Stop fretting over quinoa and switch to millets. They make for a healthier and cost-effective option

It’s likely that you’ve heard of quinoa if you’re a health food junkie; you might have even tried procuring it from friends visiting from the US or paid a bomb to buy it from select supermarkets here. A kilogram of quinoa costs Rs.1000 or more in the city, factoring in the import duties. It’s debatable if you need to stock up on the false grain quinoa, which travels to your plate from across the globe (South America to be precise). In this day when nutritionists emphasise on eating local produce to derive the maximum nutrients, what are your choices apart from rice and wheat? Ever thought of the humble millets? Unlike quinoa, a kilogram of any millet will cost you less than Rs. 100.

Let’s break it down further. Millets include jowar (great millet), ragi (finger millet), korra (foxtail millet), arke (kodo millet) and sama (little millet). All these are available in the form of rice (example: foxtail millet rice), rawa (example: jowar and bajra rawa) and flour forms in supermarkets in addition to jowar pastas or ragi string hoppers. These may look coarse and unappealing for an eye that’s accustomed to mill polished white rice, but once you master the art of cooking these well, the health benefits are for you to enjoy (see table).

Shyam Prasad Penubolu, founder of Jiva Organics, recently organised a millet cooking workshop. “We have customers who understand the nutritional benefits of millets, but some of them would ask us how to cook millets. That made us think of a cooking workshop,” he says. The first workshop was for a small group. Buoyed by the response, Jiva is planning a second workshop on August 24 at Goethe Zentrum. Millets were part of our diet until we replaced them with polished rice and wheat, Shyam points out. “Millets are part of our forgotten traditions,” he says.

Nina Oswald, the German researcher on organic food, who moved to Hyderabad in 2009, cannot fathom the obsession with quinoa. Besides the ecological footprint of importing quinoa, she emphasises the need to incorporate millets into our diet. “There is a negative attitude towards millets. People in urban areas find it unattractive and call it village food, forgetting that 50 years ago everyone was eating these grains,” she says. She points out that there are different millets with unique flavours. “Choose the one you like and incorporate it gradually into your diet. A friend of mine mixes millets with rice. You can also add millet flour to idli/dosa batter, roti dough or replace bulgur wheat with millets for recipes like the Tabouleh salad,” she suggests.

A number of bodies such as The Deccan Development Society, Timbuktu Collective and the Millet Network of India have been trying their best to make urban folk rediscover the importance of millets.

While many Hyderabadis have been looking for ways to get quinoa, expatriates who’ve made Hyderabad their home have welcomed millets into their kitchen. Amandine Judez, who started the O Délices French-style bakery in Erramanzil, makes cookies with whole wheat and jowar flour and jaggery. “I have also used millet flour for mango and banana cakes,” she says.

Still not convinced? Nina Osswald points out, “It takes only one to three weeks for our body to adapt to new food. Be patient and you’ll start liking millets.”

Cook with millets

Use millet rawas and millet rice (foxtail or korra biyyam) to make khichdi/upma with lentils and vegetables.

Add a small amount of millets to idli/dosa batter or roti dough.

Use millets along with oats, whole wheat and jaggery to make cookies and laddus.

Use sprouted millets in salads.

Why millets?

Nutritional reasons: Millets are free of gluten unlike rice and wheat; have low glycemic index.

Environmental reasons: Millets can grow in dry lands and land with poor soil quality, require only 1/5th to 1/10th the water that rice and wheat require.

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