Millets – Demystifying the grain

(An outline of millets and their usage. This is work in progress and will be continually edited as and when new information is obtained)

Simply put, Millets are cereal grass crops with tiny seeds that are edible and are used for human consumption as well as animal fodder. These belong to the Poaceae family and are believed to be cultivated for their grain, over 4000 years ago in Asia.

The major millets are more familiar and Jowar (Sorghum), Bajra (Pearl), Ragi (Finger) fall in this category.

The minor millets are Foxtail, Proso, Kodo, Barnyard and Little millet and also the lesser known Brown top millet.

Major millets are naked grains and do not have the hard shell called hull or husk. They are easier for the farmer to process, than the minor millets and hence are more widely prevalent.

Minor millets possess the hull and have to be processed using the relevant machinery before they can be cooked and consumed. The operation of hulling can sometimes result in also destroying the bran, resulting in a polished grain that is not as fibre rich as an unpolished one.

Hulled or husked millet grains are known as Millet rice and are usable for cooking and consumption.

Millets with hull or husk can be used as bird or animal feed.

Please buy hulled/husked millet rice but make sure it is unpolished. Initially when I had no clue about these things, I bought birdseed (foxtail millet with the hull) and cooked it to eternity. I certainly did not feel Chirpy about it 😀

Luckily for Bangalore residents, several brands both in store and online, stock varieties of millets.

Nutritive properties

Millets have a high nutritive content, with notable amounts of dietary fiber, starch levels and minerals like Calcium, Potassium, Zinc, Iron and Magnesium. They also contain significant amounts of protein.

What forms of millets are available and how to cook them –

1) Hulled millets in the unbroken grain form are called millet rice.

For a start, Millets can be cooked exactly like regular rice. Wash the grains well and place them in a vessel, using a 1:2 ratio of millet:water or even upto 1:6, depending on the end product.

Place the vessel in a pressure cooker with around 500 ml of water in the base of the cooker, just as you would cook rice or dal (lentils).

Cooking timing will differ from brand to brand of cooker but an average would be 10 min on low heat after the first whistle, which is the same time that I cook my rice and dal.

Cooking millet rice in boiling water without a pressure cooker, can take a significantly longer time, upto 30 min or more.

Soaking the grains overnight is not necessary if using a pressure cooker but there is no harm in doing so.

Once the cooked grains are obtained, they can be used in an infinite number of recipes right from salads to soups to cutlets to side dishes to mains to desserts and even in beverages.

Adding less water gives you separate grains. You can fluff out the grains and store them in the fridge for a couple of days and use as required.

Adding more water will cause the grains to clump and get mushy.

The quanity of water will depend on what end product you are going to create using the millets.

2) Grits or rava form – where the cooking time gets reduced due to breaking the grain into smaller particles. Good for upma, porridge, payasam etc.

3) Another way of using millets is in the flour form and most millets are available as individual flours or even a multi millet blend. This as you can imagine, is a highly versatile ingredient and can be used to create several items including baked goods. The flour is also good for creating instant dosas and idlies.

4) Ready to cook mixes like dosa, idli, upma, mixed rice etc. One can also get creative with these blends and make novel dishes out of them. I have this bad habit of innovating and never using the raw material for what it was intended but making unusual items with it 😀

Appearance –

The major millets are quite distinguishable from each other.

Sorghum (jowar) – has large, cream colored grains. The raw or green form is obtained in certain seasons. It is called Ponkh or Seethni or Hurda.

Finger millet (ragi) – is the darkest in color and has very tiny grains. This also tends to color the dish that is made out of it.

Pearl (bajra) – this oval grain is the second biggest after Sorghum.


The minor millets are slightly less distinguishable from each other but with practice, one can figure out the differences.

Foxtail – Slightly golden grain and oblong on one end

Proso – Creamy yellowish, perfect oblong grain and the largest of the minor millets.

Kodo – Tiny, brownish more like ragi when unpolished. Gets lighter after polishing.

Little millet – Tiny, whitish and spherical and smallest of all millets.

Barnyard – similar to Little but with a prominent black spot.

Brown top millet – tiny grains that have a little brown dot on the top, before hulling.

Names of millets in different languages – Picture obtained from unknown source. Please let me know if you can identify the source.


Most of the information has been derived from Arun Kaulige of Kaulige Foods. Thank you for your time, Arun.








About Currylines

A food and travel enthusiast who plays with words
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11 Responses to Millets – Demystifying the grain

  1. amoeza says:

    hi very useful informative article about millets
    I would ask is this real alter option for the rice, can we include millet in our recipe.
    please suggest.

    • Caroline Radhakrishnan says:

      Thank you.
      Yes millets can be used instead of rice but do it in moderation.
      Have some millets and some rice/wheat through the week.

      You can cook it like rice or use in idli dosa batters.

  2. Michael says:

    Thank you for this very helpful information.

  3. Martha says:

    Hi! Your article is very useful. I had been trying to find specific information on hulled vs unhulled millet but didn’t find anything until I found your blog. I still am not sure whether I purchased unhulled millet, my guess is I did since after 1 hour of cooking first boiled and then mid-low it just wouldn’t cook. I’m so sad my ingredients have to go to waste.
    Any ideas about what might have gone wrong? Following a recipe, I added pine nuts, dried fig, and honey.

    • Caroline Radhakrishnan says:

      Thank you so much. Am glad you found the information useful.
      If possible please send a picture of the millet to my mail id
      Most likely they have the hull on. They are impossible to cook but they can be used as bird seed I suppose. Do check that possibility instead of throwing them out.

  4. Ruchi says:

    Hi,I have unhulled white and brown millet’s?How can I use these?I never used before unhulled millet’s?

  5. Grace says:

    Good blog. Millet foods support healthy and regular digestion. Mixed Millet can contain more antioxidants and nutrients than regular food.

  6. Sukanya says:

    I have brought millet from organic store the problem it is not cleaned the skin of the rice is their shall I consume it is their any harm I am giving this to my kid old suggest

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