There are several different varieties of Millet. Depending on the variety, the plant can grow 1 to 15 feet tall (30 cm to 4.5 metres.) All varieties are annual plants that grow in clumps.
Millet seeds are one of the smallest grains. The seeds are round and yellow, though Asian and African varieties are red.
There are four major varieties: Pearl, Foxtail, Finger Millet and “Common Millet” (aka Broomcorn Millet, Hog Millet, Indian Buffalo Grass, Proso Millet.)
Pearl (or “pearled”) has the largest grain, and is the one most used for human food.
The grain has to be hulled before it can be used. It can be ground to be used as a flour for flat breads or cakes, or cooked whole as a gruel or to be served as a side dish like rice. When boiled, it gets light and fluffy.
Millet is still one of the most important food grains grown in tropical parts of the world such as Africa and India, and is still popular in China. In India, Millet flour is often used to make chapatis from.
In Europe and North America it’s largely sold for bird seed. This millet still has the hull still on it, making it inedible for humans.
Toasting before further cooking develops the flavour.
To cook up 1 cup (7 oz / 200g) of millet as a side-grain for a meal: Toast in a frying pan over low heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until it turns golden. Some kernels will pop. Put into a pot with 2 ½ cups (20 oz / 600 ml) of water, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Then remove pot from stove, remove cover, and let sit another 15 minutes.
To make it like a porridge, double the water to 5 cups (40 oz / 1.2 litres).
Health enthusiasts promote the fact that it is gluten-free. It also has the benefit of being pretty much flavour free.
1 cup uncooked seed = 200g = 7 oz by weight
Buy Millet in small quantities because it doesn’t have a long shelf life. Store for up to 6 months in a sealed jar, longer if in refrigerator. Discard any that develops a harsh or bitter taste, as it has gone rancid.
Millet was eaten commonly in Europe up to the Middle Ages, usually in the form of a gruel.
Common millet is Panicum miliaceum; Pearl millet is Pennisetum glaucum. In India, names for Pearl Millet include bajra, bajri, cumbu and sajje.