What is there in a name, you would say. Well, a lot, would be my reply. I agree that a rose is a rose and is a rose. But this is not true for every other plant. I know a number of very important and nutritious plants whose use has been restricted simply because they were clubbed as “coarse cereals.” They may be coarse in appearance but are highly nutritious. They were used predominantly in our traditional cuisine but because of the nomenclature have gradually disappeared from our platter.
We often believe coarse cereals are inferior grains. The moment you say coarse grains you think these are probably meant for cattle. Superior grains that suit our palate are only wheat and rice. Somehow this has gone into our psyche. Much of the fault I would say actually rest on how we categorized these highly nutritious, wholesome, and rich grains. If only we were to start calling them Nutri cereals (instead of coarse cereals) I am sure our thinking and approach towards these grains will change, and change dramatically.
When I was a student, I was always puzzled why Bengal gram or Kabuli chana in Hindi (botanically called as Cicer arietinum) was called chickpea. Similarly, why red gram or arhar in Hindi (botanically Cajanus cajan, syn. Cajanus indicus) was called pigeon pea. Both are a very important part of the Indian diet and are rich nutritious legumes, but somehow the popular English names do not do justice to them.
Pigeon pea contains high amounts of proteins, and amino acids, methionine, and lysine. It not only supplements the Indian diet, which is rich in cereals, with proteins thereby making it well-balanced, pigeon pea is also used for green manuring and medicinal purposes. Chickpea on the other hand is also highly nutritious, has about 23 percent protein, and is a rich source of carbohydrates and calcium. Wikipedia tells us:
Chickpeas are a helpful source of zinc, folate, and protein. They are also very high in dietary fiber and hence a healthy source of carbohydrates for persons with insulin sensitivity or diabetes. Chickpeas are low in fat and most of this is polyunsaturated.
One hundred grams of mature boiled chickpeas contains 164 calories, 2.6 grams of fat (of which only 0.27 grams is saturated), 7.6 grams of dietary fiber, and 8.9 grams of protein. Chickpeas also provide dietary calcium (49-53 mg/100 g), with some sources citing the garbanzo’s calcium content as about the same as yogurt and close to milk. According to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics chickpea seeds contain on average:
64% total carbohydrates (47% starch, 6% soluble sugar)
6% crude fiber
There is also a high reported mineral content:
phosphorus (340 mg/100 g)
calcium (190 mg/100 g)
magnesium (140 mg/100g)
iron (7 mg/100 g)
zinc (3 mg/100 g)
Recent studies by Government agencies have also shown that they can assist in lowering cholesterol in the bloodstream.
I remember posing this question to Dr. M S Swaminathan. He told me that actually the name pigeon pea and chickpea became popular because the British and French found these grains to be mainly suitable for feeding the pigeons (and hence the name pigeon pea) and for feeding the chicken (that is how chickpea got its popular name). Since legumes are not an essential part of the European diets, they named it according to what they used these nutritious grains for.
So the moment you hear pigeon pea and chickpea you think that these grains are meant for the birds. Well, I am sure you will now agree that a name does the trick.
The British also tried to distort the name for mango, the king of fruits. The late Dr. M S Randhawa once wrote that the British did not the saviour the site of Indians squatting on the floor and sucking mangoes, with the juice flowing down their elbows. They often referred it to as the ‘bathroom fruit.’ And they would ensure that the Indian staff in their houses (during the British Raj) would eat mangoes only in the bathroom.
Imagine, mango being called ‘bathroom fruit’!
Nevertheless, coarse cereals too have distorted the image of highly nutritious cereals, which should form part of the modern Indian diet. Because these are called coarse grains, we think these are rough and unhealthy. On the contrary, coarse cereals are the staple diets of millions of people living in the dryland regions of the country. Predominantly grown in the fragile ecosystems, these crops include jawar, bajra, ragi, and other small millets.
The Indian Council of Medical Research has worked out the nutritional superiority of millets. Compared to rice (on a 100-gram weight basis), Foxtail millet has 81 percent more protein, Little millet has 840 percent higher fat, 350 percent higher fiber, and 1229 percent higher quantity of iron.
Kode millet also contains 633 percent more minerals. Finger millet has 3340 percent higher calcium and Pearl millet has 85 percent higher phosphorus. In addition, these millets are also very rich in vitamins such as Thiamine (Foxtail millet), Riboflavin (Pearl millet), Niacin (Kode millet), and Folic acid (Pearl millet). By virtue of being highly nutritious, millets possess several medicinal properties such as improving digestibility, curing coronary heart diseases and diabetes, etc.
Do you still think they need to be classified as coarse cereals?
Let me simplify this further. Dr. T N Prakash, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Bangalore, explains in a much easier way. He says that eating a meal with chapatis made from Pearl millet provides sufficient Vitamin A required for the body that otherwise would have come from a kilogram of carrot. Taking a meal made from Foxtail millet provides protein equivalent to what an egg contains, a meal of Ragi bowl provides calcium much more than what could have been obtained by drinking three glasses of milk, a breakfast of Little millet provides more iron than what could have been obtained by consuming 50 gms of leafy vegetables.
As these carrot, egg, milk and leafy vegetables are not at all within the reach of poor people, the millets are rightly described, from the nutrition point of view, as the “poor man’s gold.”
Well, isn’t it time therefore that we change the name of these nutritious grains to Nutri cereals? If we can change the name of Bombay to Mumbai, and Madras to Chennai, why can’t we create a new classification for these nutritious grains? Why can’t we simply drop the term coarse cereals and replace it with Nutri cereals?
Call them Nutri cereals (and include legumes like pigeon pea and chickpea also in that category), and you will see our entire approach towards these so-called lowly grains changing, and changing for the better.