Millet tots, ancient grains
An ancient grain version of tots for the retail sector is made with millet.

Versatile millet

It is likely a matter of time before more ancient grains go mainstream. One with potential is millet. Grown domestically, millet is a tiny, gluten-free, seed-like grain that is easy to digest. It has a bland, neutral flavor and cooks like rice.

“Millet is one of the most sustainable crops,” said Lindsey Cunningham, co-founder and chief operating officer of RollinGreens Food, Boulder, Colo. “It grows great here in Colorado, and has one of the lowest water requirements of any grain crop. We believe it is one of the most underappreciated grains and will really gain the notoriety it deserves in the next five to 10 years.”

Since 2015, the company has been producing Millet Tots for the retail sector. The frozen tots are a source of protein, vitamins and minerals, unlike their traditional potato counterpart.

“They are our version of potato tots but made with an organic ancient whole grain,” Ms. Cunningham said. “Millet on its own has a slight bitter taste, but it absorbs flavor. It’s a great canvas for ingredients such as garlic, basil and chilies.”

Food writer Maria Speck, author of “Simply ancient grains” and “Ancient grains for modern meals,” agreed that millet absorbs flavor. “You can cook it in a variety of liquids, everything from milk to broth,” she said. “It can be a savory side or a dessert.

“Creamy desserts are a perfect foil to showcase millet. They provide enough cover to hide the small grain from plain view yet plenty of appeal to highlight millet’s delicate texture.”

Millet pudding, ancient grains
Lemony millet pudding with caramelized grapes

To make a dessert similar to rice pudding that can be topped with fruits and nuts, she suggested cooking one part millet with two parts water, and then adding about two-thirds part whole milk. Cook to a creamy consistency.

Millet in dehulled whole form may add a crunch that is maintained throughout most processes. This is true even in bread baking, which typically adds enough water to soften most grains.

“This ‘millet crunch’ can be advantageous in products such as bars, baked good toppings, and even breadings and batters,” said Vanessa Brovelli, manager of product development, Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass. “Millet also has the unique ability to pop when heated if the hull is not removed.”

For applications that require a smoother mouthfeel, whole millet may be boiled and then added to an application, or millet flour can be used. Sprouting millet can alter the water holding capacity as well as the flavor and may be an interesting choice for variety and nutrition in several applications.

“I’ve been hoping that millet would take off, since it cooks quickly, is mild and sunny yellow, and is easy to grow domestically," said Minneapolis-based Robin Asbell, chef and author of “The whole grain promise.” “Photo-conscious operators would do well to think about color on the plate. That yellow is a fantastic backdrop for colorful vegetables, or as a bed for main courses.”