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South Indian Millets: How Ancient Grains Are Becoming Trendy Again


  • Millets are certainly not just a temporary fad
  • They are great sources of iron and fiber
  • Their low glycaemic index that makes them more suitable for diabetics

South Indian Millets: How Ancient Grains Are Becoming Trendy Again
South Indian Millets

    I've always viewed health food and super food trends with a smidgen of doubt. Many of these trends go around in circles just like fashion trends and I've always veered away from drastically altering my diet based on the flavour of the season. My curiosity around millets was sparked by Michael Pollan's ‘In Defense of Food'. Pollan speaks at length about how traditional food habits have been eclipsed by processed food and the one thing all our diets ultimately succumb to – convenience.

It's probably the same reason why millets that have been intrinsic to South Indian diets were pushed out of the spotlight. My maternal grandmother always looked around for healthy alternatives and I still remember her obsession with finger millet (Ragi). It's one of the few millets that has remained a mainstream food in many parts of interior Karnataka. From Ragi Rotis to Ragi Mudde, ragi is a mainstay in many homes in Karnataka and not a new health food obsession. Most modern dieticians concur that millets are a healthy substitute to rice and wheat largely due to their nutritional values and low glycaemic index that makes them more suitable for diabetics.
During the 2010s, I've been amazed at the proliferation of millets across the big cities in South India. It started in the gourmet and organic stores but has started making an appearance even at the tiniest neighbourhood provision stores. It's also comforting to see many mainstream South Indian vegetarian restaurants offering millet versions of dosas, idlis and upmas at least few times a week. While food experts are pleased to see the return of millets, they are equally concerned at the emergence of polished varieties of millets that take away some of the key health benefits. Here's a quick guide to some of the best known South Indian millets. Millets are certainly not just a temporary fad; they were part of many diets in India and they're back where they probably belong:

Barnyard Millet (Kuthiravali in Tamil / Odalu in Telugu / Oodhalu in Kannada / Kavadapullu in Malayalam / Sanwa in Hindi): It is a high source of iron and fibre. This widely available variety is suitable for upmas or Pongal.
Barnyard Millets, Kuthiravali, Oodalu
Barnyard Millets

Foxtail Millet (Tamil: Thinai / Telugu: Kirra / Malayalam: Thinna / Kannada: Navane/ Hindi: Kangni): Rich in minerals and vitamins and lends a lovely texture to upma or Pongal.
Foxtail Millets, Thinai, Korralu
Foxtail Millets

Finger Millet (Ragi in Kannada / Kelvaragu in Tamil / Ragulu in Telugu / Koovarugu in Malayalam/ Mundua in Hindi): A staple in many parts of Karnataka where it's common to find Ragi Dosas or Rotis. Ragi Porridge is a great substitute for oats or cereal at breakfast.
Finger Millet, Ragi
Ragi Millet Flakes

Little Millet (Samai in Tamil / Same in Kannada / Sama in Telugu and Chama in Malayalam/ Kutki in Hindi): Ideal for crispy dosas or even idlis, this millet is also loaded with iron and fibre.
Little Millet, Samalu, Samai
Little Millet
Pearl Millet (Kannada: Sajje / Telugu: Sajjalu / Tamil: Kambu / Malayalam: Kambam / Bajra: Hindi): A high source of proteins, this millet works well for dosas.
Pearl Millet, Bajra, Sajjalu, Kambu
Pearl Millet Flakes

Proso Millet (Tamil & Malayalam: Panivaragu / Kannada: Baragu / Telugu: Varigulu / Barri: Hindi): A great substitute for rice in a risotto or a traditional Bisi Bele Bath, you could also cook this millet along with your rice as a great health option with sambar or rasam. 

Recipe: Millet Bisi Bele Bath Recipe
Recipe Courtesy: Chef Saroja B.B., Rasa Dhatu Restaurant, Mysuru

There's probably no better place to sample a Bisi Bele Bath than Mysuru. I was truly enamoured by   this restaurant's healthy spin on the conventional Bisi Bele Bath
bisi bili bath 620

For the Bisi Bele Bath Masala Powder(You could also buy a ‘ready to use' powder):


1/4 kg coriander seeds (dhania)
50 gm dry red chilli (guntur – for the pungent flavour)
50 gm dry red chilli (byadagi – for colour)
10 gm cinnamon
10 gm clove
4 piece star anise
4 piece cardamom
50 gm poppy seeds
100 gm black gram dal (urad dal)
100 gm bengal gram dal (chana dal)
4 piece kapok buds (marathi moggu)

Method: Dry roast the above ingredients and powder it using a mixer. This can be stored for several days.

Bisi Bele Bath Recipe

1 cup toor dal
1 cup proso millet or foxtail millet
1 cup finely chopped vegetables (beans, carrot, kohlrabi, peas, tomato)
20 gm jaggery powder
Few sambar onions (shallots)
To taste dry coconut grated
To taste salt
1 tsp turmeric powder
6 cups water
3 Tbsp oil


1. Add all the above ingredients into a pressure cooker and cook for three whistles. 

2. Allow the cooker to cool until it can be opened. 

3. Open the cooker, add 5 tablespoons of the masala powder.

4. Mix and cook for 10 minutes. 

5. Remove the Bisi Bele Bath into a serving bowl. 

Seasoning Ingredients (to taste): 


Curry Leaves 



Dry Red Chillies 


Chopped Onions 

Chopped Capsicum

Seasoning Instructions: Heat oil in a seasoning pan, add the seasoning ingredients, roast until the mustard begins to sputter, pour the seasoning mixture onto the Bisi bele bath. It is now ready to be served hot. 


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What are Millets? Types of millets - and its health benefits

What are millets?

Millets are small-seeded grasses that are hardy and grow well in dry zones as rain-fed crops, under marginal conditions of soil fertility and moisture. Millets are one of the oldest foods known to humans and possibly the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purposes.

Each millets are three to five times nutritionally superior to rice and wheat in terms of proteins, minerals and vitamins. Millets are rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, also gluten-free and has low-GI (Glycemic index) thus millets are suitable for people allergies/intolerance of wheat. Also for diabetic, weight loss millets are excellent.

Millets are also unique due to their short growing season. They can develop from planted seeds to mature, ready to harvest plants in as little as 65 days. This is important in heavily populated areas. When properly stored, whole millets will keep for two or more years.

For thousands of years, millets has been growing such a…