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249. Millet Day

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March 9th is “millet day” based on the Japanese pun for words. According to the Japan Millet Association, the perception for millet has changed in historical context and changes in staple food. Millet is defined as a general term for grains that are used for fodder and human food, and cereal grain crops in the grass family, sorghum, pearl millet and barley, legumes such as soybean, red bean and green bean, pseudo cereals such as buckwheat and quinoa, and oil crops such as sunflower and sesame that are also eaten as grains.

Millet is rich in vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B12, B6 and folic acid, and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. In Japan, millet consumption and cultivation became obsolete in the Showa period with increase in rice production and it has been increasingly used as feed. However, it is recently viewed as a health food, the production volume is small compared to demand, and is traded at a higher price range than rice.

Millet is also a major food resource in adverse environments such as dry and semi-arid areas around the world. With a high nutritional value and wide adaptability to the agricultural ecological environment, millet is expected to play a major role in global food security and eradicating hunger. At JIRCAS, we are conducting joint research with local partners on crops such as buckwheat in Asia, amaranth in Africa, and quinoa in South America. These crops have high functionality and well adapted to harsh environments but have not been sufficiently studied for stable production and utilization.

An example is tartary buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum), which originates in Sichuan and Yunnan, China. It is known as a high-value-added crop because it contains rutin and quercetin (known as vasodilator inhibitory action and antioxidant ability), which are much higher than common buckwheat (F. esculentum). In addition, since it can be cultivated even in high altitude areas and gives high yield on flat lands, it has been cultivated for a long time in China, Russia, Nepal and European countries, and it is still major crop and food resource in mountainous areas where it is difficult to cultivate other crops. However, utilization of this crop is limited because the seed has a hard shell (pericarp), which makes it difficult to dehull, and the strong bitterness of the processed products due to the formation of quercetin. At JIRCAS, we are pursuing the development of a simple processing method (popping) that easily removes the shells while suppressing the generation of bitterness. We would like to reduce the required labor for processing tartary buckwheat and improve nutrition locally by using not only simple but also inexpensive technology.
 

Reference

Fujita K. and Yoshihashi T. (2019), Food Science and Technology Research 25 (4): 613-618  https://doi.org/10.3136/fstr.25.613

Contributors: FUJITA Kaori and YOSHIHASHI Tadashi (Biological Resources and Post-harvest Division)