Millets have sometimes been hailed as the next quinoa but researchers collating a global database of millet products have found this ancient grain to be orchestrating a silent food revolution that could see quinoa outstripped. The “Millet Finder”, recently launched, discovered a surge in the use of millets, with over a thousand modern convenient products being marketed and sold across all the inhabited continents.
Launched at the FoodTec Expo by ICRISAT and the Indian Institute of Millets Research of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR-IIMR), the “Millet Finder” will help users find over 500 products across 30 countries. Another 500 products are identified and set to be included and mapped by end of the year by the Smart Food team at ICRISAT, who created the database and will continue growing it.
“Unless there is a consumer-driven demand and movement to diversify diets, farms cannot diversify and agriculture cannot be sustainable. By diversifying staples, we can have a major impact on diets, farms and the environment. ICRISAT strongly believes in creating awareness and helping consumers make informed choices while keeping their health and the environment in view. In that respect, millets check every box,” said Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, and Chair, Smart Food Executive Council.
FoodTec Expo, an event supported by the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, included a conference this year with a strong focus on supporting industries and value chains like millets, with a Smart Food bottom line – Good for you, planet and farmer.
“Millets are a traditional food across Africa and Asia, largely consumed in their natural forms. Increasing awareness of millets and their health benefits is helping fuel their return to plates and expansion of farms. In Africa, as with many other regions, their resilience will be our lifeline to cope with climate change,” emphasized Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).
Their versatility in how they can be eaten is another major factor impacting the massive product growth. Millets can be cooked like rice (so a “smart” rice) and are a crop finding use in gluten-free bakery products from pancakes to muffins, pasta, popped as a snack, flakes in a muesli, as a porridge, a hot drink, smoothies, soup and a wide range of savory dishes. Millet Finder shows the possibilities are endless.
“We have compiled this product database from scratch. We also plan to automate this database using artificial intelligence and make information accessible through an interactive app which can help anyone in the world find the closest shop or restaurant selling millets, compare products, check out ingredients and much more,” said Ms Parkavi Kumar, lead creator of Millet Finder and Senior Communication Officer, Smart Food initiative, ICRISAT.
Going the millet way
Millets, including sorghum, are Smart Food because they are highly nutritious, environmentally sustainable and resilient to climate change effects while having immense potential for further development. The ICAR-IIMR, ICRISAT and the Smart Food initiative have been working with governments, social cause organizations and the private industry to create awareness of the benefits of consuming millets and cultivating them.
“India has been leading the world with the largest range of millet products, driven partly by government awareness programs to consumers, industry, farmers and also to its own government departments. The need for more nutritious foods and resilient crops that can cope with climate change have been some key reasons behind the government programs,” Dr Vilas Tonapi, Director, ICAR-IIMR, said after launching the database.
“Millets fulfill almost all nutrition and health needs. Many have very high iron and zinc. Considering how much is absorbed (bioavailability), they can often provide the same amount of iron as white or red meat. They are gluten-free and with low glycemic index of the whole grain, good for managing or controlling diabetes. Finger millet has three times the calcium in milk. Millets have reasonable protein levels and can complement legumes to create a complete protein. They are also high in fiber and can be good for losing weight,” Dr Anitha Seetha, Senior Scientist-Nutrition, ICRISAT.
Preparing ground for the International Year of Millet
The year 2023 is likely to be designated the International Year of Millet by the UN, already approved by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The designation is expected to be the tipping point for millets to reach masses and make them a part of everyday diets across the world. Millet Finder is well poised to excite industry and consumers alike.
The Millet Finder can be accessed at www.smartfood.org/smart-food-products.