AskDefine | Define millet

Dictionary Definition



1 any of various small-grained annual cereal and forage grasses of the genera Panicum, Echinochloa, Setaria, Sorghum, and Eleusine
2 French painter of rural scenes (1814-1875) [syn: Jean Francois Millet]
3 small seed of any of various annual cereal grasses especially Setaria italica

User Contributed Dictionary


Etymology 1

From millet, from Latin milium.



  1. Any of a group of various types of grass or its grains used as food.
any of a group of various types of grass or its grains used as food
  • Albanian: mel
  • Catalan: mill
  • CJKV Characters: ; ; ; ;
  • Chinese: 小米 (xiǎomǐ)
  • Croatian: proso
  • Czech: proso
  • Danish: hirse
  • Dutch: gierst
  • Erzya: суро (suro)
  • Esperanto: milio
  • French: millet
  • German: Hirse
  • Greek: κεχρί (kekhrí)
  • Hungarian: köles
  • Italian: miglio
  • Japanese: キビ (kibi)
  • Korean: 기장 (gijang)
  • Norwegian: hirse
  • Romanian: mei
  • Russian: пшено (pšenó)
  • Spanish: mijo
  • Turkish: darı

Etymology 2

From millet, from (milla).


  • /ˈmɪlɛt/


  1. A semi-autonomous confessional community under the Ottoman Empire, especially a non-Muslim one.
    • 2007, a common Serbian Orthodox Church [was] the one traditional institution permitted to exist under the Ottoman millet system which sought to rule subject peoples indirectly through their own religious hierarchies. — Elizabeth Roberts, Realm of the Black Mountain (Hurst & Co. 2007, p. 14)
community in the Ottoman Empire



From milium.


  • /mi.jɛ/, /mi.jE/


  1. Millet (grain).



From (mílla), religious community.




Extensive Definition

The millets are a group of small-seeded species of cereal crops or grains, widely grown around the world for food and fodder. They do not form a taxonomic group, but rather a functional or agronomic one. Their essential similarities are that they are small-seeded grasses grown in difficult production environments. It was millets, rather than rice, that formed important parts of prehistoric diet in Chinese Neolithic and Korean Mumun societies.

Millet varieties

The millets include species in several genera, mostly in the subfamily Panicoideae, of the grass family Poaceae. The most widely cultivated species in order of worldwide production are.:
  1. Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum)
  2. Foxtail millet (Setaria italica)
  3. Proso millet also known as common millet, broom corn millet, hog millet or white millet (Panicum miliaceum)
  4. Finger millet (Eleusine coracana)
Minor millets include:
  • Barnyard millet (Echinochloa spp.)
  • Kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum)
  • Little millet (Panicum sumatrense)
  • Guinea millet (Brachiaria deflexa = Urochloa deflexa)
  • Browntop millet (Urochloa ramosa = Brachiaria ramosa = Panicum ramosum)
Teff (Eragrostis tef) and fonio (Digitaria exilis) are also often called millets, as more rarely are sorghum (Sorghum spp.) and Job's Tears (Coix lacrima-jobi).

Production history

Specialized archaeologists called palaeoethnobotanists, relying on data such as the relative abundance of charred grains found in archaeological sites, hypothesize that the cultivation of millets was of greater prevalence in prehistory than rice, especially in northern China and Korea. Broomcorn (Panicum miliaceum) and Foxtail millet were important crops beginning in the Early Neolithic of China. For example, some of the earliest evidence of millet cultivation in China was found at Cishan (north) and Hemudu (south). Cishan dates to 7000-5000 BCE and contained pit-houses, storage pits, pottery, stone tools related to cultivation, and carbonized foxtail millet. A 4000 year old well-preserved bowl containing well-preserved noodles made from foxtail millet and broomcorn millet was found at the Lajia archaeological site in China.
Palaeoethnobotanists have found evidence of the cultivation of millet in the Korean Peninsula dating to the Middle Jeulmun pottery period (c. 3500-2000 BCE) (Crawford 1992; Crawford and Lee 2003). Millet continued to be an important element in the intensive, multi-cropping agriculture of the Mumun pottery period (c. 1500-300 BCE) in Korea (Crawford and Lee 2003). Millets and their wild ancestors such as barnyard grass and panic grass were also cultivated in Japan during the Jōmon period some time after 4000 BCE (Crawford 1983, 1992). Millet was consumed in northern Europe at least since the Iron Age, based upon analysis of Haraldskær Woman found in Jutland, Denmark .

Current uses of millet

Millets are principally food sources in arid and semi-arid regions of the world. In Western India, millet flour (called "Bajari" in Gujarati and marathi) has been commonly used with "Jowar" (Sorghum called "Jwari" in Marathi) flour for hundreds of years to make the local staple flat bread (called "Rotla").
Millets are traditionally important grains used in brewing millet beer in some cultures, for instance by the Tao people of Orchid Island and, along with sorghum, by various peoples in East Africa.
Millet is used to prepare boza fermented drink in Balkan peninsula countries.
Millet is the base ingredient for the distilled liquor, rakshi, in Nepal.
Millet porridge is a traditional Russian food, eaten sweet (with milk and sugar added at the end of cooking process) or savoury with meat or vegetable stews.
Coeliac patients can replace certain cereal grains in their diets by consuming millets in various forms including breakfast cereals.
Millet can often be used in recipes instead of buckwheat, rice, or quinoa.
Millet sprays are often recommended as healthy treats to finicky pet birds, as they are easily eaten and (in the case of destruction-prone hookbills) easily broken.


The protein content in millet is very close to that of wheat; both provide about 11% protein by weight.
Millets are rich in B vitamins, especially niacin, B17, B6 and folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Millets contain no gluten, so they are not suitable for raised bread. When combined with wheat or xanthan gum (for those who have coeliac disease), though, they can be used for raised bread. Alone, they are suited for flatbread.
As none of the millets are closely related to wheat, they are appropriate foods for those with coeliac disease or other forms of allergies/intolerance of wheat. However, millets are also a mild thyroid peroxidase inhibitor and probably should not be consumed in great quantities by those with thyroid disease.


The basic preparation consists in washing the millet and toasting it while moving until one notes a characteristic scent. Then five measures of boiling water for each two measures of millet are added with some sugar or salt. The mixture is cooked covered using low flame for 30-35 minutes.


  • Crawford, Gary W. Paleoethnobotany of the Kameda Peninsula. Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1983.
  • Crawford, Gary W. Prehistoric Plant Domestication in East Asia. In The Origins of Agriculture: An International Perspective, edited by C.W. Cowan and P.J. Watson, pp. 117-132. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 1992.
  • Crawford, Gary W. and Gyoung-Ah Lee. Agricultural Origins in the Korean Peninsula. Antiquity 77(295):87-95, 2003.

External links

millet in Min Nan: Tai-á-bí
millet in Bulgarian: Просо
millet in Catalan: Mill
millet in Czech: Proso
millet in Danish: Hirse
millet in German: Hirse
millet in Spanish: Mijo
millet in Esperanto: Milio
millet in French: Millet (graminée)
millet in Italian: Miglio (alimento)
millet in Hebrew: דוחן
millet in Hungarian: Köles
millet in Japanese: 雑穀
millet in Dutch: Gierst
millet in Norwegian: Hirse
millet in Polish: Proso
millet in Portuguese: Milhete
millet in Russian: Просо
millet in Finnish: Hirssi
millet in Swedish: Hirs
millet in Vietnamese: Kê
millet in Turkish: Darı
millet in Chinese: 小米

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

breakfast food, cereal, cornflakes, dry cereal, farina, frumenty, grits, gruel, hasty pudding, hominy grits, hot cereal, kasha, loblolly, mush, oatmeal, porridge, puffed rice, puffed wheat, rolled oats, wheatflakes
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