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Finger Millet

Eleusine coracana is an annual plant widely grown as a cereal in the arid areas of Africa and Asia. It is commonly known as African finger millet, red millet, caracan millet, koracan, and ragi. E. coracana is native to the Ethiopian Highlands. It is very adaptable to higher elevations and is grown in the Himalaya up to 2,300 metres in elevation.

Finger Millet grains of mixed colour

Finger Millet grains of mixed colour

History

Archaeological excavations show that improved forms of finger millet were once the staple grain diet of southern Africa.

Cultivation

Eleusine coracana is often intercropped with legumes such as peanuts (Arachis hypogea), cowpeas (Vigna sinensis), and pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan), or other plants such as Niger seeds (Guizotia abyssinica).

Finger millet

Finger millet

Although statistics on individual millet species are confused, and are sometimes combined with sorghum, it is estimated that finger millet is grown on approximately 38,000 km2.

India is a major cultivator of finger millet with a total cultivated area of 15870 km2. The state of Karnataka is the leading producer of finger millet, known as Ragi in the region, accounting for 58% of India’s Ragi production.

Storage

Once harvested, the seeds keep extremely well and are seldom attacked by insects or moulds. The long storage capacity makes finger millet an important crop in risk-avoidance strategies for poorer farming communities.

Nutrition

Finger millet is especially valuable as it contains the amino acid methionine, which is lacking in the diets of hundreds of millions of the poor who live on starchy staples such as cassava, plantain, polished rice, or maize meal. Finger millet can be ground and cooked into cakes, puddings or porridge. The grain is made into a fermented drink (or beer) in Nepal and in many parts of Africa. The straw from finger millet is used as animal fodder. It is also used for a flavoured drink in festivals.

Nutritional value of finger millet per 100g  : Protein 7.6g  ;  Fat 1.5g  ;  Carbohydrate 88g  ;  Calcium 370mg  ;  Vitamins – A: 0.48mg  ; Thiamine (B1): 0.33mg  ; Riboflavin (B2): 0.11mg  ;  Niacin: (B3) 1.2mg  ; Fibre 3g

Growing finger millet to improve nutrition

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a member of the CGIAR consortium, partners with farmers, governments, researchers and NGOs to help farmers grow nutritious crops, including finger millet. This helps their communities have more balanced diets and become more resilient to pests and drought. For example, the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (HOPE) project is increasing yields of finger millet in Tanzania by encouraging farmers to grow improved varieties. Finger millet is very high in calcium, rich in iron and fibre, and has a better energy content than other cereals. These characteristics make it ideal for feeding to infants and the elderly.

Preparation as food

In India

Ragi flour is boiled in water

In Karnataka, Ragi flour is boiled in water and the resultant preparation, called Ragi Mudde is eaten with Sambar.

In India, finger millet (locally called by various name including ragi and nachani) is mostly grown and consumed in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Maharashtra, Garhwal and Kumaon (Uttarakhand) and Goa. Ragi flour is made into flatbreads, including thin, leavened dosa and thicker, unleavened roti. Ragi grain is malted and the grains are ground. This ground flour is consumed mixed with milk, boiled water or yoghurt.

Finger millet in its commonly consumed form as a porridge

Finger millet in its commonly consumed form as a porridge

In India, Ragi recipes are hundreds in number and even common food stuffs such as dosa, idly and laddu are made out of ragi.

Western and Konkan Region

In Goa ragi is very popular and satva, pole (dosa), bhakri, ambil (a sour porridge) are very common preparations. Nachani Ladus are common in some families. In Maharashtra, bhakri (भाकरी in Marathi; also called ಭಕ್ರಿ bhakri in Northern Karnataka), a type of flat bread is prepared using finger millet (ragi) flour. Bhakri is called ರಾಗಿ ರೊಟ್ಟಿ (ragi rotti in Kannada) in Northern districts of Karnataka.

In South India

In Karnataka, ragi flour is generally consumed in the form of ragi balls (ರಾಗಿ ಮುದ್ದೆ ragi mudde in Kannada). It is the staple diet of majority of Southern Kannadigas, especially in the rural areas. The mudde which is prepared by cooking the ragi flour with water to achieve a dough-like consistency. This is then rolled into ‘balls’ of desired size and consumed. Ghee with huLi, Saaru, or chicken curry is generally served along with these balls. The mudde is broken with the fingers into small chunks, dipped in the saaru or the curry and swallowed without chewing.

Ragi mudde and bajji with sambar and chutney

Ragi mudde and bajji with sambar and chutney

In Andhra Pradesh, ragi sankati or ragi muddha (రాగి సంకటి in Telugu) – ragi balls – are eaten in the morning with a chilli, onions, sambar (dish) or meat curry and helps them sustain through the whole day and it keeps the body cool.

In Tamil Nadu, ragi is called kezhvaragu or just keppai. Ragi is dried, powdered and boiled to form a thick mass that is allowed to cool. This is the famed kali or keppai kali. This is made into large balls to quantify the intake. It is taken with sambar or thick spicy lentil soups flavoured with tamarind extracts. For children, ragi is also fed with milk and sugar (malt). It is also made in the form of pancakes with chopped onions and tomatoes. Kezhvaragu is used to make puttu with jaggery/sugar and adai (by making a thick paste (sweet or salt is used) and tapping it flat on a hot skillet). Apart from that, ragi has its medicinal uses for sinus and severe cold by applying boiled kezhvaragu flour cooled to skin bearable warmth on the forehead.

In Kerala, putu a traditional breakfast dish, is usually made with rice powder with grated coconut and steamed in a cylindrical steamer. The preparation is also made with ragi powder, which is more nutritive.

Central & Northern India

In the tribal and western hilly regions of Odisha, ragi or (ମାଣ୍ଡିଆ) mandiaa is a staple food. The porridge and pitha made of ragi are more popular among village folk.

In the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, maddua (मंडुआ) is made into thick rotis (served with ghee), and also made as a dish – badi (बाड़ी) – similar to halwa but without sugar. In the Kumaon region of northern India, ragi is traditionally fed to women after child birth.

In South and Far East Asia

In Nepal

In Nepal, a thick dough made of millet flour (ḍhĩḍo ढिंडो) is cooked and eaten by hand. Fermented millet is used to make a beer (jããḍ जाँड) and the mash is distilled to make a liquor (rakśi रक्शी).

In Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, finger millet is called kurakkan and is made into kurakkan roti – an earthy brown thick roti with coconut and thallapa – a thick dough made of ragi by boiling it with water and some salt until like a dough ball. It is then eaten with a very spicy meat curry and is usually swallowed in small balls, rather than chewing. It is also eaten as a soup (kurrakan kenda) and as a sweet called ‘Halape’.

A retail pack of Kurakkan flour in Sri Lanka

A retail pack of Kurakkan flour in Sri Lanka

In Vietnam

In northwest Vietnam, finger millet is used as a medicine for women at childbirth. A minority use finger millet flour to make alcohol (bacha alcohol is a good drink of the H’mong minority).

As Health Food

In southern parts of India, pediatricians recommend finger-millet-based food for infants of six months and above because of its high nutritional content, especially iron and calcium. Home-made ragi malt is a popular infant food.

Holy Deity food

In Tamil Nadu, ragi is considered to be the holy food of Amman, otherwise known as “Goddess Kali”. Every small or large festival of this goddess is celebrated with women making ragi porridge in the temples and distributing it to the poor and needy. This porridge is called Koozh – a staple diet in farming communities, alongside raw onions & green chillies.

As Beverage

Ragi malt porridge is made from finger millet which is soaked and shadow dried, then roasted and ground. This preparation is boiled in water and given to children, patients, adults, etc. This is a good substitute for milk powder-based beverages.

Common names for finger millet

  • Arabic: tailabon لدخن
  • Chinese: 穇子 (Traditional), 䅟子 (Simplified), cǎnzi (pinyin); also 龍爪稷 and 鴨腳粟 (Traditional)
  • Danish: Fingerhirse
  • Dhivehi: ބިންބި Binbi
  • English: Finger millet, African millet, Koracan, Natcheny, Ragi
  • Ethiopia: dagussa (Soddo), tokuso (Amharic), barankiya (Oromo)
  • French: eleusine cultivee, coracan, koracan
  • German: Fingerhirse
  • India:
    • Assamese: মৰুবা ধান maruba dhan
    • Gujarati: બાવટો bavato; નાચણી nachni; નાગલી nagali
    • Hindi): मड़ुआ madua/marua; मंडुआ mandua; मड़ुवा maruwa/maduwa; मंडवा mandwa; रागी ragi
    • Kannada: ರಾಗಿ ragi
    • Kumaon: maddua
    • Konkani: नांचणी nanchani; नासणे/नाचणे nasne/nachne
    • Maithili, (Bihar, especially in Mithila region): madua
    • Malayalam പഞ പുലൽ ragi;muthary/kuvaraku/kurumbullu/panjipul
    • Marathi: नाचणी nachani; नागली nagali
    • Oriya: mandia
    • Pahari, Himachal Pradesh: कोद्र kodra
    • Punjabi: ਮੁੰਡਲ mandal/mandhul/mundal
    • Rajasthani: नाचणी nachni; रागी ragi
    • Sanskrit: मधुलिका madhulika; मट्टकम् mattakam; नृत्यकुण्डलक nrutyakundala
    • Tamil: ஆரியம் aariyam; இராகி iraki; கேழ்வரகு kel-varaku’; கேழ்வரகு kezhvaragu; கேப்பை kayppai/keppai
    • Telangana region: తమిదలు tamidalu
    • Telugu: రాగి ragi
    • Urdu: منڐوا mandwa; مڙوا maruwa; راگی ragi
  • Japan: 四国稗 シコクビエ shikoku hie shikokubie
  • Kenya: wimbi (Swahili), kal (Dholuo), ugimbi (Kikuyu and Meru), obori (Kisii)
  • Korea: 수수 susu
  • Nepal: कोदो kodo; मड़ुवा maruwa
  • Nigeria: tamba (Hausa)
  • Rwanda: uburo
  • Sri Lanka: කුරක්කන් kurakkan (Sinhala)
  • Sudan: tailabon (Arabic), ceyut (Bari)
  • Tanzania: Mbege, Mwimbi, Wimbi, Ulezi (Swahili)
  • Tibetan: bras ma du lun ga
  • Uganda: Bulo
  • Vietnam: Hong mi, Chi ke
  • Zambia: Kambale, lupoko, mawele, majolothi, amale, bule
  • Zimbabwe: Rapoko, zviyo, njera, rukweza, mazhovole, uphoko, poho

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