet with other food staples
Synopsis[17] ~ composition: Cassava[18] Wheat[19] Rice[20] Sweetcorn[21] Potato[22] Sorghum
(per 100g portion, raw grain)
Amount Amount Amount Amount Amount Amount Amount
water (g) 60 13.1 12 76 82 9.2 8.7
energy (kJ) 667 1368 1527 360 288 1418 1582
protein (g) 1.4 12.6 7 3 1.7 11.3 11
fat (g) 0.3 1.5 1 1 0.1 3.3 4.2
carbohydrates (g) 38 71.2 79 19 16 75 73
fiber (g) 1.8 12.2 1 3 2.4 6.3 8.5
sugars (g) 1.7 0.4 >0.1 3 1.2 1.9
iron (mg) 0.27 3.2 0.8 0.5 0.5 4.4 3
manganese (mg) 0.4 3.9 1.1 0.2 0.1 <0.1 1.6
calcium (mg) 16 29 28 2 9 28 8
magnesium (mg) 21 126 25 37 21 <120 114
phosphorus (mg) 27 288 115 89 62 287 285
potassium (mg) 271 363 115 270 407 350 195
zinc (mg) 0.3 2.6 1.1 0.5 0.3 <1 1.7
pantothenic acid (mg) 0.1 0.9 1.0 0.7 0.3 <0.9 0.8
vitB6 (mg) 0.1 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.2 <0.3 0.4
folate (µg) 27 38 8 42 18 <25 85
thiamin (mg) 0.1 0.38 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.4
riboflavin (mg) <0.1 0.1 >0.1 0.1 >0.1 0.1 0.3
niacin (mg) 0.9 5.5 1.6 1.8 1.1 2.9 4.7
Nutrient Content of Various Millets with comparison to Rice and Wheat (Source: Millet Network of India, )
Crop / Nutrient Protein(g) Fiber(g) Minerals(g) Iron(mg) Calcium(mg)
Pearl millet 10.6 1.3 2.3 16.9 38
Finger millet 7.3 3.6 2.7 3.9 344
Foxtail millet 12.3 8 3.3 2.8 31
Proso millet 12.5 2.2 1.9 0.8 14
Kodo millet 8.3 9 2.6 0.5 27
Little millet 7.7 7.6 1.5 9.3 17
Barnyard millet 11.2 10.1 4.4 15.2 11
Rice 6.8 0.2 0.6 0.7 10
Wheat 11.8 1.2 1.5 5.3 41


  1. ^ a b c McDonough, Cassandrea M.; Rooney, Lloyd W.; Serna-Saldivar, Sergio O. (2000). "The Millets". Food Science and Technology: Handbook of Cereal Science and Technology (CRC Press). 99 2nd ed: 177–210. 
  2. ^ a b "Annex II: Relative importance of millet species, 1992–94". The World Sorghum and Millet Economies: Facts, Trends and Outlook. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1996. ISBN 92-5-103861-9. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Sorghum and millet in human nutrition". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1995. 
  4. ^ a b c d Lu, H; Zhang, J; Liu, KB; Wu, N; Li, Y; Zhou, K; Ye, M; Zhang, T et al. (2009). "Earliest domestication of common millet (Panicum miliaceum) in East Asia extended to 10,000 years ago". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106 (18): 7367–72. PMC 2678631. PMID 19383791. doi:10.1073/pnas.0900158106. 
  5. ^ Yang, Lihui et al. (2005). Handbook of Chinese Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-19-533263-6. 
  6. ^ Tarannum Manjul (January 21, 2006). "Millets older than wheat, rice: Archaeologists". Lucknow Newsline. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  7. ^ "Oldest noodles unearthed in China". BBC News. 12 October 2005. 
  8. ^ a b Lawler, A (2009). "Bridging East and West: Millet on the move". Science 325: 942–943. doi:10.1126/science.325_940. 
  9. ^ David D. Baltensperger (2002). "Progress with Proso, Pearl and Other Millets" (PDF). 
  10. ^ ICRISAT. "A New Generation of Pearl Millet on the Horizon". The World Bank. 
  11. ^ a b Basavaraj et al. (December 2010). "Availability and utilization of pearl millet in India" (PDF). SAT eJournal 8. 
  12. ^ Gayatri Jayaraman (January 4, 2012). "What's your Millet Mojo". Live Mint. 
  13. ^ "FAOSTAT: Production, Crops, Millet, 2010 data". Food and Agriculture Organization. 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Collett, Ian J. "Forage Sorghum and Millet" (PDF). District Agronomist, Tamworth. NSW Department of Primary Industries. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Robson, Sarah. "Dr" (PDF). primefact 417, Prussic Acid Poisoning in Livestock. NSW Department of Primary Industries. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  16. ^ Lonewood Trust. SHIROHIE MILLET GROWING GUIDE (PDF) Retrieved 7 November 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ "USDA". Retrieved 2012-03-16. [dead link]
  18. ^ raw, uncooked
  19. ^ hard red winter
  20. ^ white, long-grain, regular, raw, unenriched
  21. ^ sweet, yellow, raw
  22. ^ white, flesh and skin, raw
  23. ^ Sorghum, edible portion white variety
  24. ^ Millet, proso variety, raw


  • Crawford, Gary W. (1983). Paleoethnobotany of the Kameda Peninsula. Ann Arbor: Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan. ISBN 0-932206-95-6. 
  • Crawford, Gary W. (1992). "Prehistoric Plant Domestication in East Asia". In Cowan C.W., Watson P.J. The Origins of Agriculture: An International Perspective. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 117–132. ISBN 0-87474-990-5. 
  • Crawford, Gary W. and Gyoung-Ah Lee (2003). "Agricultural Origins in the Korean Peninsula". Antiquity 77 (295): 87–95. doi:10.1017/s0003598x00061378. 

External links

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