Millets: The Nutrient Dense Grains Poised to Revolutionize the Food Industry
Millets, the ancient grains that have been a staple in traditional diets for centuries, are making a comeback in the global food scene. These tiny grains, which are gluten-free and packed with nutrients, have the potential to revolutionize the food industry. In this interview with Dr. Mahendran Radhakrishnan, Associate Professor and Head of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology Promotion (CENTP) at NIFTEM-Thanjavur, India, we explore the role of technology, opportunities, and challenges in promoting millets in the food industry.
Dr. Radhakrishnan, who has published numerous articles on sustainable food systems and has been involved in research related to millets and their potential as a food source and nutrition, sheds light on the significance of non-thermal food processing technologies in developing millet-based products. He specifically focuses on the use of cold plasma processing, which has emerged as a promising tool for improving food safety, quality, and shelf life, while reducing the use of chemicals and preservatives.
The food industry is constantly on the lookout for new and innovative ingredients, and millets are poised to be the next big thing. These gluten-free grains are highly nutritious, with a low glycemic index, making them a promising ingredient for products that cater to health-conscious consumers. Additionally, millets are drought-resistant and require fewer inputs than other crops, making them a sustainable alternative to resource-intensive conventional grains. The unique properties of millets, such as their texture, flavour, and nutritional profile, present a vast opportunity for food technologists to get creative and develop value-added products that will appeal to a wide range of consumers.
However, promoting millets in the food industry is not without its challenges. From consumer awareness to processing and distribution, there are several hurdles that need to be overcome.
Consumer awareness is a major challenge, as millets are not commonly consumed in many parts of the world and consumers may not be aware of their nutritional benefits or how to use them in cooking. Processing is another challenge, as millets are small and hard grains that can be difficult to process, and their flour lacks the gluten that provides elasticity to dough, making it challenging to create baked products like bread and cakes. Distribution and market access can also be limited, making it difficult to scale up production and promote their use in the food industry.Despite these challenges, the opportunities for growth in the use of millets in the food industry are immense.
The United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets to raise awareness of their nutritional benefits, promote sustainable farming practices, and increase their use in the food industry. Platforms like MILLETS INDIA play a significant role in discovering new and innovative technologies, fostering community connections, and creating business opportunities.
To realize the full potential of millets, a concerted effort from all stakeholders is essential. The Government of India has been taking various measures to promote millet farming, processing, and marketing. For instance, under the National Food Security Mission, the government has included millets as a priority crop, and farmers are provided with subsidies for inputs, such as seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. Additionally, under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), farmers growing millets are provided with crop insurance cover against crop failure due to natural calamities, pests, and diseases.
The government has also established several Millet Processing and Value Addition Centers across the country, which provide technical and financial assistance to farmers and entrepreneurs for the processing and marketing of millets. Furthermore, the government has launched the “One District One Product” (ODOP) scheme, which aims to promote local entrepreneurship, including millet-based products, by providing financial assistance, market linkages, and technical support. The government has also included millets in the Public Distribution System (PDS), providing a
regular market for farmers and promoting their consumption by the masses.
The processing of millets also faces several supply chain challenges, including a fragmented supply chain, inadequate infrastructure, limited market access, inconsistent quality, lack of value addition, and limited awareness.
Addressing these challenges requires infrastructure investment, including processing mills, storage facilities, and transportation networks. Collaboration among stakeholders, including farmers, traders, processors, and policymakers, can help to create a more efficient and sustainable millet supply chain.
The government has been taking several initiatives to promote millet farming, processing, and marketing, and the inclusion of millets in various schemes and programs is a positive step towards increasing their cultivation and consumption. The sustained effort of all stakeholders, along with government support, can make millets a significant contributor to food security and rural livelihoods.
Millets are the nutrient-dense and gluten-free grains that have the potential to revolutionize the food industry. With the help of technology and the support of various stakeholders, the opportunities for growth in the use of millets in the food industry are immense.
As the world gears up for the International Year of Millets in 2023, it’s high time to unlock the potential of these tiny grains and make them a staple in the global food system. So, let’s raise a glass of millet-based beverage to the little grains with big potential!