Nutritional benefits and food products of small millets

Small millets offer better nutrition with various micronutrients like vitamin B complex, calcium, iron and sulphur, high protein, high dietary fibre and low glycemic index when compared to mainstream cereals like rice and wheat (Saleh et al. 2013). They are known as both preventive and curative foods. In spite of these nutritional advantages, the consumption of small millets has drastically declined in the last four decades across South Asia. Some of the important reasons for the decline of small millets consumption are lack of adequate scientific proof of the nutritional benefits and near absence of appealing small millet food products in the market. The small millets were consumed in the production regions mainly as traditional preparations such as porridge and rice. In these regions, the consumption has declined significantly and some of the important reasons are: i) social stigma attached to millet foods (food of poor and lower caste), and ii) lack of appeal of traditional food preparations, particularly to younger generations. There was a requirement for small millet recipes that are on par with mainstream rice/wheat recipes and that are attractive to younger generations to increase consumption in the production regions. In the non-production regions, where small millets are not familiar, there was a requirement for recipes and products that are familiar (instead of very new food products), convenient and attractive to the younger generations to increase consumption. Lack of appealing nutritious small millet products is one of the important reasons for not being able to break the social stigma associated with the consumption of small millets. This is in turn a reflection of inadequate research on i) nutrient analysis, ii) development of attractive food products and iii) bioavailability of nutrients from small millet food products. Any effort for increasing consumption of small millets to address the malnutrition and rising incidence of non-communicable diseases have to address these research gaps and undertake large scale promotion measures to reach all sections of the population.

I. Our work so for

In the above mentioned background, the Revalorising Small Millets in Rainfed Regions of South Asia Project has undertaken research on two major aspects: (i) Proving the health benefits of small millets and (ii) Developing healthy and attractive products both for home and market based consumption.

The specific initiatives taken were listed below:

  1. Evaluation of different varieties of small millet crops for their nutritional values and consumption qualities

    University of Guelph and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University undertook nutritional analysis of small millet samples from India, Nepal and North America (Canada and the US) as part of the project. The All India Coordinated Small Millets Improvement Project analysed finger millet landraces for zinc and calcium contents and identified suitable varieties for popping. Arthacharya Foundation in collaboration with ITI, Colombo, analysed nutritional and consumption attributes of few varieties of finger millet, foxtail millet and pulses in Sri Lanka. The important results are:

  2. Development of small millet based food products for rural and urban consumers

    In India, incorporation of small millets (barnyard, kodo, finger and little millets) in traditional South Indian breakfast, sweets and snack foods was standardised. Bakery products like bread, cookies, cake, soup sticks and khari, pasta products like vermicelli, string hopper (Idiappam), macaroni and noodles, flaked and popped products and instant mixes using small millets were standardized and analysed for their nutritive value. On the whole 42 small millet food products were developed in India. These products were disseminated to 1473 persons including site families and to the entrepreneurs and food industries. In Sri Lanka ten finger millet products (finger millet hoppers, string hoppers, Pittu, Roti, Thalapa, Kandgi, Cake, Oil cake, Kokis and wandu hopper) were standardised and demonstrated to the rural and urban population. Three new products were introduced to Helabojun (a restaurant opened by the Dept. of Agriculture to introduce traditional food to consumers) at Peradeniya.

  3. Bio-availability of nutrients from different product matrices

    The developed products were evaluated for the sensory quality and acceptability, nutritional value and glycemic index (GI).

  4. Dissemination of products developed in the project

    Training programmes and demonstrations were organised for women, farmers, entrepreneurs and self-help group members on value added small millet products.

    More details on these activities can be seen at

II. Our current work

  1. Scaling up the reach of appealing food products

    1.1 Supporting interested small and medium food enterprises

    The food enterprises identified for support in the project varied in terms of size and business operations, with the majority of them being small enterprises. While some of the areas of improvement were common (like improving food hygiene and safety, and packaging), some of the requirements were specific to the enterprise. Common training sessions were organized for the first type of requirement and for the second type or requirement, a case by case approach was followed to meet the needs of the individual enterprise for stabilizing and scaling up.

    The details are shared below:

    • Support for compliance of government protocols

    • Product development

      Training and exposure to food enterprises by Amma Parampariyam, another food enterprise

      Most of the existing entrepreneurs have a strong flair for product development and have developed many products on their own through trial and error. To standardize the products of the food enterprises, nine trainings were organized by DHAN with TNAU, Amma Parampariyam and IIMR. Nutritional analysis and sensory evaluation of food products from twelve food enterprises were undertaken. As a result, eight enterprises have introduced new small millet food products. One training each was organized in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha was organized for entrepreneurs interested in initiating small millet food enterprise.

    • Food hygiene and safety

      Inadequate adoption of food hygiene and safety practices is a general problem across small millet food enterprises supported by the project, and this is a generic issue across small scale food enterprises. Two trainings on appropriate but affordable food hygiene and safety practices was organized for 36 food enterprises by TNAU and DHAN covering i) Food safety and quality control practices in food industries, ii) Food safety issues and challenges faced by small entrepreneurs, iii) Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), and iv) FSSAI norms.

    • Packaging

      Two training programmes on packaging were organized for 23 food enterprises by TNAU and DHAN. The content of the training included i) Functions and classification of packaging, ii) Packaging materials, iii) Packaging with flexible films and multilayer films, iv) Partition packaging, and v) Labelling. Demonstrations of packaging equipment like vacuum packaging, gas flushing, cans, bottle closure, form fill and sealing machines were carried out for better understanding of packaging processes.

    • Other support

      Support was offered for improving the visibility of food product, accessing credit and purchasing of machinery.

    1.2 Offering customized support to pushcart porridge vendors

    In Tamil Nadu, 105 pushcart millet porridge vendors serving poor urban families were identified by DHAN and the following efforts were taken to stabilize and enhance their livelihood:

    1. Four training sessions were organised by DHAN with the support of TNAU, FSSAI and city administration on the themes of i) Food safety and hygiene practices for food vending carts, ii) Design considerations for Indian food vending carts, iii) Importance of FSSAI registration and procedures, and iv) Registering with the city administration for a biometric card. Good food hygiene and safety practices followed by some of the porridge vendors were shared with the other participants.

    2. Appropriate food hygiene and safety practices for pushcart porridge vendors (apron, water can with a tap, hand gloves, head cover, long handled ladle, and lids for covering side dishes) were identified and the vendors were motivated to follow them.

    3. 3. Thirteen vendors were supported for FSSAI registration, and 55 for applying to get biometric card from the city administration.

      Livelihood enhancement training to pushcart porridge vendors at Madurai

    1.3 Supporting FPOs for effectively engaging in small millet value chain

    Working relationships were built with three FPOs in Tamil Nadu and one FPO in Odisha by DHAN. They were supported for establishing processing unit for value addition of their members’ produce and for selling small millet products in the region. The FPOs engaged in local procurement of small millet produce for trading to small millet food enterprises and in seed supply to its members.

  2. Development of multi millet based food products

    Instant mixes of therapeutic food products with the incorporation of multi millets (kodo millet/ little millet/ barnyard millet/ foxtail millet- –Drumstick leaves/ Fenugreek dosa, Drumstick leaves/ Fenugreek chappathi, Vegetable rotti, Kitchadi, Palakdosa, Uppma, Idiyappam and Adai) were standardized by TNAU. The recipes were evaluated for their organoleptic properties. The therapeutic foods prepared using multi millets were found to be acceptable. McGill is working on developing innovative probiotic weaning products from finger millets and amaranth. The results are useful for the development of nutritious gluten-free millet-based weaning food products.

  3. Evaluation of millet food products

    Multi millet cookies were evaluated for its nutrient content and bioavailability.

  4. Preparation of technical bulletin on small millet foods

    A technical bulletin on small millet foods covering details of ingredients, preparation and nutrient content for 56 small millet food products such as breakfast recipes, sweet recipes, snack, puffed products, pasta products, bakery products, instant millet mixes, ready to cook sweet mixes and ready to cook snack mixes was prepared by TNAU.

  5. Preparation of small millet promotion materials

    Music album: A music album of motivational songs in the name of Small Millet Music Treat covering health benefits and other virtues of small millets was developedin Tamil and released on the occasion of 20th Foundation Day of DHAN.

    Preparation of episodes for radio programme: DHAN has prepared and released ten episodes of radio programme on promoting cultivation and consumption of small millets, in the name of Puthayal (Treasure)-An Effort to Revive Lost Food Habits.

  6. Value addition demonstration in rural areas

    Training of Trainers (ToT) programs on the health benefits of small millets and on small millets recipes demonstration was organized for staff and office bearers of 35 women/farmers’ organisations hailing from Tamil Nadu and Odisha. Through these ToT programs, the capacity of 314 persons was built.

    Recipe demonstrations were organised by the participants of ToT in 78 habitations in 6 urban locations, 7 rural locations and 3 tribal locations to build the knowledge and skills of 2533 persons on inclusion of small millets in their diets. Based on the experience of conduction ToT for small millet recipe demonstration, a protocol has been developed for wider practice of this grassroots level promotional method.

  7. Nutrition education and campaign on the nutritional and health benefits of small millets products

    DHAN facilitated broadcasting of ten episodes of radio programme on various aspects of small millets by 24 community radio stations. Campaigning to motivate consumption of small millets was taken up by DHAN through cultural programmes deploying folk music, songs, dance and skits in the production regions - Jawadhu Hills and Anchetty, Tamil Nadu-, reaching 2340 students and 530 adults from 15 villages. Six NGOs in Odisha (FES, CYSD, Spread, KFA, PRADAN, and Asha Kiran) have received training from DHAN that focus on conservation, cultivation and consumption of small millets in their working areas.

  8. Informing important stakeholders on the best practices Publications

    A research paper on small millet food products and another on processing equipment were published by TNAU. A paper on small millet weaning food was published by McGill. Protocols were prepared for Training of Trainers (ToT) for recipe demonstration and for recipe demonstration. A training manual on value addition of small millets was prepared by TNAU. Two papers were shared in a National Seminar on ‘Functional foods to achieve nutrition and health security’ which was held at the Home Science College & Research Institute in Madurai on 19th September 2016 by TNAU. Another two papers were shared at ASABE Global Initiative Conference held at Stellenbosch, South Africa from 24 to 27 October, 2016on Engineering and Technology Innovation for Global Food Security.

III. Resources

Resources developed as part of the project

  1. Technical bulletin on value added products from small millets.

  2. Protocol for ToT on small millet recipe demonstration.

  3. Sara Najdi Hejazi and Valérie Orsat, Optimization of the malting process for nutritional improvement of finger millet and amaranth flours in the infant weaning food industry, International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2016.

  4. D. Malathi, Millet Incorporated Bakery Foods, Indian Farming, Indian Council of Agricultural research, New Delhi, March, 2016.

  5. 5. Pragyani Bora, Nutritional Properties of Different Millet Types and their Selected Products, A Thesis presented to The University of Guelph In partial fulfilment of requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Food Science, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, December, 2013.

Resources from other sources

  1. Soumya Rathore, Karunakar Singh, Vivek Kumar. Millet Grain Processing, Utilization and Its Role in Health Promotion: A Review. International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences. Vol. 5, No. 5, 2016, pp. 318-329. doi: 10.11648/j.ijnfs.20160505.12

  2. Singh E and Sarita. Nutraceutical and Food Processing Properties of Millets: A Review. Austin J Nutri Food Sci. 2016; 4(1): 1077.

  3. Saleh, A. S.M., Zhang, Q., Chen, J. and Shen, Q. (2013), Millet Grains: Nutritional Quality, Processing, and Potential Health Benefits. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 12: 281–295. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12012

  4. Kiran Deep Kaur, Alok Jha, Latha Sabikhi, A. K. Singh, Significance of coarse cereals in health and nutrition: a review, J Food Sci Technol. 2014 Aug; 51(8): 1429–1441. Published online 2012 Jan 25. doi: 10.1007/s13197-011-0612-9, PMCID: PMC4108649

  5. Dayakar Rao B, Bhaskarachary K, Rajendra Prasad M.P, Bala Krishna D, Dhanasri K, Nageswara Rao T.G. 2016, Nutritional and Health Benefits of Millets, ICAR- Indian Institute of Millets Research, Rajendranagar, Hyderabad, pp86.

  6. Mamata Mannuramath, Storage Quality of Little millet (Panicum miliare ) and Diversification of Utilisation of Little Millet through Hydrothermal and Baking Technologies, Thesis submitted to the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor Of Philosophy in Food Science and Nutrition, June, 2013.