Published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety a review found that despite its potential, millet is an ancient grain that remains relatively unused by industry on a commercial scale.
“Utilization of millet grains as food is still mainly limited to populations in rural areas at the household level,” the researchers wrote.
“This is due to the lack of innovative millet processing technologies to provide easy-to-handle, ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat, and safe products and meals at a commercial scale that can be used to feed large populations in urban areas.”
The challenge industry faces is up-scaling processing to a commercial level, the review found.
Most of the preparation and processing of millet – fermentation, decortication, milling, and sieving – continues to be done manually and at a small-scale household level. Innovative, convenient and motorized processes must be developed to upscale this, researchers said.
Another challenge faced at a processing level is maintaining the nutritional properties of the grain.
Millet grains contain many health-promoting components, it said, such as dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals. It also has several potential health benefits, including anti-ageing, risk reduction of cancer and cardiovascular disease and for use in diabetic products.
While the review concluded that fermentation, soaking/malting and fortification were found to improve the edible and nutritional characteristics of millet, it said there still needs to be improvements made. “Novel processing and preparation methods are needed to enhance the bioavailability of the micronutrients and to improve the quality of millet diets,” researchers wrote.
They said soaking and cooking of millet grains can be used as pretreatment options for millet but only under optimized conditions.
Blends the most ‘convenient’ option
Using millet grains directly in baked goods can be difficult given the gluten-free nature of the grain, the researchers said. Use of the grain in a blend could be an easier option, they said.
“Blending of millet grains, or their milling fractions combined with other treatment, is one of the most convenient techniques to produce food products with high nutritional and functional quality and to promote their utilization in a large range of food products,” the researchers said.
Popping and puffing the grains is also a viable option, they added. “The use of novel technology with optimization of puffing conditions, popping technique can be used as a strategy or in combination with other pretreatments to produce ready-to-eat expands from millet grains at a commercial scale, thus promoting utilization of millet grains.”
Investment in further research needed
The review concluded that further research to determine the bioavailability, metabolism and health contribution of millet grains and their different fractions in humans is needed.
It added that the grain needs to be more broadly promoted in urban areas, adding that this would have a positive impact on farmers.
Source: Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety
May 2013, Vol 12, Issue 3, pages 281-295. Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1111/1541-4337.12012
“Millet Grains: Nutritional Quality, Processing, and Potential Health Benefits”
Authors: ASM. Saleh, Q. Zhang, J. Chen, Q. Shen