Brazil’s next big grain? Researchers propose pearl millet as an alternative to rice and maize

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / mirzamlk
Getty Images / mirzamlk

Related tags Grain Probiotic Agriculture

Brazilian researchers found that pearl millet has higher protein and fiber than rice, and isolated bacterial strains from the fermented bran may have probiotic potential.

Researchers from the Department of Food Science and Technology at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil argued that pearl millet has “great potential as food” ​and “non-dairy probiotic drinks.”

They explored the nutritive properties of pearl millet, one of the basic cereals of several African and Asian countries. Although it has been cultivated in Brazil for at least 50 years, it has mostly been used as cover crop and animal feed, the authors wrote.

“Climate change can cause an increase in arid soils, warmer weather, and reduce water availability, which in turn can directly affect food security. This increases food prices and reduces the availability of food,”​ they wrote in their report​, published in Food Research International ​this summer.

“Therefore, knowledge concerning the nutritional and technological potential of non-traditional crops and their resistance to heat and drought is very interesting.”

The researchers looked at published studies surrounding pearl millet’s nutritive characteristics and use as a human food.

“Pearl millet grains can be considered a possible alternative for food diversification because they have the fibers, minerals, proteins and antioxidants with similar or even higher levels than those found in traditional grains such as rice and maize,”​ they wrote, citing studies published in 2003 and 2016.

Average carbohydrate content of pearl millet is 72.2% compared to rice’s 84.9% and maize’s 78.1%. Additionally, it has higher average protein content at 11.8% compared to maize at 9.2% and rice at 8.6%.

A 2013 study published in Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research ​found that, on a petri dish, pearl millet grains imparted a prebiotic effect, which means it ‘fed’ and stimulated the growth of known probiotic cultures such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus ​and Bifidobacterium bifidus.

When fermented, bacterial strains isolated from pearl millet were linked to probiotic effects. They cited a 2015 study, in which researchers “reported that Lactobacillus fermentum strains isolated from fermented pearl millet grains presented antimicrobial activity against Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus aureus.”

“This cereal has significant relevance for food safety as well as being a viable alternative for consumers seeking low priced, nutritious and sustainable food products,”​ they added.

Source: Food Research International
Published online ahead of print,
“Potential use of pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucam (L.) R. Br.) in Brazil: Food security, processing, health benefits and nutritional products”
Authors: Amanda M. Dias-Martins, et al.

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