Millets: Origins and Development

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Basic Species Information

Millet is an imprecise English term applied to a large number of smaller-grained, largely tropical cereals that are often distantly related. Millets tend to be small-seeded cereals, i.e., distinct from wheat, barley, oats, rice, and maize. Sorghum is sometimes included with millets (in Indian English it is the “great millet”). Taxonomically speaking “millet-grasses” refers to grasses in the Panicoid subfamily and the Paniceae tribe, but not all traditional millet crops are in this group. Finger millet (Eleusine coracana) and tef (Eragrostis tef) are in the Chloridoid subfamily. Although a few millet species have been cultivated in Europe, they are generally less important economically and culturally, leading to poor linguistic differentiation in European languages, e.g., French millet, German hirse, and Spanish mijo.

Millets have received far less research than the “big” cereals (rice, wheat, and barley). Indeed statistics on millet prod ...