Thursday, March 25, 2010


Millets, the so called "coarse cereals" are always considered a poor man's food grain and command significantly less price in the market. It is a paradox that these agricultural crops containing more nutrients than their "fancy" counter parts like rice and wheat are looked down because of their association with economically poorer people. One of the reasons for their neglect could be their coarse nature that gives products like roti which are not attractive to look or eat by those habituated to consumption of rice and wheat. Gross neglect by the processing industry ensured that no branded products from coarse cereals are available in the market. It gladdens one's heart to see reports about the fancy taken by high end restaurants for these grains and sensitizing their customers to the "goodness" contained in these "God's Own Grain"!

"But some fads are actually good for us, and the millet revival is clearly one of them. If you were to draw a bar graph comparing the nutritional content of millets with that of rice and wheat, the millets' bars would tower imposingly. Calcium content in finger millet (ragi) for instance, is nearly 350 mg for every 100 grams. For the same amount of rice and wheat, it is below 50 mg. Millets also contain far higher amounts of iron, fibre and essential minerals than either rice or wheat. Says Ishi Khosla, a Delhi-based clinical nutritionist, "I now advise my clients to switch to millets." They are also showing up on menus in restaurants in Mumbai: the popular Swati Snacks has introduced khichri and uttapam made from bajra and the upmarket Moshe's offers a range of breads made from millets".

After the success of packaged and branded atta from wheat, marketed by a few food processing giants in India, cautious steps are being taken to test the waters regarding the viability of multi grain atta that contains up to 15-20% flour from coarse grains, by some processors. Though these grains contain higher levels of nutrients, their quality vis-à-vis utilization in the human body is still not certain. Being rain fed crops millets are not as susceptible to drought as fine grains and decades of efforts by ICRISAT, Hyderabad have resulted in foundation seeds of sturdy nature and high productivity. One can only hope that the new found love for millets by the high and the mighty in the society, does not hijack this poor man's food because of irrational hikes in price. Higher price tag on multi grain atta containing millet components, in the name of higher nutrition, is indicative of the emerging trend of deriving economic benefits by the industry, disproportionate to the cost of including millets in the product

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