The year 2023 has been declared the International Year of Millets by the United Nations General Assembly, recognizing the importance of these nutrient-dense grains in promoting food security, health, and sustainability. In India, the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) in Hyderabad is pioneering research to make India a global hub of millets. Their work includes improving cultivation methods, developing new varieties, and promoting the use of millets in popular foods like cookies, biryani, and beer.
Millets are a group of small-seeded grains that have been cultivated for thousands of years in India and other parts of the world. They are highly nutritious, rich in fiber, protein, and minerals, and are also gluten-free. Despite their health benefits, millets have been neglected in recent years in favor of more popular grains like rice and wheat. This has led to a decline in millet cultivation and consumption, which in turn has contributed to a loss of genetic diversity and cultural heritage.
Bringing back millets that were once integral to a traditional Indian diet, scientists at Indian Institute of Millets Research in Hyderabad have not just cracked all the science and market for the drought-resistant grain’s modern-day applications but also incubated over 300 startups in the last five years.
The institute, which comes under Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), has transferred technologies to commercially produce value-added food products from a wide range of millets – such as sorghum (jowar), finger millet (ragi), pearl millet (bajra), kodo millet (kodo), foxtail millet (kangani), proso millet (cheena), barnyard millet (sanwa), and little millet (sama).
The IIMR is working to reverse this trend by promoting the benefits of millets and developing new technologies for millet cultivation and processing. One of their key initiatives is to promote the use of millets in popular foods like cookies, biryani, and beer. By incorporating millets into these familiar dishes, the IIMR hopes to increase their appeal to a wider audience and help people realize that millets can be tasty as well as nutritious.
One of the challenges of using millets in processed foods is that they are difficult to work with compared to other grains. Millets have a low gluten content and a tendency to crumble, which can make them unsuitable for certain applications. To overcome this, the IIMR is developing new techniques for processing millets, such as extrusion and micronization, which can improve their functional properties and make them more versatile.
In addition to promoting millet consumption in India, the IIMR is also working to increase millet production and exports. India is the world’s largest producer of millets, but much of this production is consumed domestically. By promoting millets as a health food and developing new products, the IIMR hopes to increase demand for millets both within India and in other countries.
Overall, the IIMR’s research on millets is a promising step towards making India a global hub of these nutritious grains. By promoting their consumption and developing new technologies for cultivation and processing, the IIMR is helping to preserve India’s rich agricultural heritage and contribute to global food security and sustainability. As we celebrate the International Year of Millets, let us remember the importance of these small but mighty grains and support efforts to promote their cultivation and consumption.