You say Quinoa, I say Millet

28 Apr

Quinoa has created quite the buzz over the past couple of years.  It’s commonly labeled with terms such as ‘Superfood,’ ‘High in Protein,’ ‘Gluten-Free,’ and the like.  Even the United Nations is in on the fad, declaring 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa.

Don’t get me wrong, I love quinoa and think it’s a great food. But I also believe there are ample pseudo-grains (quinoa is technically a seed) that deserve the same attention that quinoa has received in recent years.

My biggest qualm with the nutritional benefits bestowed upon quinoa is its reputation for being a protein powerhouse.  Yes, quinoa is a complete protein based on its amino acid profile, but the quantities of several amino acids obtained in a standard serving are minimal.  Furthermore, quinoa contains little to no more protein than other grains.  Quinoa should be chosen as a grain option, not as a protein replacement.  If you’re a vegetarian, include legumes or soy-based foods (e.g. tofu, tempeh, edamame) in combination with quinoa for a healthy, balanced meal.

A rarely discussed benefit is its lower carbohydrate content (and in turn, calorie content) compared to other grains, making it an ideal choice for diabetics or for those struggling with weight management.

The nutritional profile of quinoa compared to other grains (or pseudo-grains) can be seen in the below table.  It’s clear that quinoa is not a stellar source of protein after all…

Per ½ cup serving Protein (g) Carbohydrate (g) Calories (kcal)
Quinoa 3.2 16 88
Brown Rice 2.7 24 115
Millet 3.2 22 109
Spelt (a wheat species) 5.6 27 130
Barley 1.9 23 102

Source: Canadian Nutrient File

Finally, nutritional merits aside, news reports earlier this year documented the uglier side of the quinoa boom. What was once a staple food to farmers in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador is now becoming unaffordable, forcing locals to turn to non-traditional foods.  Some consider this to be a tragedy, while food economists argue that commoditization of food can be a useful tool in helping poor areas improve their standard of living.  This is a debate that falls outside of my area of expertise but is certainly worth thinking about.

If you’re tired of quinoa, try this millet-based recipe for a change.  Millet is a cinch to prepare and has many of the nutritional perks of quinoa. The spices, chili pepper, and currants give this dish a punch of flavour and can brighten up an ordinary weeknight meal.

Curried Millet

Curried Millet
(from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health)

See below for delicious variations on this basic recipe.

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds (optional)  *I couldn’t find these anywhere!
1/2 cup minced onions
3/4 cup millet
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 to 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or cayenne
1-1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
1/4 cup currents
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)

  1. In a saucepan on medium-high heat, warm the oil, then add the mustard seeds, if using, and cook until they begin to pop, about 2 minutes.  Add the onions right away so the mustard seeds won’t burn and cook for about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the millet and stir constantly until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the spices and salt and cook for a minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Pour in the water, cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed and the millet is tender, about 20 minutes.
  4. Stir in the current and the cilantro, if using, and fluff with a fork. Cover and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir to fluff again. Serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled.

Variations (try as many as your heart desires!): Use scallions instead of onions. Use 1-1/2 tsp of your favourite curry powder in place of the spices. Replace the currents with chopped raisins, dried cranberries, or dried apricots. Use coconut milk in place of 1/2 cup of the water or broth.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving (3/4 cup): 192 kcal, 32 g CHO, 4 g fibre, 5 g fat (1 g saturated), 5 g protein, 183 mg sodium.

2 Responses to “You say Quinoa, I say Millet”

  1. Kate Duffy April 28, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    I love your blogs! I eat quinoa a lot so thanks for the eye opener! Going to try this new recipe this week.

    • lisa April 28, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

      Thanks for the love, Kate! Millet has a firmer texture… definitely different from quinoa but worth trying. You may want to buy a small quantity just in case you’re not a fan!

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