Ragi Finger Millet The Supergrain

 

Finger Millet or Ragi
Photo: Gaurav Dhwaj Khadka CC-SA 4.0  
Have you ever heard of Ragi?  It's a type of millet. It's gluten free and very nutritious.  It's widely available and loved, but sort of niche.  The English word for it is Finger Millet. This cute little plant manages to provide a wonderful thickener, baby food, whole grain, and can be made into flatbreads, cookies, almost anything you could want from a  flour.  It can be hidden in other recipes for a boost of nutrition, just swap it for some of the rice flour or tapioca flour.  It behaves a lot like tapioca flour except it's closer to the farm, and less processed.  

One of the first pieces of advice you get if you're reading up on it is, "toast (the flour) before use" and I think this is good advice.  There is a bit of a wild, slightly acrid aftertaste if you just use it straight from the bag.  The taste can be masked by strong flavors like chocolate, but toasting the flour brings out a very nice natural flavor that needs no masking. 

I've had some experience now with Ragi, I've been experimenting with it for over a year.  The first time, I bought some flour that was old and the aftertaste was intense.  The stronger the aftertaste the older the flour is.  Ragi is a whole food so it's more fragile than people expect.   


Where do I buy it?

Ragi is usually found in the US as a flour and this brings up a risk for people with Celiac.  India is a country with a traditional farming system (more on that later), and flour mills may grind all sorts of grains on the same mill.  This poses an unusually strong cross contamination risk.  For example, this product is fine for most people, but Celiacs should not use it.  Luckily, India is also a modern country in many ways, and they have a few operations that have gluten free facilities.  For example the 24 Mantra brand has a gluten free label which indicates it was processed in a GF facility.  You can generally find that in local international stores though, for example Patel Brothers, and in smaller quantities so you can try it.

Finger millet originated in Africa, in Ethiopia and Uganda.  It's still grown there but I'm not aware of any exports of it.  Please let me know if you know of any, especially if they are appropriate for people with Celiac.  I will add the product here. I would also love to hear of an American farmer who has invested in trying out Ragi as a basis for GF beer and has therefore planted a few fields of it. As you will see later in the article, Ragi may make a particularly nice mellow beer. 

 

Basic Ragi Pudding

So what do you do with it?  Well, first, you toast about half of your bag of ragi flour (next recipe), and place in a sealed container.  What I usually do with it is make a simple sauce or pudding using the following formula:

2 cups liquid (usually 1 cup milk 1 cup water)

5 measured Tablespoons Ragi flour (toasted)

*put these in a small saucepan and whisk vigorously while cold, until completely mixed

*allow to stand for at least 10 minutes, this reduces grainy texture

*heat on medium heat while whisking constantly for 5-8 minutes

* it will first look like there is a thin foam on top, then it will look like a thin sauce, at that point I usually use a spoon so I can feel the bottom if it's burning... if so, take off the heat, lower the heat to low, and continue

*continue whisking until you can see tracks are being left in the pudding, the color should now be  mauve, it won't be white because it's a whole grain, so whatever you plan for it, plan to incorporate the color of it by adding chocolate or making buckwheat-ragi pancakes... etc.  

Once you have the pudding made you can flavor it however you want, savory or sweet, or add it to a baking recipe as a nutrition ingredient. My simplest method is to add a bit of butter, salt and a bit of garlic for a savory treat. But cinnamon and sugar are good options too. 

Here's an authentic Ragi Chocolate Pudding recipe, for a sweet version. 

 

To use as a thickener

Use 1 measured tablespoons of ragi flour per cup of sauce (that you want to thicken).  Mix well, at least 2 Tablespoons ragi and 1/2 cup of water.  Allow to stand for 10 minutes, then add to the sauce, stew or soup you want thickened. After it boils, the ragi is activated and will help thicken it.  

Remember that starch thickeners, such as corn starch and ragi, seem too thin while they are hot and thicken even more while they cool down to the proper temperature for serving.  


In this picture I didn't add cinnamon because I didn't want to change the color.   


Wow my camera time is way off. I guess I'll have to turn that feature off, it seems to get slow. 

 

To Toast Ragi Flour

There are several methods, but the one I like is foolproof. Take a 9" x 13" baking pan, or any pan that works for you, and fill with up to a 1/2" layer of flour.  Preheat oven to 375°F.  Toast the flour for 5 minutes, stir, toast for another 5 min.  Done. Allow to cool.  Place in a sealed container when completely cool. 

Color change is slight if any. You could add another cycle if you want more of a toasty flavor. Smell is different though.

 Yeah, I really need to scrub my pans. :)

 

What's so special about Ragi?

My reasons to like ragi:

1.  I first thought I was imagining it, but later experiments confirmed, it gives me a nearly instant feeling of relaxation.  With an illness like Celiac that goes hand in hand with Anxiety, that's no small feature for a food to have.  Apparently it has a high Tryptophan content.

2.  I can eat it savory and not have to add sugar to it. It tastes good with just salt, so it could be included in a BRAT diet (Banana, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) if nausea hits. 

3.  It has a surprising number of vitamins and minerals in it.

4.  I can use it as a thickener like corn starch, only this has nutrition in it. It's also versatile enough to be used in flat breads, or added to bread recipes as a dough conditioner. On a techy note, it's an emulsifying thickener which is great for sandwich bread recipes.   It makes bread recipes more soft and keeps the crust from becoming hard and crusty, so if you're going for a "French baguette" type of bread, this isn't a good choice.  But if you want a sandwich bread, this is a good flour to use.

5.  Also I just think it's pretty, all mauve and speckled.  

 

NDTV has a lot more detailed reasons to like it.  Here are some highlights:

 

  • It's too tiny to be processed or polished, so whole grain is the way it is.
  • Rich in methionine and lysine, two amino acids that may be lacking if you're primarily living on a starchy diet (hint: if you're buying a lot of packaged GF foods and not a fan of meat, or if you just don't like many dense protein foods, some children don't)
  • High in calcium and iron, two minerals that are of particular importance to people with Celiac disease.  
  • It has a low glycemic index, which means, if you don't add sugar, your blood sugar should not spike very quickly if you have metabolic disease like Diabetes. It also means it satisfies hunger for a long time.

 

I'm living on the edge of Diabetes but haven't actually transitioned over to it.  I hope I never do.  That's why I eat my starches in savory form.  That doesn't mean I"m impervious to the temptation of sugar, but the anti-anxiety factor of ragi is really something.  It has to be experienced to be believed. Ragi has helped me cut down on "stress eating" and sugar cravings.

For generations this was and still is a weaning baby food. I wouldn't be at all surprised if one reason is that babies cry less when fed ragi based meals. 


More Ragi Recipes

Uganda Porridge 

Ragi Roti 1

Ragi Roti 2 with video - if you use dry leaves, I suggest buzzing them to a powder in a grinder first

Ragi Cookies 1 fat free vegan

Ragi Cookies 2 almond and ragi flours with butter


References

Finger Millet is in the crosshairs for GMO production: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30968267/

 Some nutrition data from 2013: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23522794/

 More nutrition facts about finger millet from Oct 2020: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33166822/

Don't forget that "wilder" foods have higher phenolic compounds which is good as an antioxidant, but not so good if you're trying to absorb minerals.  And that some (but not tannin) "antinutrients" can be deactivated by longer boiling. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22396123/

It looks like some finger millet may be fortified with zinc, or just finished products. I'm not sure this ever actually happened though. It may have stayed in the academic zone. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20122580/  also iron https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21568824/   

Which is interesting because it already contains zinc and iron: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32758001/

 

India Farmer's Protest

Farmers in India have been protesting and it's getting more and more dangerous.  It's been going on for months and I want to express my concern for them. The changes can be postponed for a few years until after the pandemic.  What's the big rush to change a system that's been fine for hundreds of years and the farmers don't want to change yet?

Farmers during this time have been committing suicide partly because their particular situation is dire, and partly to emphasize the seriousness of the overall situation.  People don't kill themselves over nothing.  The situation is complicated, but such extreme acts are perfectly easy to understand.  

Trevor Noah has even taken an interest now, and reported that over 250 million people are currently protesting.  That's more than all the adults in the USA. The US has a total population of about 328 million.  If you don't know about the farmer's protest in India, please look into it, it's enormous and serious.

There's another reason the farming laws aim at "modernizing" and creating a farmers "free market" in India, and I think that's why you hear about "infrastructure" so much.  Of all the people in the world who don't have electricity, India has 40% of them. No rural electrification program yet in India.  I guess the corporations who buy up the land will foot the bill for that?

💗 Indian Farmers I am praying for you.💗

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