BEIJING – Millet grains contain such health-promoting components as fiber, minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals, but novel processing and preparation methods are needed to enhance the bioavailability of the micronutrients and to improve the quality of millet diets, according to a review appearing on-line in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.

The review involved researchers from China Agricultural University in Beijing and Assiut University in Egypt.

According to the review, the potential health benefits of eating millet include preventing cancer and cardiovascular diseases; reducing tumor incidence; lowering blood pressure, risk of heart disease, cholesterol and rate of fat absorption; delaying gastric emptying; and supplying gastrointestinal bulk. Millet grains have the potential to be useful in preventing diabetes and for treatment of diabetics, according to the review.

“Research also is needed to determine the bioavailability, metabolism and health contribution of millet grains and their different fractions in humans,” the researchers said.

Annual world production of millet grains is 762,712 tonnes with India the top producer at 334,500 tonnes. Compared to other cereal grains, millet has shown resistance to pests, diseases and drought while having a short growing season.

Globally, households at the rural level in developing countries mainly use millet grains, according to the review.

“This is due to a lack of innovative millet processing technologies to provide easy-to-handle, ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat and safe products and meals at a commercial scale that can be used to feed large populations in urban areas,” the researchers said.

A need exists for innovative processing technologies for decortication (removing the cover), milling and other preparation treatments. A need also exists for a consistent supply of high-quality millet grains for industrial uses.

Millet comes in different forms, with each one having specific nutritional qualities. For example, pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is rich in resistant starch, soluble fiber, insoluble fiber, minerals and antioxidants.

Amino acid profiles differ, too. Finger millet (Eleusine coracana) contains more lysine, threonine and valine than other millets. Consumption of diets based on finger millet has resulted in significantly lower plasma glucose levels. The amino acid pattern of foxtail millet (Setaria italic), which is rich in lysine, suggests possible use as a supplementary protein source to most cereals.

In certain geographic areas people have incorporated millet into foods and beverages. It is used in porridges in Africa. In Nigeria, kunu is a nutritious beverage.

Potential exists for the use of millet in other food products. Using millet in ready-to-eat breakfast cereals seems feasible, according to the review. White proso millet (Penicum miliaceum) and foxtail millet have been used in flaked whole grain cereals. Incorporation into expanded cereals also is possible, but popped foxtail millet has significantly lower content of crude fat and crude fiber than raw millet while the carbohydrate and energy values are significantly higher.

Incorporating millet into bread or noodles may be more of a challenge since millet has no gluten. Millet may be used to replace a percentage of wheat flour in such applications.

Tom Vierhile, innovations insight director for Datamonitor, spoke about millet in a presentation at SupplySide West on Nov. 7, 2012, in Las Vegas. He said from Jan. 1, 2010, to Sept. 30, 2012, 453 new product launches worldwide had millet in them. Millet is 15% protein and is high in fiber, the B vitamins and magnesium, he said. Consumption of millet dates to 5,000 B.C.

This year The Wendy’s Co., Dublin, Ohio, launched flatbread grilled chicken sandwiches that include millet in the five-grain flatbread along with flax seeds, cracked wheat, rolled oats and sesame seeds.