Millet [Panicum Miliaceum] is an annual herbaceous plant that is part of the Graminaceae family. It is a cereal crop that can adapt and produce grain on low-fertility soils, more arid regions, and in warmer climates.
The cereal is considered a minor cereal, of an almost exotic nature. Moreover, millet is present in the traditional foods of our region. The cultivation of millet in northern Italy is a testimony to vestigial topography. In Emilia Romagna, several small towns are named after the derivation of the word “millet” as in “Migliarino” in the province of Ferrara, or from the word ” Panicum ” as in” Borgo Panigale ” in the province of Bologna.
Millet originated in Asia. The plant was then introduced into Europe by both the ancient Greeks and Romans, comprising a primary role in the daily diet of people during the Middle Ages. The cause of the decline in plant cultivation was attributable to a change in eating habits, after the introduction of maize from America. Currently, millet in Italy is predominantly used as animal feed. However, this cereal is characterized by excellent nutritional properties, both in terms of the amino acid profile and with regard to minerals and vitamin content.
Rich in minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron, as well as group B, A, and E vitamins, millet can be considered as a natural tonic. In addition, the presence of silicon makes it a fundamental food for those who are in need of assistance in stimulating keratin production, or as small support to the immune system. One of the most notable characteristics of millet is the lack of gluten and, therefore, it can be safely consumed by celiac disease sufferers.
Sorghum [Sorghum bicolor L. Moench] is a highly digestible, gluten-free cereal, with physiological and agronomic characteristics that are very similar to those of millet. Its cultivation, distributed over limited areas from Asia to Italy, has been observed since Roman times. Today, the areas dedicated to sorghum cultivation in Italy are more extensive than those of millet, but the final destination of this grain is predominantly animal feed.
Sorghum is an extremely stress-tolerant, resilient and adaptable plant. It does not need special pedo-climatic conditions and is resistant to various temperatures. It adapts to different terrains, from sandy to more clay type soils. Sorghum displays a strong recovery capacity in the face of drought because it can survive on residual humidity as a source of irrigation. The plant is tolerant to soil salinity, and is not prone to the dangers of mycotoxin contamination, having an innate resistance to many pathogenic agents that attack the grain.
The nutritional characteristics of sorghum are very similar to those of millet, being rich in fibre and gluten-free. Moreover, it contains important mineral salts such as iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin E and vitamin B3. Highly digestible, sorghum is also a natural source of antioxidants and phytochemicals such as phenolic acids, phytosterols and flavonoids.
These attributes render sorghum an important, food security crop for millions of people living under harsh conditions, in dry environments that aren’t able to easily tolerate crops such as maize. Moreover, sorghum is also a fundamental food for those who pursue health benefits through food choices.