The History of Millet

The History of Millet

The History of Millet

The History of Millet

Millets, a group of small-seeded grasses, are grown in many countries around the world. They are cereal grains and are widely used by humans as food. They are also used as fodder. The cultivation of these grains in the Korean Peninsula can be traced back to 3,500 to 2,000 BC, the Middle Jeulmun Pottery Period. There is a mention of millets in the Yajurveda texts in India, specifically about foxtail (priyangava), barnyard (aanava), and black finger (shyaamaka) millets. This indicates that millet was widely consumed during the Bronze Age in India, around 4,500 BC.

Records of Chinese culture dating back to 2,000 to 1,000 BC mention foxtail and proso millets. Foxtail millet is assumed to have its origins in southern Asia and it is the oldest millet to be cultivated. Foxtail millet is also referred to as German or Italian millet. Slowly, its culture spread westward to Europe. In the U.S., foxtail was rarely grown during colonial times. Though this millet was widely cultivated after 1850 in the Great Plains, the acreage planted decreased when Sudan grass was introduced.

Proso millet was brought to the United States by the Europeans in the 18th century. Millet cultivation was introduced in the Dakotas and was grown over a large area of land after the initial experimentation along the eastern seaboard.

Today, proso millet is widely cultivated in Russia, mainland China, Western Europe, and India. Foxtail millet is primarily cultivated in eastern Asia. Both millets are widely grown in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Colorado in the United States.

Barnyard millet (or Japanese millet) is grown in Japan, Australia, and several other Asian countries. In the U.S., it is primarily grown as forage. Browntop millet, native to India and brought to the U.S. in 1915, is grown in the South Eastern parts for hay/pasture and bird/quail feed plantings on game reserves. Pearl millet (or cattail millet), originally from the savannah in Africa, has been grown ever since prehistoric times. It is extensively grown in Asia, Africa, the Near East regions, and India as a food grain. Pearl millet was introduced to the Americans quite early, but was rarely cultivated until 1875 as an alternative to sudangrass and as a forage crop.

The Indian Scenario

In India, millet was a major grain and a staple food item until about 50 years ago. Farmers started growing millets as modern urban consumers started looking down upon these grains. Urban consumers classified them as "coarse grains" and something that their ancestors used to consume when they lived in villages. Modern people preferred using more refined grains to coarse millet grains.

Industrialization and the influence of western culture have greatly changed the lifestyles of people in India and other countries around the world. Food habits have changed drastically and people have started using more processed foods. These changes, along with government policies favouring rice and wheat, led to a steep fall in the production and consumption of millets. Before the Green Revolution, approximately 40 percent of all grains cultivated in India were millets. However, rice production doubled and wheat production tripled following the Green Revolution.

However, on realizing that refined grains and processed foods are devoid of any nutritional value and are majorly responsible for modern-day lifestyle diseases, people have started using millets as alternatives to rice and wheat. The popularity of millets is growing day by day, mainly due to their nutritional value.

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