Millets Are the Sustainable Super Grains We Should All Be Eating

It's officially the year of the millet, according to the United Nations. Learn how to use this group of nutri-cereals—which includes sorghum, millet, teff, and fonio—in your cooking.

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Millet in spoon above bowl

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The United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets, so there’s a good chance you’ll be seeing more millet recipes and spotting millets on restaurant menus. Why have millets earned their own year? According to a statement by the UN, millets have been a key component of indigenous culture for centuries. They are traditionally eaten in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where independent farmers continue to grow the grain. What’s more, millets can thrive in droughts and heat, making their cultivation important for local communities. 

By celebrating these grains, the UN hopes to help people all over the world learn about the impressive health benefits of eating millets. This will also highlight the cultural and nutritional significance of the grain, and hopefully encourage global production in the areas that need it the most. We're fans of millets and hope you will be too when you learn why millets are so good for you, along with tips for cooking and eating the grain at home.

What Are Millets?

Millets are the seeds of cereal grasses. Traditionally they are eaten as whole grains in many parts of the world, including Africa, China, and India. There are myriad types of millets, some of the most common varieties—ones you can find in supermarkets and natural food stores—include sorghum, pearl millet, teff, and fonio.

The Health Benefits of Millets 

Known as nutri-cereals, due to their high nutrient content, millets are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. The edible seeds are packed with plant-based proteins, complex carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants, and “good” fats. They’re also brimming with essential vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc.

The fiber in millets is especially noteworthy, as it includes both soluble and insoluble fiber, according to Dana Amaya, RD, a registered dietitian at Lenox Hill Hospital. (Soluble fiber dissolves in water, while insoluble fiber does not.) Soluble fiber is key for heart health, as it can help reduce high blood cholesterol, a major risk factor for heart disease. Meanwhile, insoluble fiber acts as a prebiotic in the body, according to Amaya. Prebiotics “feed” and nourish good bacteria in the digestive system, ultimately  supporting overall gut health

In the antioxidant department, millets continue to steal the show. “Millets contain phytic acid, tannins, and phenols,” says Amaya. Antioxidants protect cells from free radicals and oxidative stress, potentially reducing the risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

How to Cook Millets at Home

The steps for cooking millet are similar to those for rice. The grain can be cooked on the stovetop or in a rice cooker, according to McKenzie Johnson, chef instructor at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. As with rice, the first step is to wash the millet; this will remove any dirt and debris, says Johnson. An optional step is to toast the millet in a dry pot (before adding liquid) or in a tablespoon of oil, says Ann Ziata, chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. This will enhance the ingredient’s natural nutty flavor. Millet is also prone to stickiness, but toasting helps to keep the grains separate, ensuring a fluffy dish, according to the experts at Colorado State University.

Stovetop Method

  1. Combine 1 cup millet with 2 cups water or broth in a pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pot.
  2. Cook for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the millet is tender. Fluff the millet with a fork and serve.

Rice Cooker Method

  1. Add 1 cup millet, 1 3/4 cups water, and a pinch of salt to the rice cooker. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the water is absorbed.
  2. Let sit for five minutes before fluffing with a fork and serving. 

How to Eat Millet

Serve millet as you would other grains. Toss it in salads, pair it with your favorite protein, or stir it in a hearty soup. Beyond these usual grain applications, millet can also be baked or fried into croquettes or veggie burgers, says Ziata. The millet will help bind ingredients together, especially if you skip the toasting part and allow the grains to become sticky.

Try millet flour in baking for gluten-free goods, suggests Johnson—or, if you’re craving a slightly nutty flavor, sprinkle it in a biscuit or quickbread batter, says Ziata. Millet can also be used to make savory and sweet porridges, like our millet breakfast porridge with pineapple, coconut, and flaxseed.

If you want to use the grain in your own recipes, keep in mind that millet has a mild, slightly nutty flavor, says Johnson. This nuttiness pairs especially well with warm spices (think cumin and coriander), lemon juice and zest, and fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, and basil. Additionally, millet is an ideal partner for dried fruits (like raisins or dried apricots), roasted vegetables (like sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets), and nuts and seeds (like almonds or sunflower seeds), says Johnson.


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Martha Stewart is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. Saini S, Saxena S, Samtiya M, Puniya M, Dhewa T. Potential of underutilized millets as Nutri-cereal: an overview. J Food Sci Technol. 2021;58(12):4465-4477.

  2. Sharifi-Rad M, Anil Kumar NV, Zucca P, et al. Lifestyle, oxidative stress, and antioxidants: back and forth in the pathophysiology of chronic diseases. Front Physiol. 2020;11.

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