Grains – part 4
Millet is known to be among the earliest of cereal grains discovered, domesticated and consumed by humans. While people in the United States mostly use millet as bird feed, this cereal grain is one of the major staple food sources in several developing countries.
Several dissimilar species of millet are available. Millet is a minute, oblong or rounded shaped cereal grain whose color may vary from light yellow to flushed orange. Dissimilar to majority of the cereal grains that form ears, most of the species of millet structures that appear like berry-shaped heads or panicles. As mentioned earlier, millet berries are tiny shaped and their color vary from gray, white or yellow to reddish brown or red. The ordinary variety of millet is cultivated globally and is primarily used for consumption by humans as well as animal fodder. Another variety of the cereal grain known as foxtail millet is cultivated in various regions and is generally used as bird feed. In Russia, foxtail millet is also used to make beer. Pearl millet is mainly cultivated in India.
In North America, sorghum and teff are the two varieties of millet which are most familiar. Sorghum is extensively cultivated in South America and forms a part of the region’s gastronomy. On the other hand, people in the United States use sorghum molasses in the form of syrup in baked foods as well as at the table. Till recently, precisely speaking, a decade ago, teff was cultivated in Ethiopia and was introduced to the Western markets around this time. Frequently considered as a food during famines, several humanitarian agencies cultivate as well as distribute teff to provide relief to the world during famines.
Millet possesses a potent and nut-like flavour which may perhaps take some time for people to realize. People in Ethiopia used the delicately pounded millet to prepare fermented, soft flat bread, while Indians used the same product to make thin pancake-like bread called ‘roti’. The Macau in Africa also used the finely ground millet to make beer. From the nutritional point of view, millet is an excellent source of several nutrients, including thiamine, niacin, zinc and phosphorus. In addition, millet also encloses some amount of iron. Millet is one cereal grain which can be digested easily.
For quinoa, it is believed that the name has been derived from the Spanish term denoting ‘fantastic’, has been labeled as the excellent grain in the times to come, such great compliments are somewhat deceiving. In fact, quinoa, is not a cereal grain. It is actually the fruit of a plant, which is a member of the botanical family to which beet belongs. Generally, the quinoa plant grows up to a height of three to ten feet and turns out seeds that are flat and pointed. The color of the quinoa seeds vary from russet to buff to black.
Compared to several other plants, cultivating quinoa is comparatively simple as it can endure poor/ infertile soil as well as altitude. In addition, the tiny seeds of quinoa enclose several nutrients. Compared to several cereal grains, quinoa encloses more protein and supplies a uniformly balanced assortment of amino acids, which are considered to be the building blocks of protein. Quinoa seeds are also rich in mineral content. In comparison to many cereal grains, quinoa seeds enclose more calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus, potassium as well as zinc.
The seeds of quinoa can be consumed either after cooking or they may even be pulverized to produce flour. In effect quinoa flour is used to prepared different types of pasta. The seeds may also be consumed after they are sprouted. In addition to the seeds, the leaves of the quinoa plant too are edible.
In the Western countries, rice is most characteristically seen as a side dish, but it forms the main course in the remaining parts of the world. Generally, a normal daily diet in several Asian nations provides as much as half calories. In addition, rice also forms the staple in most parts of Africa.
Unlike wheat, which is mostly grown in the West, especially the United States and Canada, most of world’s rice is cultivated in Asia. Normally, the rice plants grow up to a height of 8 feet to 12 feet and are able to endure an assortment of climatic conditions. However, rice plants grow as well as thrive most excellently in warm and moist regions. The plant bears branching stems that produce flowers and when the flowers are fertilized they develop into rice grains. It is interesting to note that there are over 8,000 different varieties of rice cultivated across the globe.
Commercially, rice is categorized differently depending on the size of its grains. The three main rice categories include short-grain (round-grain) rice, medium-grain rice and long-grain rice, which are discussed briefly below.
- Short-grain (round-grain) rice
- The variety of rice called short-rice is rounded or oval shaped and is below 1/5 inch in length. Short-rice possesses comparatively superior starch content and this causes this variety of rice to become viscous after cooking. This variety of rice is also known as pearl or glutenous rice. However, it needs to be mentioned that short-rice does not enclose any gluten.
- Medium-grain rice
- As is evident from the name of this rice variety, medium-grain rice is neither too long nor short and generally has a length of 1/4 inch. This type of rice is still unyielding and light even after cooking. In addition, medium-grain rice holds on to moisture for a longer period compared to the long-grain rice.
- Long-grain rice
- This variety of rice has a length of over 1/4 inch. In effect, the grains of this variety of rice are sufficiently longer than they are wide. Even after they have been cooked, long-grain rice has a tendency to remain detached and is more dry compared to the short-grain rice. It may be noted that most of the rice cultivated in the United States comprises long-grain rice.
All varieties of rice are available in white as well as brown forms. Brown rice is obtained by just removing the strong, fibrous hull from the rice grain while processing it. Owing to this, brown rice continues to hold on to its maximum nutrients, including phosphorus, potassium, fiber (bran) as well as the trace minerals. In addition, brown rice is also stingy, possesses a potent essence and comparatively consumes more time for being cooked. However, these days quick-cooking varieties of brown rice, which have been cooked to some extent and subsequently dehydrated, are commercially available.
White rice, on the other hand, is the most preferred form of rice globally. The primary reason for its popularity is the milling process involved in obtaining white rice. In this case, the husk, bran as well as germ of the rice grain are removed during the milling process, making this variety of rice easy and quick to cook. At the same time, it also helps to enhance the shelf life of white rice. However, it is really unfortunate that the milling process involved in obtaining white rice, robs the grains of most of their nutritional value. This is one reason why white rice is enriched after milling with a view to return much of its nutrients. During the enrichment process, nutrients like niacin, thiamine, riboflavin and iron are added to white rice prior to selling it to the consumers. Parboiled or partially pre-cooked rice too is processed to conserve a few of the nutrients that are lost during the milling process.
Another variety of white rice is called instant rice. Instant rice is obtained by milling, cooking and subsequently drying the white rice. While instant rice can be cooked instantly, precisely speaking, in about five minutes, the nutritional value of this type of rice is normally the same as that of white rice and this is one reason why mostly instant rice is enriched before selling it on the market.
In addition to the different varieties of rice discussed here, there are some speciality types of rice, including arborio rice. Arborio rice is basically rounded white rice and is generally used to prepare Italian cuisines as well as aromatic rice. Usually, the grain of the aromatic rice, which is occasionally known as perfumed rice, is elongated and possesses an individual essence which is normally matched up to the flavour of popcorn or nuts. For instance, basmati rice possesses an aroma similar to that of nuts and a loaded butterfly flavour. Basmati rice is extensively used in cuisines of India and Pakistan. On the other hand, jasmine rice, which is mainly grown in Southeast Asia, possesses a soft quality or texture. Another variety of white rice called sweet or glutenous rice encloses high amounts of starch and is primarily used in Asian culinary to congeal sauces as well as prepared dumpling and a number of dessert varieties. In addition to consuming rice as a whole grain, it can also be pulverized into delicate powdery flour that may be used to make baked foods.
It is always advisable to store rice in sealed containers. Although brown rice, which encloses natural oils, has a shelf life of about six months, it is susceptible to decay and decomposition earlier. Nevertheless, it is possible to prolong the shelf life of brown rice if we store it in a sealed container and place the container in the refrigerator. Compared to brown rice, white rice has a longer shelf life and it stays good for about a year. You can also store cooked rice in the refrigerator for many days, but it will remain good for as long as six to eight months provided you store it in a freezer.