Small millets-the current challenges

5 Sep 2022
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SME CORNER Expert column
Dr. Usha Dharmaraj, Senior Technical Officer(3), Department of Grain Science Technology, CSIR-CFTRI

Millets are known for their health benefits from time immemorial. Each of the millets has the unique nutritional and nutraceutical specialities. One can attribute the health benefits of the millets to their special biochemical constituents such as high dietary fiber content, presence of phytochemicals such as polyphenols, tocoferols, carotenoids etc. Millets are also good source of minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc etc. Emphasizing the nutritional significance of these grains, they are relabelled as ‘nutricereals’ and the year 2023 will be celebrated as ‘International year of millets’.

Small millets but for finger millet, contain husk as a non-edible entity and hence, dehusking the millet is one of the main and essential step in processing. Generally, the dehusking efficiency vary from 70 to 90% depending upon the type of the millet. Hence, separation of dehusked and husked millet is of foremost importance. Currently, no exclusive machinery exists for the separation of these two entities. There is a need to design/fabricate the separators for the bifurcating husked and deshuked millet.

In southern parts of India, millets are consumed just after dehusking, as brown rice. This unpolished millet grains do not show desirable culinary properties and exhibit a chewy texture because of the presence of bran and affect organoleptic properties. In northern parts of India, (mostly in Maharashtra), the millet grains are polished to a greater extent and hence the final product will be deprived of the most of the nutrients. There is a need to establish standards for polishing the millets to an optimum level based on the retention of the nutrients, culinary properties and sensory characteristics.

Millets such as pearl, foxtail and little millet contain a good amount of lipids which readily undergo rancidity due to lipase activity and thus show poor shelf life. There is a need to identify/establish/scale up suitable processing methods for millet to improve the shelf life. In spite of the traditional products, millets need to be processed suitably and used in the contemporary products to cater the needs of the target population in form of ready-to-eat/ ready-to-use products like snacks and savoury items.

The health benefits of the millets can be suitably exploited in the preparation of the several functional foods for target population with scientific studies to prove the efficacy. There is a demand for formulating RTE attractive, tasty and healthy products from all the millets. CSIR-CFTRI is working towards filling these gaps in millet processing.