Kuthiraivalli cake, anyone? The millet makes a comeback to South India

Gluten intolerance? Diabetes? Millets to the rescue.
Kuthiraivalli cake, anyone? The millet makes a comeback to South India
Kuthiraivalli cake, anyone? The millet makes a comeback to South India
Written by:

Harshini Vakkalanka

Millets are making a comeback to the Indian diet what with the ragi idly, thinai curd rice, samai biryani and kambu dosai replacing their rice-based counterparts, especially in South India.

Their ubiquitous presence in supermarkets, not just in organic stores, is an indicator of their rising popularity. Though they were popular decades ago, the widespread cultivation of rice and wheat brought a lull in their production as they lost favour among the Indian populace. But the growing instance of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes seems to have led to their resurgence.

“Millets are full of anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and are high on fibre content. The low glycemic index helps diabetics manage their blood insulin levels. The correct nutrients flush out excess fat and water from the body, which helps to control obesity and hormonal imbalances,” says R.Rajamurugan, in an interaction with The Hindu Metro Plus. Rajamurugan is the author of Nallasoaru, a Tamil recipe book centred around millets. “As millets are rain-fed crops, the groundwater level can be preserved. And the crops don’t require any pesticides or fertilizers.”

And if you thought they were just meant to replace traditional rice and wheat recipes, think again: millets are now revolutionising bakery products in South India as well.

“I have been working with millets for the last eight months, creating tasty recipes that are also nutritious. People will learn to enjoy recipes only if they are tasty. I began by creating wet batters with ragi and bajra for idlies and dosas. This make softer idlies than the rice batters. Then I switched to baking,” says Nandini Gopinath who runs Phokkisham, an organic outlet in Nungambakkam, Chennai, where she also retails her popular homemade millet products.

Nandini’s signature cakes include a ragi carrot cake as well as a kuthiraivalli (barnyard millet) cake. She also offers millet breads, cupcakes, even ice creams.

“I bake using organic ingredients— replacing white sugar with palm sugar and incorporating country eggs and desi cow butter. I don’t use any artificial flavours or preservatives. Though my cakes last only for three or four days, they are so much tastier," she says.

Nandini believes that millets will soon become staple grains.

Meanwhile Nandini Sivakumar of Lotsa Lavendar, another popular home baker in Chennai, began including organic millet cakes among her sought after whole-grain, vegan baked goodies because of the growing numbers of requests.

“I ventured into baking years ago, it is only in the last two years that millets have become more popular. It took me a year of experimentation to create my millet cake recipes. I would still say that you cannot compare traditional cakes and whole wheat cakes with millet cakes because the taste is so different, the texture is different. It takes some getting used to. After all cakes are meant to be indulged in for special occasions,” says Nandini, who is currently on a maternity break.

It took her so long to create her recipes because Nandini also believes that the dishes need to be made in the right way for them to be tasty. Nandini does not use any milk products in her baking and replaces white sugar with palm jaggery or coconut sugar.

“Otherwise it will not be easy to make the shift. Even now it is only the adults who order more millet cakes. They request whole wheat cakes for children.”

She says the most popular among her baked millet dishes are the almond millet cookies.

She attributes the rise in popularity of millets to the preference for gluten-free products. “I’m not sure if this is just a fad or if there is a higher instance of gluten-intolerance.”

Cafe Vishala, located in Bengaluru's Kanakapura Road, is one-step ahead, offering not only millet breads, cakes and cookies, but also millet pizzas for those who are gluten-intolerant!

“Though we have whole millet breads, we also offer millet breads with a combination of wheat because millet breads are more dense. Cakes on the other hand are much softer and we bake them with ghee, jaggery, nuts and raisins. These cakes are ideal for those who want to eliminate gluten from their diet or are diabetic,” explains Chef Padmnav Singh of Cafe Vishala.

It took a few months for Padmnav, too, to develop his recipes as the baking process is quite different — millets take longer to bake. But he has developed some hacks to make them fluffier and softer. 

“The key is to use flax seeds, tapioca flower or nut flour, like almond flour. Millets are already famous because of their traditional recipes, these recipes add more dimensions to the use of these grains.”

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