By Shauravi Malik and Sohini Dey
At Laksh Farms, a sprawling oasis in Delhi’s outskirts, verdant with crops and trees, Ila and Captain Shakti Lumba grow finger millet (ragi) in summers. For Ila Lumba, growing the crop is like going back in time. “I didn’t grow up with bajra or foxtail millet…I was a total city slicker,” she says. “But my grandmother, who was from Uttarakhand, would make kodo ki rotis when I was young. Remembering that, I said to myself, ‘let’s try to grow it here!’” A decade later, Laksh Farm’s ragi sells like hotcakes at farmers’ markets in Delhi.
Meanwhile, in Bengaluru, nutritionist and food blogger Nandita Iyer discovered the magic of millets in her quest for healthy, delicious meals. Born and brought up in Mumbai, the rice used to be the mainstay of her diet. She says, “I wasn’t fond of eating white rice through the week. I picked a few types of millets and found it interesting. I started with foxtail millet and would then order different millets each time.” Saffron Trail, Iyer’s uber popular blog abounds in millet recipes, from foxtail millet and basil patties to ragi ginger cookies.
The rise of millets
Suddenly millets are everywhere – if you know where to look. Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt swears by ragi chips in health websites and fashion magazines. Gourmet chefs are adding millet to an array of recipes, from pakode and biryani to risotto and brownies.
In Sikkim, millet may have been traditionally used for local brews (known as chaang), but now these grains are also key ingredients in the recipes of microbreweries in Bengaluru and Pune. There are restaurants, culinary workshops, recipe books, cooking groups, exhibitions and even a marathon dedicated to promoting the super grains for their nutritional benefits and sustainable production.
But millets are neither new nor exotic to India. Remember your grandmother swearing by millet porridge or delighting you with millet rotis in winter? Turns out, they were right about their staple foods. These ancient grains are treasure troves health benefits and their revival reflects a contemporary zeitgeist towards sustainability and returns to traditional habits.
The millet white paper project
It is an attempt at documenting the multifarious benefits of these grains—nutritional, environmental and pertaining to food security—at a time when millets are regaining attention across the globe. In these times, how can a small company like Slurrp Farm be at the forefront of product innovation using millets, and contribute to the education of today’s consumers by sharing their honest intentions behind making quality products for the mass retail market, is the question this project hopes to answer.
Return of the ancient super crops
The comeback of millets is significant when considered in tandem with growing concerns about food security and sustainability. Their renewed relevance is especially important in countries like India, where they can aid the monumental task of feeding an ever-growing population and address concerns of malnutrition, recurrent drought, and sustainable food traditions.
In bringing back variants of the wonder grain to dining tables, its proponents hope to offer long-term solutions to each of these concerns. This paper seeks to assess the values attributed to these grains to appreciate the diverse factors that make its revival truly significant.
Millet has been hailed by food publications and many an expert as the future of food. It is somewhat of irony when one realizes that the earliest records of domesticating common millet in East Asia date back to 10,000 years. Here lies another challenge—in order to make possible the return of millets, it is imperative to understand the factors that led to its gradual disappearance from the dietary habits of those communities which once consumed these grains.
Today, millets are perched on the cusp of a revival, their positioning as a food trend coexisting with widespread lack of awareness. Despite the inherent benefits of these grains, production is yet to catch on and experts have suggested the implementation of various policy changes to popularize the grains.
Moreover, in a country like India, with immense diversity in food cultures, millets are staple foodstuff for some communities and entirely unknown among others. Many people who once consumed millets have made a shift to rice and wheat over recent decades and have now largely forgotten the grains.
While food trends can influence culinary preferences for a period, long-term changes in dietary habits necessitate more sustainable measures and greater information about the grains. The aim of this project is to compile a compendium on millet—from its very definition and benefits to large-scale adoption and remarketing strategies—making its knowledge accessible to a greater network of industry stakeholders and potential consumers.
Stay tuned for part 2 of the millet white paper project where we would be talking about how millets are climate-smart and all the superpower they posses.