Can Millet Replace Meat?

By Padma Ishwarya S, Senior Scientist, Good Food Institute India (GFI India)

Once known as the ‘poor man’s crop,’ the humble millets have certainly come a long way to now being celebrated as a superfood or smart food that is good for the planet, people, and profit. As the curtain falls on the International Year of Millets (IYM 2023), this ancient grain has had quite a transformative journey in India and abroad, capturing the attention of policymakers, the food industry, and consumers alike.

The Agricultural and Processed Exports Development Authority (APEDA) reports a staggering 30 per cent surge in millet sales, both domestically and internationally, post the declaration of IYM 2023. This isn’t just a testament to the grain’s versatility but also to the global recognition of its potential. From the illustrious tables of the G20 Summit, where millet dishes took centre stage, to the World Food Forum’s IYM 2023 Master Chef Challenge that drew culinary maestros from around the globe, the potential of millets is gradually receiving global recognition. With several Indian states incorporating millets into midday meals as well as numerous initiatives like the Global Millets Conference in Delhi, the Mumbai Millet Mela, and the Magic Millets-2023 event in Jaipur, there is a renewed appreciation for millets and their potential to drive a positive change in our food systems.

The potential lies not just in millets’ culinary versatility but in their protein-rich profile which in turn can be a promising solution for global nutritional security. To truly champion millets and sustain the momentum of IYM 2023, their role as a smart protein source to value-added products that resonate with the masses must be the way forward. 

Millets are inherently organic crops as they do not rely on chemicals and pesticides and are far more resilient and climate-hardy when compared to other cereal crops like wheat and rice. Millets are capable of withstanding water deficit conditions as the water requirements of some of their varieties such as finger millet to produce 1 g of dry biomass is about 50-55.5 per cent lesser compared to wheat and maize. They are a scalable source of nutrition. With the right scientific and policy support, millets can offer a profitable avenue for farmers and food businesses.

Despite these advantages, hurdles remain in the widespread adoption of millets. Challenges include low crop yield, limited availability of versatile processing machinery, tedious processing operations, and the poor shelf-life of processed millets. Increasing the productivity and consumer appeal of millets would only be possible by exploring novel avenues for their commercialisation and technology development. These commercialisation endeavours must be fueled by innovation-led industry trends that can benefit from novel and indigenous ingredients. One such product category that can validate the ingredient potential of millets, is plant-based meat.

Plant-based meats, a pioneering category of ‘alternative protein’ or ‘smart protein’, aim to replicate the sensory experience of animal-derived products and offer several advantages in the supply chain for producers.  Although soy and gluten are the most common and well-established ingredients used in the production of plant-based meat, their potential allergenicity necessitates the exploration of alternative protein sources from climate-resilient crops such as millets, pulses, and legumes. Millets particularly, with an average protein content of 9.1 per cent, a superior essential amino acid profile than cereals, and high digestibility, are well suited to be a key ingredient in these products. 

Studies have shown that finger millet contains all nine essential amino acids in varying proportions. Millet proteins, which are easier to digest and capable of forming gels similar to dairy and meat proteins, are prime candidates for creating realistic textures in plant-based meats. All of these factors coupled with India being the world’s largest producer of millet, point to a future where the country can be the epicentre of millet-based meat, egg, dairy, and seafood analogs.

Read Previous

Food Wastage Reducing Food Loss in Manufacturing Processes

Read Next

Food industry demands unified GST for all foods

Leave a Reply