I first was introduced to the idea of eating millet a couple months ago when my infant daughter and I were fighting a bad case of thrush (a yeast infection that is passed from breastfeeding mom to baby and vice versa). In an effort to promote good bacteria in my body that would keep this yeast overgrowth in check, I began introducing more foods to my body that are “yeast-free.” A friend recommended millet as one of four good grains that would help me in my cause (the others are amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa) and I immediately went out and purchased a bag of pearled millet since that was the most available locally. I was clueless about how to cook it and, I confess, rather doubtful of its taste, but I figured I would give it a whirl. Wasn’t I surprised to find that it’s very easy to prepare and– more surprising!– that I really do like it!
Some of you may think of birds when you think of millet, but millet is a staple in many diets around the world– and not just for birds! There are large areas in India and China where millet is more easily grown than rice and, consequently, there are entire groups of people who eat millet everyday of their lives. And though millet is technically a seed (like birdseed!), it is usually referred to as a grain from a culinary perspective.
The most common sort of millet to find and purchase is pearled and hulled millet. Occasionally you can find traditional couscous, which is made from cracked millet. You can also buy ground millet to use in breads and muffins.
In the last few months, my family and I have eaten millet in place of rice many times. For this, I cook it very similarly to rice: bring two to three parts water (or stock) to a boil and then add one part millet, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20-30 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. The texture when cooked this way is fluffy, somewhere between rice and couscous.
You can also serve millet like oatmeal (cook longer, occasionally stir, and add additional water) or throw it in soups, chilis, and even casseroles.
Millet is a very healthy food. It’s good for your heart, is an excellent source of fiber, promotes body tissue development and repair, substantially lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, and can protect against childhood asthma. Some research even shows that good whole grains like millet are equal to or greater than vegetables in health promoting activity! And especially for those of you who, like me, may be trying to avoid yeast-growing foods, millet is a great alternative to rice, potatoes, and oats.