Grains: Millet

“Which grain was first farmed nearly 10,000 years ago? Which grain was revered as one of five sacred crops in ancient China? Which grain is mentioned in the Old Testament, the writings of Herodotus, and the journals of Marco Polo? The answer is millet!”

Thus reads the package of Bob’s Red Mill whole grain hulled millet that I hold in my hands. The millet is small and round and sort of yellow-tan in color. I want to learn more about this ancient grain!

Millet is the generic name for a group of small-seeded grasses. The most prominent types of millet are finger, pearl, foxtail, proso, and little millet. One less popular type called great millet is actually sorghum bicolor. White and black fonios are related to millet, as I learned while writing my post on fonio. Millet grows well in hot and dry climates and has a short growing season. According to Wikipedia, 97% of the world’s millet is produced in developing countries in Asia and Africa. Millet is “whole” because it includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. It is also gluten free.

The Experience Life website states “Like quinoa and amaranth, millet is actually a seed, but it’s classified as a grain in cookbooks because that’s the way it’s most often prepared.”

Millet was a “Grain of the Month” on the Oldways Whole Grain Council website. It’s thought that before rice, millet was the staple grain in Asia. Today, in India, millet is used to make the flat bread roti, a staple flat bread. In Africa, millet is generally cooked as a porridge. And, it is used to make beer.

I continue to prowl the web for information on millet, and stumble on this book: Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way, by Lorna Sass. Wow! Lorna Sass covers all of the grains I have covered in this blog. I decide I must have this book – so I order it. And I have so much to say about it, that I will have to make my comments a separate blog post. (I bought the Kindle version, so I can immediately read what Lorna Sass knows about millet.)

I learn from Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way that In the US, proso is the most common millet. And what is it used for here? Birdseed! Health food stores began selling millet for people, and then gluten-free diets increased its popularity. Now millet is pretty easy to find in many types of markets, as well as online.

Bob’s Red Mill has a good blog entry that is a comparison of four grains: millet, quinoa, barley, and amaranth. I also like an entry The World’s Healthiest Foods: “Although millet is most often associated as the main ingredient in bird seed, it is not just ‘for the birds.’ Creamy like mashed potatoes or fluffy like rice, millet is a delicious grain that can accompany many types of food. As with most grains, millet is available in markets throughout the year.” An Encyclopedia Britannica article has wonderful photos and also illustrations that show how grains are milled.

I did find one caution about consumption of large amounts of millet. Some types of millet contain goitrogens. What are these? They are substances that suppress thyroid activity and can lead to goiters, or enlargement of the thyroid gland. (Reference: The Healthy Home Economist.) Why It Matters What Type of Millet You Eat is a fun to read article by Chris Masterjohn, PhD. He explains that proso millet is okay – and from what he found out from Bob’s Red Mill and what I found out from Lorna Sass, proso millet is the type of millet we are most likely to obtain in the United States.

Bob’s Red Mill millet, probably proso millet:

milletMillet compared to medium grain brown rice:

millet compared to brown rice


1/4 cup of dry millet (55 grams) has 210 calories, 3 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, 8% iron, 12% niacin, 8% vitamin B6, 8% folate, 8% riboflavin, 14% thiamin, 40% manganese, 14% phosphorus, 4% zinc, and 15% magnesium.

The glycemic index values for millet range from 45 to 71, depending on the type of millet and how much the grain is processed.

The World’s Healthiest Foods discusses other health benefits of millet.


water time simmering
1 cup millet 2 cups 20 minutes

The above instructions are from the Bob’s Red Mill package. Lorna Sass, in her book “Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way”, recommends three ways to cook millet:

Fluffy: Toast 1 cup millet for 4-6 minutes in a dry pan over medium heat, until it begins popping and emits a toasty aroma. Off heat, carefully add 2 ¼ cups boiling water, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 tablespoon butter. Cover and simmer 13-18 minutes until most of the water is absorbed, then let stand 10 minutes. Fluff up before serving. Use like you would rice.

Sticky: Don’t toast the millet. Put 1 cup millet in a pan with 2 ¾ cups water and 1/4 teaspoon salt, simmer for 13-18 minutes, then let stand 10 minutes. Sticky millet can be molded in croquettes and patties or pressed into a pan.

Creamy: Start with millet “grits”, or make your own by grinding 1 cup millet in a spice grinder, 1/2 cup at a time, into a coarse meal. Bring 5 cups water (with 1/4 teaspoon salt) to a boil, then gradually whisk in the ground millet. Cover, lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 to 30 minutes until grits are tender (the length of time depends in the size of the grits and the altitude). Creamy millet is good as a breakfast porridge, or it can be used like polenta.

I cooked millet according to Sass’s “fluffy” directions. I had it simmering gently: each time I peeked, it was obviously at a boil, but the lid wasn’t bumping like crazy. At my altitude of 5300 feet, it took 23 minutes for all the water to be absorbed. After a few minutes left standing off heat, it fluffed up nicely with a fork:

fluffy cooked milletI think it is beautiful! It tastes a tiny bit like corn, and not all the seeds cooked evenly, giving it just about the perfect amount of crunch. (“Crunch” is an important factor in my food tasting!)


Millet can be used like rice, as a porridge, like mashed potatoes, and in many other dishes. It kind of depends on how you cook it. The “fluffy” way would work great under a spicy sauce or in a tabouleh style salad. The flavor is pleasant and not dominating. Actually, I think it would be great with some Mexican flavors, and served along with beans as a side for enchiladas and the like.

Here are examples of recipes from “Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way”.

  • Millet Pie with Spinach and Feta
  • Millet with Buttermilk and Chives
  • Millet with Gingered Beets and Orange

Oldways Whole Grain Council site

Food Network

Grains: Teff

Teff is a tiny grain from Africa. I learn from the Bob’s Red Mill package that it is the smallest grain in the world, and “It has long been an important food for Highland Ethiopians, who use it to make everything from bread to beer.” It is one of the ancient grains, it is a grass, and it is gluten free. Teff comes in black, brown, and ivory varieties. It is sold as the whole grain and as flour.

Oldways Grain Council has become one of my favorite grains websites, so I direct my browser there. The information (and quote) in this paragraph is gleaned from that site. Teff kernels are 1/150 the size of wheat kernels. The word “teff” comes from teffa, meaning “lost” in Amharic, an Ethiopian language. The scientific name for teff is Eragrostis tef. Why do I mention this? Because eragrostis is the genus “lovegrass”, and I like that name. Teff is easy to grow: a handful of seeds sows a large area, it grows in wet and dry conditions, and can be cultivated from sea level to 10,000 feet. Teff is nutritious, with a high protein and calcium content. “It’s been estimated that Ethiopians get about two-thirds of their dietary protein from teff. Many of Ethiopia’s famed long-distance runners attribute their energy and health to teff.”

Teff is championed in the US by Wayne Carlson, much as is kamut by Bob Quinn and fonio by Pierre Thiam. Carlson’s company website is The Teff Company. The company produces the teff under the brand name Maskal Teff. Carlson first became interested in teff while living in Ethiopia during the early 1970s. Here is a direct quote from the website: “He lived as a guest of the local farming community, and found the farmers eager to show their crops. Wayne became devoted to the local food, and soon discovered that while the farmers had a wide variety of crops, they preferred to grow and eat teff.” The Teff Company found Idaho to have an ideal climate for growing teff.

A 2016 New York Times article states that the Ethiopian government prohibits its farmers from exporting teff in order to keep teff affordable in Ethiopia. This comes from the lesson learned from quinoa, originally a staple in the diets of many South Americans but now unaffordable by many locals. (I discussed this briefly in my post on fonio.) The Ethiopian government would like to make black, brown, and ivory teff varieties protected brands, much like Ethiopian coffees. The NY Times article also states that teff is high in protein and iron, has more calcium and vitamin C than “almost any other grain”, and much of its fiber is a resistant starch that might improve blood sugar levels.

Teff kernels cook up like a porridge, according to the websites I visited. I might get more use out of this grain if I buy the flour and incorporate it into breads. But let’s see first if I even like the taste!

The whole teff I purchased from Bob’s red mill is brown. And, it is about the size of poppy seeds.


Teff compared to medium grain brown rice.

teff and brown rice


1/4 cup of dry teff (50 grams) has 180 calories, 4 grams fiber, 7 grams protein, 10% daily calcium, 20 % iron, 10% vitamin B6, 6% thiamine, 10% zinc, and 25% magnesium. (Note that the NY Times article stated teff has a significant amount of vitamin C, but that claim is not supported by other nutrition sources.)

The glycemic index is reported as 74 (Teff: Nutrient Composition and Health Benefits by Kaleab Baye). (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.)

Teff is gluten-free, an important consideration for those on gluten free diets.

Teff is a whole grain.


water time simmering time standing notes
1 cup teff 4 cups 20 minutes about 10 minutes let stand until all liquid is absorbed

The above cooking time is for brown teff. Check the package instructions if you find one of the other varieties of teff.

I cooked 1/4 cup of Bob’s Red Mill brown teff and it yielded 3/4 cup cooked. The kernels never get real soggy, and when cooked, sort of have the texture of poppy seeds.

I liked the taste! Slightly sweet, definitely not bitter, a bit earthy, and pleasing. The texture – like poppy seeds – is unusual, but not necessarily bad. I think I’d like to try keff mixed with oatmeal and other grains as a breakfast cereal.

Cooked teff:

cooked teff


Teff is a natural for hot breakfast cereal, perhaps mixed with other grains for variety. I made the “Teff Porridge with Dates and Honey”, a recipe on the Bob’s Red Mill package, and it was delicious. For that recipe, the dry teff is toasted in the cooking pan and then the water is added. It’s simmered for 10 minutes, then the dates and honey and cloves (I used cinnamon) are stirred in and the mixture cooked until thick and yummy.

In Ethiopia, teff is used to make traditional injera bread. Injera bread is often used as a bowl for stews, kind of like a wrap or flatbread.

Links to recipes using teff are below. The first group are recipes for injera, and the next two groups are the Teff Company and Bob’s Red Mill sample recipes. Note that injera is made from teff flour. Indeed, at least of half of the recipes in all the links below call for teff flour.

Injera, or Ethiopian Flatbread (the linked sites might be explored for more general teff recipes)

The Teff Company

  • sweets and quick breads
  • stuffed peppers
  • African stews
  • mixed with roasted vegetables
  • lentil curry and vegetable stew
  • goat cheese and vegetable quiche
  • many more!

Bob’s Red Mill

  • Teff Stew with onions, garlic, spices, zucchini,yellow summer squash, and garbanzo beans (on the package)
  • Corn Quiche in Teff Crust
  • Injera bread
  • Ethiopian Lentil Stew
  • quick breads, cookies, puddings, cakes, waffles

teff package