If you're looking for a gluten-free rice or pasta substitute, millet might just be the solution.

Even in comparison with other whole grains, there's a lot to be said about millet—loaded with nutrients, it's a suitable substitute for less nutrient-dense and refined grains. It's even good for people who follow a gluten-free diet. Here, we'll tell you what it is, how nutritious it is and how to use it.

What Is Millet?

Millet is considered an ancient grain because it's been harvested for food for the last 7,000 years. It comes from a family of cereal grasses (Poaceae), and it's not overly popular in the United States. But, according to the Whole Grain Council, it's a major source of food for people in parts of Asia and Africa.

Millet is a main ingredient in birdseed and is often used as livestock feed, but what animals eat is slightly different. The main difference between what we eat and what animals eat, is that the grain processed for human consumption is hulled (the hard, outer layer of the seed is removed) and the millet seeds that animals eat are left whole.

Cooking with Millet

Millet is a gluten-free whole grain, so people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can enjoy it without worry. Cooked, it's similar in look and texture to couscous—in fact, it could be used in place of couscous—and it can be used the way most grains are worked into meals. It can be made into a pilaf and served as a side dish with chicken, meat or fish, or it can be slow-cooked for a sweet or savory porridge for breakfast. It can also be made into polenta, cooked like pasta and tossed with salad or used as the base for a grain bowl. If gluten-free bread is what you need, millet can be milled into flour for bread and other baked goods.


How to Cook Millet

Cooking millet is very similar to how you would cook most grains:

  1. In a saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add 1 cup millet, reduce the heat to low and let simmer until the grains are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Drain the millet.

You can use cooked millet for salads or grain bowls, or you can season it and serve it as is.

Popping Millet

Millet pops just like popcorn! Just be aware, the kernels are bit small. Here's how to do it:

  1. Preheat a dry saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add millet to the pan and stir or keep the pan moving so the millet doesn't sit still.
  3. When the grains start popping, remove the pan from the heat.

Popped millet is very tiny—you won't get the same kind of snacking satisfaction as you do with popcorn—but you can use it to top things like salad or even ice cream for a little extra texture.

Millet Nutrition

Millet's nutritional benefits fall about halfway between those of white rice and quinoa (they all have comparable calorie counts at about 200 calories per cup, cooked). One cup of cooked millet has 6 grams protein (compared to 8 g for quinoa and 4 g for white rice) and 2 grams dietary fiber (white rice has 1 g and quinoa has 5 g).

Recipe Inspiration

If you're thinking about trying millet, here are a few recipes to try: