Great Grains: Is Millet Just for the Birds?

This is the second post in the series “Great Grains” highlighting unusual whole grains and easy ways to incorporate them into your diet. The first post in the series, “The Beat on Bulgur” can be found here


Struggling to decide what’s for dinner? How about a stop in the bird seed aisle on the way home? Tonight, millet is on the menu. 


What is millet? 

The millet we—and birds—eat comes from a grass family, commonly grown in the northern Plains states. Although it’s technically a seed, for culinary purposes it looks, cooks, and tastes exactly like a grain. Birds love it raw and mixed with other seeds, but for most palates it’s best served cooked as a substitute for rice or potatoes. When boiled and fluffed millet appears and tastes similar to the now-trendy quinoa. Locavores tend to prefer millet though, because of the extensive carbon footprint it takes to get imported quinoa to the Upper Midwest. Millet has the same high-fiber, low-fat, and nutrient rich features of other whole grains and is gluten-free.  


With all of these features, why do we still think it’s just bird seed?


Where do I find it? 

Mid-western grown millet is available in the baking aisle of most supermarkets and is often available in bulk. Expect to pay a $1-2 per pound, more if it is certified organic. Minnesota shoppers should look for Whole Grain Milling from Welcome, MN; they offer whole millet and millet flour in bulk at many area co-ops. 

 Millet with mushrooms and brussels sproutsMillet with mushrooms and brussels sprouts

What do I do with it?

Besides putting it in the backyard feeder, millet can be swapped in most recipes for rice, potatoes and refined grains. 


  • On Its Own- Millet is one of the few grains I enjoy all on it’s own. For a quick side or to be served under a vegetable, boil in water for 20 minutes, fluff with a fork and lightly salt. 

Millet Spanish RiceMillet Spanish Rice

  • Millet Spanish Rice- Substitute millet for rice in a twist of a classic Mexican side. Add corn, fresh tomatoes and peppers to a skillet with 2 cups cooked millet. Season with cumin, cilantro and salt and pepper.  


  • Millet Muffins- Check out SGT’s Kirstin Boldon millet muffins recipe with yogurt, honey, and a bit of lemon juice. 


  • Millet with Brussel Sprouts and MushroomsMy favorite way to enjoy it, as a side or a vegetarian main dish. While cooking 1 ½ cups of millet, roughly chop 2 cups of brussel sprouts and sauté with onion and garlic. Remove from pan and sauté 3 cups of sliced mushrooms. When mushrooms are soft, return brussel sprouts to pan and add ¼ cup cream, salt and pepper. Toss with cooked millet. 


  • Millet Baked Goods–Substitute millet flour 1:1 for up to one half of the unbleached all-purpose flour in cookies, bars, and quick breads. The texture can be a bit gritty so it’s not recommended for pastry or cakes.


Amy Sippl is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good, and Tasty. She grew up in rural Wisconsin, but now calls St. Paul her home. She writes about her successes and struggles to eat and grow local food on her blog: Minnesota Locavore. Her last article for us was: The Beat on Bulgur.