Millet—Not Just for the Birds

Millet—Not Just for the Birds


by Cathe Olson

If you’re stuck in a grain rut of wheat and rice and want to try something new, how about millet? It’s a whole grain that is gluten-free, easily digestible, and one of the least allergenic grains. Nutrition-wise, it’s a great choice as well. Millet is close to a complete protein, rich in fiber, and packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s also a good source of phytonutrients and antioxidants that can help prevent cancer and other diseases. 

Millet is thought to have originated in North Africa. Botanically, it’s older than rice, barley, wheat, or rye. It was used in ancient Egypt to make bread and was a staple in China before rice was introduced. Millet was noted in the Bible as an ingredient for unleavened bread. It was used throughout the Roman Empire into the Middle Ages before it was replaced by modern wheat. In North American, millet is used mostly for birdseed but as wheat and gluten allergies continue to rise, millet is being rediscovered and appreciated. 

Millet is a tiny, round, yellow seed that is similar is similar in texture to couscous when cooked. However, unlike couscous, it is a whole grain. One of the nice things about millet is that it cooks as fast as white rice – in about 20 minutes – so you can have a whole grain for dinner without waiting the 40 minutes it takes to cook brown rice. Toasting millet in a dry pan before adding water brings out the nutty flavor and helps to keep the grains separate. 

If you use more water, millet can be cooked to a wonderful creamy porridge – great for breakfast or for infants. Millet is also an excellent choice while pregnant – some claim it can help reduce morning sickness. Raw millet can be added to bread and other baked goods to add a delicious crunch. 

Here are a few recipes to get you started in the wonderful world of millet. 

Basic Millet

  • 1 cup millet
  • 3 cups water
  • Pinch sea salt

Toast millet in dry pan over medium-low heat until grains begin to pop and give off a nutty aroma. Add water and sea salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 25 minutes, or until water is absorbed. 

Makes 6 servings 

Note: Leftover millet makes a quick breakfast. Heat with nondairy milk (vanilla rice milk is yummy) and a little cinnamon. Stir in dried fruit, nuts, and/or a little sweetener if desired. 

Millet Porridge
My daughters love this porridge for breakfast. I put it on to simmer when I first get up and by the time we are all washed and dressed, it’s ready to eat. 

Pour 1 cup millet, a pinch of salt, and 4 cups water in pan. Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Serves 4 

Millet Crunch Granola
This healthy granola makes a great topping for fruit or yogurt. You can even eat it alone for a crunchy snack.

  • 2 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup uncooked millet
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup, agave nectar, or maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseeds
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 250ºF. Place rolled oats and millet on baking sheet. Roast for 1 hour. In small pan, melt sweetener, tahini, and water together over low heat. In large bowl, toss oats, millet, and seeds with tahini mixture until completely coated. Spread on unoiled baking sheet, and bake for 30 minutes or until crisp. Stir once or twice during baking. Cool completely. Store in airtight container. 

Makes 8 servings 

Variation: Add 1/2 to 1 cup dried fruit to cooked granola and store as directed. Do not bake fruit. 

Millet Mashies
This is a delicious alternative to mashed potatoes.

  • 1 1/2 cups millet
  • 4 cups cauliflower florets
  • 5 cups water
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons miso
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley (optional)

Place millet, cauliflower, water, and sea salt in a pan. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Stir in miso. Puree millet mixture in food processor, using additional water or milk to get a mashed potato consistency. (Food mill can also be used.) Season with black pepper if desired. Sprinkle with parsley. 

Makes 8 servings 

Recipes from The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbookcopyright © 2005 by Cathe Olson and Simply Natural Baby Foodcopyright © 2003 by Cathe Olson 


The World’s Healthiest Foods 

Whole Foods Companion – Revised and Expanded Edition by Dianne Onstad. (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004.) 

Cathe Olson

Author: Cathe Olson

Cathe Olson is the author of the new nondairy ice cream cookbook: Lick It! Cream Dreamy Vegan Ice Cream Your Mouth Will Love, as well as Simply Natural Baby Food and The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook. Visit Cathe’s blog at

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