Millet is a whole grain that has been used around the world for many generations, though it isn’t extremely common in North America.
It is growing in popularity, however, as many people are taking a greater interest in expanding their culinary experiences and many others are incorporating more gluten-free options into their diet.
If you’ve come across a delicious recipe that you’re dying to try but calls for millet and you don’t have any, there are multiple substitutes that you can choose from.
What are the best substitutes for millet? The best substitutes for millet are other grains or pseudo-grains, including bulgar, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat groats, rice, sorghum, and barley. Each of these alternatives has its pros and cons and some work better than others for specific recipes.
The type of recipe you’re creating may make a difference to which grain you choose as a substitute, but most whole grains will work in a pinch.
In this article, we’ll explain what millet is, as well as how it tastes and feels, and then offer you 7 of the best substitutes for millet so that you can find the right option for your meal.
What Is Millet?
Millet is a type of grain that has historically been a staple food item in many cultures around the world but, in the USA, it’s most commonly used as bird feed.
Millet is considered a cereal crop, which includes any type of grass that is cultivated for the grain, including wheat, rice, and corn, among many others.
It’s a very productive crop that grows quickly, especially in dry, high-temperature environments. This explains why it’s most popular in India and many countries within Africa.
What Is Millet Like?
If you’ve come across a recipe that calls for millet and you don’t have any, before you can decide on an appropriate substitution, it helps to understand what millet looks, tastes, and feels like when it is cooked.
Millet grains look similar to tiny kernels of corn, slightly larger than quinoa. Millet is a relatively bland grain with a mild flavor, though it’s slightly sweeter than average grain, often compared in taste to corn as well.
Millet has a nuttier flavor, however, especially if it’s toasted before or during the cooking process.
Millet has a unique texture, which is the hardest feature to duplicate in a substitute. When cooked, it becomes fluffy, an unusual trait for grains or seeds.
This fluffiness combined with a mild flavor allows millet to soak up the flavor of whatever it is cooked in or with.
Is Millet Gluten-Free?
Millet is naturally gluten-free, which is one of the reasons for its rising popularity in recent years. As gluten becomes more of a concern around the globe for various reasons, gluten-free alternatives are quickly becoming a hot commodity.
Although the grain itself is naturally gluten-free, if you or someone you are cooking for is highly allergic to gluten, you should always look for a certification on the package before purchasing.
Being certified gluten-free isn’t just a marketing ploy; it’s a guarantee that even the facility where the millet was processed and packaged is free from any gluten-containing products.
From the moment the grain is harvested until it reaches your kitchen, there are countless opportunities to become cross-contaminated, which can happen easily in a manufacturing facility that produces wheat as well as millet.
If you’re interested in trying this grain, our favorite brand is Anthony’s Organic Hulled Millet, which also happens to be organic.
What Is Millet Used For?
As briefly mentioned, millet is most commonly used as birdfeed in the USA. However, it is much more versatile and can be used the same way you might cook any other type of whole grain, such as quinoa or rice.
Millet can also be used more like oats or cornmeal and made into a porridge style hot cereal.
Millet is a common ingredient in fermented beverages, including, but not limited to, beer. It’s also often ground into flour, commercially used to produce a variety of gluten-free breads and flatbreads.
When prepared as a grain, millet will take about 30 minutes to cook and should soak up all the liquid.
It’s made using a ratio of 1 cup of grain to 2 or 3 cups of water or broth, depending on how you prefer the texture and how it’s being cooked.
Best Substitutes for Millet
Now that you understand what millet tastes, feels, and looks like, you’ll better be able to understand its function in the recipe you’re attempting to adapt.
In most cases, any whole grain or seed could be used to replace millet in a pinch, but some will be better suited than others for specific purposes.
We’ve listed the 7 most common and effective substitutions for millet below, offering some basic assumptions about what you can expect from each when used as an alternative.
Bulgar, or bulghur, is a wheat-based product that has been parboiled, fried, dried, and ground into irregular coarse grains about the same size as millet.
Bulgar is one of the only substitutions on our list that contains gluten, so we’ve listed it first.
It is a very comparable alternative for quick cooking, though it’s more similar to brown rice in flavor and texture. It also isn’t gluten-free, which removes it as a possibility for many people.
Bulgar is most well-known as the main ingredient in the Middle Eastern dish tabbouleh, but it’s also a great substitution for millet that is being used as a grain, such as in salads or even snack bars.
From a nutritional standpoint, both bulgar and millet are rich in vitamins and minerals. Bulger is slightly higher in protein, whereas millet has more fats, specifically polyunsaturated fats.
Quinoa is not actually a whole grain but is, in fact, a pseudo-grain or seed. This doesn’t stop it from being a great substitute for millet, however.
Quinoa has a stronger, more pronounced, seedy flavor than millet and a slightly crunchy texture that is very different from millet, but the substitution can still work in certain applications.
Quinoa is commonly used in hot cereals and salads or in place of rice.
Millet is often used for making porridge-style hot cereals, melting into a creamy, soft texture that some love and others hate.
When it comes to hot cereal dishes, if you don’t like the mushiness of a standard porridge, you may want to try substituting quinoa for an entirely new texture with a similarly satiating experience.
Quinoa is also naturally gluten-free and quick cooking, which makes it an easy swap in most millet recipes.
Quinoa has been praised loudly as a plant-based superfood in recent years, so it may surprise you to find out that, from a nutritional perspective, millet outperforms the powerhouse seed in almost every aspect.
Millet has more vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbs, and fats. But if you’re following a low-carb diet, quinoa may make a better choice and it also has a lower glycemic index.
Amaranth is another pseudo-grain, but it is a much smaller seed than quinoa or even millet.
Because of the tiny size, the texture when cooked becomes very soft and creamy. While it’s not fluffy, like millet, it’s more similar than some of the other options.
While we suggested using quinoa as a porridge grain for those of you who prefer more texture, amaranth would be a better substitute for those who prefer less texture. As a hot cereal, amaranth is similar to cream of wheat or grits.
Because the seeds are so tiny, amaranth isn’t a great substitute to be used as a grain, but it can be added to salads after being toasted, popped like tiny popcorn, or added to dishes that need a little help thickening.
Amaranth is a very mineral-rich grain, but in terms of vitamins is doesn’t come close to millet, so there are nutritional benefits to both choices.
Amaranth also has considerably lower protein, carbs, and fats. If you’re following a specific dietary plan, amaranth is the least comparable to millet from a nutritional standpoint.
4. Buckwheat Groats
Buckwheat is another type of edible seed that is usually lumped into the category of whole grains.
It’s a heartier seed with a full, earthy flavor. Though there is more flavor and texture to buckwheat, it can still make a good substitute for millet, especially in terms of nutrition and satiation.
When we compare nutrition, both buckwheat and millet have a nice variety of vitamins and minerals and are relatively balanced in terms of fats and carbohydrates.
Buckwheat does have a slight advantage in being higher in protein and lower on the glycemic index.
When millet is being used mainly to add carbohydrates or plant-based protein to a meal, you can swap it freely with buckwheat groats.
The texture will be slightly different, but they take about the same length of time to cook so will act very similarly in recipes.
Rice is one of the closest substitutes for millet in terms of texture. Millet is uniquely fluffy, but many types of rice will also cook up to a light, fluffy texture.
The type of rice you cook will impact your recipe, but any will make a suitable substitution in most cases.
Brown rice has a more comparable nutritional profile, but a bigger difference in texture. Short-grained rice will be better-suited as a replacement for millet, which is a small grain itself.
In terms of nutrition, again the variety of rice does make a difference. In almost every aspect, millet is more nutritionally dense than rice. However, rice does come in lower on the glycemic index.
Sorghum is another grain that is most commonly used to feed animals though is becoming more popular in American cooking and baking.
Sorghum is most often compared in flavor to wheat berries, with a light grassy flavor with nutty undertones.
The texture is chewy compared to millet, which makes it well suited to recipes that are slow-cooked or high in liquid content. It doesn’t soak up the liquid quite as much as millet will, but it retains its shape and texture.
Sorghum is best suited to soup or stew, or as a base for texture rice grain salads. It takes almost twice as long to cook as millet, which will need to be factored into your meal planning.
Barley is one of the easiest substitutions to source at nearly any grocery store and, though the texture is quite different from millet, their flavors are very comparable. Barley has a mild flavor and chewy, soft consistency when cooked.
There are many different types of barley to choose from, which can make a difference in your substitution plans. Flaked barley or barley grits work well for porridge-style meals and pearl barley is best for use as a grain in salads or soups.
If we consider the nutritional aspect, once again both whole grains are great sources of a variety of vitamins and minerals. They are also the closest match out of any options for the balance of macronutrients, protein, carbs, and fat with a very minor advantage going to barley on all counts.
Best Substitutes For Millet – Review
Now that we’ve gone over all of our top picks for millet substitutes, let’s compare them all side by side in terms of flavor, texture, and cooking time.
Millet Substitutes Comparison Chart
|Substitute||Flavor||Texture (Cooked)||Cooking Time|
|Bulgar||Nutty with a popcorn-like scent||Chewy and rice-like||15 minutes|
|Quinoa||Sweet and nutty||Soft with a slight crunch, seedy||15 minutes|
|Amaranth||Nutty||Soft with a slight crunch||20 minutes|
|Buckwheat Groats||Full-flavored grain with earthy notes||Soft and chewy||20 minutes|
|Rice||Mild flavor, varies depending on type of rice||Chewy, soft texture, varies with type of rice||20–45 minutes, depending on type of rice|
|Sorghum||Lightly nutty, similar to wheat berries||Chewy||50–60 minutes|
|Barley||Lightly nutty||Chewy||(Pearl) 45 minutes|
Is Millet Good for You?
Millet is a plant-based whole grain that is packed with a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
As a broad generalization, yes, it is a healthy addition to an otherwise well-balanced diet. It is neither a miracle grain nor a cause for concern in most healthy individuals.
Millet is a good source of plant-based protein, with a moderate amount of carbs and fat. It’s also high in fiber, which we’ll cover more in the next questions.
Millet also provides a good amount of various vitamins and minerals, particularly iron, calcium, and folate, which are critical for healthy bodies, particularly growing bodies.
There are also antioxidants in millet.
Does Millet Cause Digestive Issues?
Most whole grains are rich in fiber, millet included.
Fiber is well-known to help your digestive system operate more smoothly. When eaten regularly in recommended quantities, it will not either slow or speed up your bowel movements, but rather keep them nice and consistent.
Unfortunately, most people who follow a Standard American Diet (SAD), also called the Western Pattern Diet (WPD) are severely lacking and undernourished in the fiber department.
If your digestive system isn’t used to fiber and is suddenly introduced to a high fiber grain like millet, it can cause some temporary discomfort.
If you continue to eat a diet rich in fiber, millet should not cause gas or constipation, but rather should be a helpful way to relieve these symptoms.
Can You Cook Millet in a Rice Cooker?
Using a rice cooker to cook millet is a very effective and easy way to prepare your grains.
Many rice cookers have multiple settings designed specifically to suit different types of grains, but even a basic single setting rice cooker or oatmeal cooker will work for millet.
There are a few things you should remember when cooking millet.
- Always rinse it first, which is a good habit to follow for any type of grain.
- It is small and light, so it will take less time to cook than most other grains, including rice.
- In a rice cooker, millet cooks best in a ratio of 1 cup of grain to 2 cups of water or broth.
Most rice cookers automatically shut off after about 20 minutes, which should be more than enough for millet, but you can check 5 minutes before and stop your cooker whenever you’re happy with the texture.
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