Posts Tagged ‘millets’

A friend recently forwarded the following three really good questions about millets. They do help us better understand the cost of millet rice in the retail market.

  • On an average how much does the farmer receive per kg of millets? Is there an MSP for millets?

A typical millet farmer earns anywhere from ₹12 to ₹35/kg for millet grains based on the millet grown, the market, when the transaction is happening and whether they are selling it at farm gate or in the market. Farmers growing certified organic millets get anywhere from ₹25 to ₹40/kg.

MSP, or Minimum Support Price, is the lowest that a farmer shall be paid for a certain agricultural produce. These have been fixed/added to by state govts for the millets that are cultivated at a large scale in their respective states – sorghum in Maharashtra, finger millet in Karnataka, etc. But please note that MSP only applies to transactions at registered mandis. Given that almost 90% of farmers sell to intermediaries, and very likely at the farm gate very few farmers realize the MSP. And anyway, none of the small millets have a declared MSP.

  • Why do millets cost so much more than rice and wheat?

There are multiple reasons for the high cost of edible forms of millets as compared to that of paddy and wheat. I shall present the most significant ones in brief. Please note that many of these reasons are intertwined and for simplicity and significance, we treat them as separate reasons. So as one can expect these are subjective; there are multiple ways to look at these issues and what I am laying out here is one such.

The primary determinant to the relatively higher price of millet rices and other staple forms is the weak supply chain. A huge amount of work has gone into developing the paddy rice and wheat supply chains – from on farm production support to farm gate processes to infrastructure support for smoother and efficient trading to subsidies and support for processing the grains into edible forms to monetization of the by products to reaching the processed edible forms of paddy rice and wheat to customers. Millets, unfortunately, are traveling through their value chain with very little support and currently is a fairly inefficient system. This weak supply chain increases the cost at different stages, the costs accumulate and get passed on to the customer. Some of the margins and buffering by the different players in the value chain is justifiable. But many do use this as an

Barnyard millet rice - two different quality samples

Barnyard millet rice – two different quality samples

excuse, feeding their greed and deceiving customers.

There are different products available in the market place – the spread in quality is fairly broad, but the spread in prices are not. Typically, consumer awareness about the quality and pricing of the products helps in keeping a check on the prices and weeding out the inefficient and greedy players. Unfortunately, consumer side awareness of millets and ways to identify their quality is very low. This has allowed and sustained many inferior products being priced much higher than what they are worth. Better informed customers (and traders) can effectively even the playing field for everyone’s benefit. We have quite a bit of information on this site, the Mera Terah Run 2016 – Miles for Millets campaign site and on my personal blog. (Yes, soon we will be aggregating all this into a single site!) You, dear reader, in visiting this site are one among those who have the opportunity to influence how much does good quality millet rice cost in the retail market. Please educate yourself about the various aspects of millets, talk to the retailers, vendors and share the links to these articles on millets, their quality, their processing, benefits, etc. And do demand better quality and lower prices.

  • If you price them so high, the farmers will cultivate them only for the market and not consume any. Does this not defeat the purpose ?

True. High prices do make even food crops become cash crops in that most farmers, given their near  distress situation, would sell it in the market place rather than keep part of their harvest for eating at home.

But do note two points here: (i) individual players in the market place do not decide on the price of a product and (ii) not every player in the marketplace is working to benefit the farmer.

As mentioned earlier, in pursuing a solution in the current paradigm of economics of scale, the market place is going for larger and larger small millet processing units, aggregating grains from further and further distances. In the process, compromising to go for polished millet rices that are nutritionally far inferior to what small scale processing can deliver. This consolidation on the one hand is actually depriving consumers of the nutrition that whole grain unpolished millet rices offer. On the other, this move towards aggregation and large scale processing makes the edible forms of millets even less accessible than they already are to the producers. The solution is to develop large numbers of distributed, close to producer, small scale processing units that can benefit both the producers and the consumers.

Some of us who are motivated to work towards making safe and nutritious foods affordable for the consumer are equally conscious of and work towards making these foods accessible to the producers, i.e. farmers and farm labourers too. One of the primary necessities for this to be realized is small scale reliable small millet processing units close to the producers. More on the advantages and disadvantages of the scale of processing in another post in the not too distant future.

So to wrapping this up, while high prices is a deterrent to producers bringing millets back into their diets, access to reliable processing is also a significantly hurdle. With conscious efforts and support of the community, we believe we can make a difference. One such example is the Mera Terah Run 2016 – Miles For Millets.

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There is an old wisdom shared in almost all languages of the subcontinent – that all seeds are grains but not all grains can qualify to be used as seeds. Recently grains of 6 different millet varieties were processed at the Earth360 facility in Kadiri, A.P.. While part of the size based selection is done using a grader, the larger & heavier grains (the images in the left hand side column) are selected for seeds using multiple passes in a destoner. The remaining material (the images in the right hand side column) shall be collected and used for other purposes, including for processing to human edible forms.

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A brown top millet (Brachiaria Ramosa) plant. More than 30 tillers from a single seed. Observed in a millet farm just outside Kadiri, AP in Oct. 2015.

A brown top millet (Brachiaria Ramosa) plant. More than 30 tillers from a single seed. Observed in a millet farm just outside Kadiri, AP in Oct. 2015.

Millets are special.

There are many different grains, at least 10 of them, that are broadly classified as millets. Millets are rain fed crops that have been cultivated for many a millennia in pretty much all parts of the world. If you are interested to read more about pre-historic food grains and our attempts to understand and reconstruct their movements back then, do check out this amazing resource from Cambridge University.

As one would expect of something done by generation after generation in many many places – there are thousands of varieties of each millet. Think about it, from an evolutionary perspective, each of these traditional local varieties have survived the floods, the droughts, the hail storms, and what not. Their resilience is also evident in how preferred a food source millets are to birds, grazing animals and many other players in the ecosystem. Each variety is a specialization to the local climate, soil and culture.

And most importantly, to our discussion here and to the broader appreciation of ‘the other’, each variation has its own bouquet of flavors, size and cooking characteristic. Grains from the same farm, cultivated by the same farmer will have a small variation from the normal based on whether the rains were normal, deficient or excess that year.

Given that most millets are short duration crops, and the period with grains on the plant (aka reproductive stage) is a fraction of that time, I would expect that the degree of influence that shortened day light would have on the quality of the grain would be significant and appreciable.

No wonder then that the foxtail millet grown on a east facing hill slope will cook and taste different from the foxtail millet harvested of the same seed but grown in the plains a few kms away.

So thus I rest my case that Millets are the new wine.

PS: I was inspired to write this after cooking and eating the heavenly kodo millet rice that from Kaulige Foods yesterday. Unfortunately, I did not take any photographs before it disappeared off our plates. I shall post about it in a few days when we cook this the next time.

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Millets have a higher satiety index when compared to white paddy rice, i.e. one feels full and sated after eating a smaller quantity of millets as compared to white paddy rice. As one would expect the satiety index is not a very objective quantity. It is a statistical construct to quantify a subjective thing and hence should typically be considered as a range or as a comparative measure rather than an indicator of an absolute characteristic.

The satiety index for millets, generally speaking, is about 130 to 150% as that of white paddy rice. i.e. one would need to eat 1.3 to 1.5 cups of cooked white paddy rice to feel as full as one does after eating 1 cup of cooked millet rice. Little millet rice would be on the lower bound of this range while finger millet or pearl millet would be at the upper bound of this range.

With this in mind, let us now get down to planning a meal in which we will prepare a millet rice instead of white paddy rice.

Remember that white paddy rice typically needs 2 cups of water for each cup of dry rice measure, while 1 cup of a dry millet rice needs about 3 cups of water to cook. For some millet varieties this can be even up to 3.5 to 4 cups of water. The best way to identify the exact proportion is to prepare a small quantity and verify.

Now lets say that a family usually cooks 1 cup of white paddy rice for their meal. So this would mean that typically eat about 3 cups of cooked white paddy rice. Applying the satiety index proportion of 130%, we get 3/1.3 i.e. approximately 2.3 cups of cooked millet rice. Using a 1:3 proportion of water, we would need to use about 0.6 cups of dry millet rice and 1.8 cups of water.

Hope this helps ! Feel free to point out errors, ask clarifications …

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Proportion of water
In general good unpolished millet rice when cooked with

  • 1:2.5 times of water results in a dry and fluffy consistency
  • 1:3.5 times of water results in a wet and fluffy consistency

Trial and error is the best way to confirm how much water is needed. Try cooking a small quantity and see whether result is satisfactory. Make appropriate corrections before arriving at the proportion that works best for you and your family. Please note that even for a particular millet, the preferred proportion might change on the source of the millet rice, especially the variety. So when starting a new packet of millets, play it safe and do a trial.

Open cooking millet rice

  • use a wide based utensil
  • bring water to a boil
  • add the washed rice and
  • open cook for about 15 minutes on a low flame
  • close the lid partially, it will boil over if you close it fully
  • once cooked, turn off the flame, sprinkle a hand full of water, close the lid tight and let sit for about 30 min.
  • Fluff up the cooked rice after it has cooled down a bit
  • Please note that mixing or using a ladle in a just cooked, hot millet rice will tend to mash it and give it a mushy consistency.

Millet rice using a pressure cooker

  • Millet rice grains are smaller (and lighter) than paddy rice grains and they
    • do not need as much pressure to cook
    • get lifted off the container and splatter all over the inside of the cooker much easier than paddy rice grains
  • The thickness of the layer with grains that get cooked to a mushy consistency can be minimized by using a pressure pan with a wider base rather than a tall cooker
  • If using a (good and properly working) pressure cooker, simmer the flame once the pressure builds up close to the threshold level (the ‘weight’ begins to quiver/spin/dance, getting ready to lift up and vent steam/blow whistle)
  • after a couple of minutes, turn off the flame; yes, the whistle does not need to blow.You will need to keep it on a low flame for a longer duration for Foxtail, Kodo and Proso millets. Little and Barnyard millets cook much quicker.
  • put a cloth on top of the cooker (to reduce the rate at which it cools down) ! please make sure the flame has been turned off !
  • Kodo Millet rice cooked in a pressure pan with 1:4 water.

    Kodo Millet rice cooked in a pressure pan with 1:4 water

  • once the pressure has dissipated, open the cooker, sprinkle a fist full of water, close the lid tight and let sit for about 30 min.
  • fluff up the cooked rice after it has cooled down a bit
  • Please note that mixing or using a ladle in a just cooked, hot millet rice will tend to mash it and give it a mushy consistency.

Unlike paddy rice, all millet rice absorb water even after they are cooked. So cook your millet rice say an hour in advance. The step mentioned above – to sprinkle a handful of water and letting it sit with the lid closed tight, helps quench at least part of its thirst giving the cooked rice a softer texture.

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