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Pearl millet in the field Grain millet, early grain fill, Tifton, 7-3-02.jpg
Pearl millet in the field
Finger millet in the field Finger millet 3 11-21-02.jpg
Finger millet in the field
Ripe head of proso millet Panicum miliaceum0.jpg
Ripe head of proso millet
Sprouting millet plants Millet In Kerala-3.jpg
Sprouting millet plants

Millets ( /ˈmɪlɪts/ ) [1] are a highly varied group of small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for fodder and human food. Most species generally referred to as millets belong to the tribe Paniceae, but some millets also belong to various other taxa.


Millets are important crops in the semiarid tropics of Asia and Africa (especially in India, Mali, Nigeria, and Niger), with 97% of millet production in developing countries. [2] This crop is favored due to its productivity and short growing season under dry, high-temperature conditions.

Millets are indigenous to many parts of the world. [3] The most widely grown millets are sorghum and pearl millets, which are important crops in India and parts of Africa. [4] Finger millet, proso millet, and foxtail millet are also important crop species.

Millets may have been consumed by humans for about 7,000 years and potentially had "a pivotal role in the rise of multi-crop agriculture and settled farming societies." [5]


Generally, millets are small-grained, annual, warm-weather cereals belonging to the grass family. They are highly tolerant of drought and other extreme weather conditions and have a similar nutrient content to other major cereals. [6]

Millet species

The different species of millets are not necessarily closely related. All are members of the family Poaceae (the grasses) but can belong to different tribes or even subfamilies.

The most commonly cultivated millets are in bold italic. [4]

Eragrostideae tribe in the subfamily Chloridoideae:

Paniceae tribe in the subfamily Panicoideae:

Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) A closeup of Pearl Millet (Cumbu).JPG
Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum)
Kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum) A closeup of Varagu millet with husk..JPG
Kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum)

Andropogoneae tribe, also in the subfamily Panicoideae:


The various species called millet were initially domesticated in different parts of the world most notably East Asia, South Asia, West Africa, and East Africa. However, the domesticated varieties have often spread well beyond their initial area.[ citation needed ]

Specialized archaeologists called palaeoethnobotanists, relying on data such as the relative abundance of charred grains found in archaeological sites, hypothesize that the cultivation of millets was of greater prevalence in prehistory than rice, [10] especially in northern China and Korea. Millets also formed important parts of the prehistoric diet in Indian, Chinese Neolithic and Korean Mumun societies.[ citation needed ]

Domestication in East Asia

Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) and foxtail millet (Setaria italica) were important crops beginning in the Early Neolithic of China. Some of the earliest evidence of millet cultivation in China was found at Cishan (north), where proso millet husk phytoliths and biomolecular components have been identified around 10,300–8,700 years ago in storage pits along with remains of pit-houses, pottery, and stone tools related to millet cultivation. [11] Evidence at Cishan for foxtail millet dates back to around 8,700 years ago. [11] The oldest evidence of noodles in China were made from these two varieties of millet in a 4,000-year-old earthenware bowl containing well-preserved noodles found at the Lajia archaeological site in north China. [12] [13]

Palaeoethnobotanists have found evidence of the cultivation of millet in the Korean Peninsula dating to the Middle Jeulmun pottery period (around 3500–2000 BCE). [14] Millet continued to be an important element in the intensive, multicropping agriculture of the Mumun pottery period (about 1500–300 BCE) in Korea. [15] Millets and their wild ancestors, such as barnyard grass and panic grass, were also cultivated in Japan during the Jōmon period some time after 4000 BCE. [16]

Chinese myths attribute the domestication of millet to Shennong, a legendary Emperor of China, and Hou Ji, whose name means Lord Millet. [17]

Domestication in the Indian Subcontinent

Little millet (Panicum sumatrense) is believed to have been domesticated around 5000 before present in India subcontinent and Kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum) around 3700 before present, also in Indian subcontinent. [18] [19] Various millets have been mentioned in some of the Yajurveda texts, identifying foxtail millet (priyaṅgu), Barnyard millet (aṇu) and black finger millet (śyāmāka), indicating that millet cultivation was happening around 1200 BCE in India. [20] :505

Domestication in West Africa

Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) was definitely domesticated in Africa by 3500 before present, though 8000 before present is thought likely. [21] :160 Early evidence includes finds at Birimi in West Africa with the earliest at Dhar Tichitt in Mauritania. [21]

Pearl millet was domesticated in the Sahel region of West Africa, where its wild ancestors are found. Evidence for the cultivation of pearl millet in Mali dates back to 2500 BCE, [22] and pearl millet is found in the Indian subcontinent by 2300 BCE. [23]

Domestication in East Africa

Finger millet is originally native to the highlands of East Africa and was domesticated before the third millennium BCE. Its cultivation had spread to South India by 1800 BCE. [24]


The cultivation of common millet as the earliest dry crop in East Asia has been attributed to its resistance to drought, [11] and this has been suggested to have aided its spread. [25] Asian varieties of millet made their way from China to the Black Sea region of Europe by 5000 BCE. [25]

Millet was growing wild in Greece as early as 3000 BCE, and bulk storage containers for millet have been found from the Late Bronze Age in Macedonia and northern Greece. [26] Hesiod describes that "the beards grow round the millet, which men sow in summer." [27] [28] And millet is listed along with wheat in the third century BCE by Theophrastus in his "Enquiry into Plants". [29]


Research on millets is carried out by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) [30] [31] [32] and ICAR-Indian Institute of Millets Research [33] in Telangana, India, and by the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service at Tifton, Georgia, United States. [34]


Pearl millet is one of the two major crops in the semiarid, impoverished, less fertile agriculture regions of Africa and southeast Asia. [35] Millets are not only adapted to poor, dry infertile soils, but they are also more reliable under these conditions than most other grain crops. This has, in part, made millet production popular, particularly in countries surrounding the Sahara in western Africa.[ citation needed ]

Millets, however, do respond to high fertility and moisture. On a per-hectare basis, millet grain production can be 2–4 times higher with use of irrigation and soil supplements. Improved breeds of millet with enhanced disease resistance can significantly increase farm yield. There has been cooperation between poor countries to improve millet yields. For example, 'Okashana 1', a variety developed in India from a natural-growing millet variety in Burkina Faso, doubled yields. This breed was selected for trials in Zimbabwe. From there it was taken to Namibia, where it was released in 1990 and enthusiastically adopted by farmers. 'Okashana 1' became the most popular variety in Namibia, the only non-Sahelian country where pearl millet—locally known as mahangu—is the dominant food staple for consumers. 'Okashana 1' was then introduced to Chad. The breed has significantly enhanced yields in Mauritania and Benin. [36]


Millet production – 2020
CountryProduction (millions of tonnes)
Flag of India.svg  India 12.5
Flag of Niger.svg  Niger 3.5
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 2.3
Flag of Nigeria.svg  Nigeria 2.0
Flag of Mali.svg  Mali 1.9
Flag of Ethiopia.svg  Ethiopia 1.2
Source: FAOSTAT of the United Nations [37]
Production of millet (2008). Milletoutput.png
Production of millet (2008).

In 2020, global production of millet was 30.5 million tonnes, led by India with 41% of the world total (table). Niger also had significant production. [37]

Alcoholic beverages

Tongba, a millet-based alcoholic brew found in the far eastern mountainous region of Nepal and Sikkim, India Tongba.jpg
Tongba , a millet-based alcoholic brew found in the far eastern mountainous region of Nepal and Sikkim, India

In India, various alcoholic beverages are produced from millets. [38] Millet is also the base ingredient for the distilled liquor rakshi . [38]

As a food source

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Awaokoshi, candied millet puffs, are a specialty of Osaka, Japan. This millet confection tradition began when it was presented to Sugawara no Michizane when he stopped in Naniwa during the early Heian period, about 1000 years ago. Awaokoshi 01.jpg
Awaokoshi, candied millet puffs, are a specialty of Osaka, Japan. This millet confection tradition began when it was presented to Sugawara no Michizane when he stopped in Naniwa during the early Heian period, about 1000 years ago.
Banh da ke, a specialty snack in Hanoi Banh da ke.jpg
Bánh đa kê, a specialty snack in Hanoi

Millets are major food sources in arid and semiarid regions of the world, and feature in the traditional cuisine of many others. In western India, sorghum (called jowar, jola, jonnalu, jwaarie, or jondhahlaa in Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi and Marathi languages, respectively; mutthaari, kora, or panjappullu in Malayalam; or cholam in Tamil) has been commonly used with millet flour (called jowari in western India) for hundreds of years to make the local staple, hand-rolled (that is, made without a rolling pin) flat bread (rotla in Gujarati, bhakri in Marathi, or roti in other languages). Another cereal grain popularly used in rural areas and by poor people to consume as a staple in the form of roti. Other millets such as ragi (finger millet) in Karnataka, naachanie in Maharashtra, or kezhvaragu in Tamil, "ragulu" in Telugu, with the popular ragi rotti and Ragi mudde is a popular meal in Karnataka. Ragi, as it is popularly known, is dark in color like rye, but rougher in texture.

Millet porridge is a traditional food in Russian, German, and Chinese сuisines. In Russia, it is eaten sweet (with milk and sugar added at the end of the cooking process) or savoury with meat or vegetable stews. In China, it is eaten without milk or sugar, frequently with beans, sweet potato, and/or various types of squash. In Germany, it is also eaten sweet, boiled in water with apples added during the boiling process and honey added during the cooling process.

Millet is also the main ingredient in a Vietnamese sweet snack called bánh đa kê. It contains a layer of smashed millet and mungbean topped with sliced dried coconut meat wrapped in a crunchy rice cake. It is a specialty of Hanoi. [39]

Per capita consumption of millets as food varies in different parts of the world, with consumption being the highest in Western Africa. In the Sahel region, millet is estimated to account for about 35 percent of total cereal food consumption in Burkina Faso, Chad and the Gambia. In Mali and Senegal, millets constitute roughly 40 percent of total cereal food consumption per capita, while in Niger and arid Namibia it is over 65 percent (see mahangu ). Other countries in Africa where millets are a significant food source include Ethiopia, Nigeria and Uganda. Millet is also an important food item for the population living in the drier parts of many other countries, especially in eastern and central Africa, and in the northern coastal countries of western Africa. In developing countries outside Africa, millet has local significance as a food in parts of some countries, such as China, India, Burma and North Korea. [3]

The use of millets as food fell between the 1970s and the 2000s, both in urban and rural areas, as developing countries such as India have experienced rapid economic growth and witnessed a significant increase in per capita consumption of other cereals.

People affected by gluten-related disorders, such as coeliac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy sufferers, [40] [41] [42] who need a gluten-free diet, can replace gluten-containing cereals in their diets with millet. [43] Nevertheless, while millet does not contain gluten, its grains and flour may be contaminated with gluten-containing cereals. [44] [45]

It is a common ingredient in seeded bread.

Millets are also used as bird and animal feed.

Grazing millet

In addition to being used for seed, millet is also used as a grazing forage crop. Instead of letting the plant reach maturity, it can be grazed by stock and is commonly used for sheep and cattle.

Millet is a C4 plant, which means that it has good water-use efficiency and utilizes high temperature and is therefore a summer crop. A C4 plant uses a different enzyme in photosynthesis from C3 plants, and this is why it improves water efficiency.

In southern Australia millet is used as a summer quality pasture, utilizing warm temperatures and summer storms. Millet is frost-sensitive and is sown after the frost period, once soil temperature has stabilised at 14 °C or higher. It is sown at a shallow depth.

Millet grows rapidly and can be grazed 5–7 weeks after sowing, when it is 20–30 cm high. The highest feed value is from the young green leaf and shoots. The plant can quickly come to head, so it must be managed accordingly because as the plant matures, the value and palatability of feed reduces.

The Japanese millets ( Echinochloa esculenta ) are considered the best for grazing and in particular Shirohie, a new variety of Japanese millet, is the best suited variety for grazing. This is due to a number of factors: it gives better regrowth and is later to mature compared to other Japanese millets; it is cheap – cost of seed is $2–$3 per kg, and sowing rates are around 10 kg per hectare for dryland production; it is quick to establish, can be grazed early, and is suitable for both sheep and cattle.

Compared to forage sorghum, which is grown as an alternative grazing forage, animals gain weight faster on millet, and it has better hay or silage potential, although it produces less dry matter. Lambs do better on millet compared to sorghum. [46] Millet does not contain prussic acid, which can be in sorghum. Prussic acid poisons animals by inhibiting oxygen utilisation by the cells and is transported in the blood around the body — ultimately the animal will die from asphyxia. [47] There is no need for additional feed supplements such as Sulphur or salt blocks with millet.

The rapid growth of millet as a grazing crop allows flexibility in its use. Farmers can wait until sufficient late spring / summer moisture is present and then make use of it. It is ideally suited to irrigation where livestock finishing is required. [46] [47] [48]


Millet, raw (Panicum miliaceum) [49]
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,582 kJ (378 kcal)
72.8 g
Dietary fiber 8.5 g
Saturated 0.7 g
Monounsaturated 0.8 g
Polyunsaturated 2.1 g
0.1 g
2.0 g
11.0 g
Vitamins Quantity
Riboflavin (B2)
0.29 mg
Niacin (B3)
4.72 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.85 mg
Vitamin B6
0.38 mg
Folate (B9)
85 μg
Vitamin C
1.6 mg
Vitamin K
0.9 μg
Minerals Quantity
8 mg
3.0 mg
114 mg
1.6 mg
285 mg
195 mg
5 mg
1.7 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water8.7 g
Copper0.8 mg
Selenium2.7 µg
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.

A 100-gram (3+12-ounce) reference serving of raw millet (Panicum miliaceum or proso millet) provides 1,582 kilojoules (378 kilocalories) of food energy and is a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins and numerous dietary minerals, especially manganese at 76% DV (USDA nutrient table). Raw millet is 9% water, 73% carbohydrates, 4% fat and 11% protein (table).

Comparison with other major staple foods

The following table shows the nutrient content of millet compared to major staple foods in a raw form. Raw forms, however, are not edible and cannot be fully digested. These must be prepared and cooked as appropriate for human consumption. In processed and cooked form, the relative nutritional and antinutritional contents of each of these grains is remarkably different from that of raw forms reported in this table. The nutritional value in the cooked form depends on the cooking method.

Nutrient profile comparison of proso millet with other food staples [49]
(per 100 g portion, raw grain)
Cassava [lower-alpha 1] Wheat [lower-alpha 2] Rice [lower-alpha 3] Maize [lower-alpha 4] Sorghum
millet [lower-alpha 5]
millet [lower-alpha 6]
millet [38]
water (g)6013.112769.28.7
energy (kJ)66713681527360141815821462
protein (g)1.412.67311.3119.94
fat (g)0.31.5113.34.23.03
carbohydrates (g)3871.27919757363.82
fiber (g)1.81.2136.38.58.2
sugars (g)1.70.4>0.131.9
iron (mg)
manganese (mg)<0.11.6
calcium (mg)162928228832.33
magnesium (mg)211262537<120114
phosphorus (mg)2728811589287285300
potassium (mg)271363115270350195
zinc (mg)<11.732.7
pantothenic acid (mg)<0.90.8
vitB6 (mg)<0.30.4
folate (µg)2738842<2585
thiamin (mg)0.10.380.
riboflavin (mg)<0.10.1>
niacin (mg)
Nutrient content of various raw millets with comparison to quinoa, teff, fonio, rice and wheat [50]
Crop / nutrientProtein (g)Fiber (g)Minerals (g)Iron (mg)Calcium (mg)
Pearl millet10.61.32.316.938
Finger millet7.
Foxtail millet12.383.32.831
Proso millet12.
Kodo millet8.392.60.527
Little millet7.
Barnyard millet11.210.14.415.211
Brown top millet11.512.54.20.650.01

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cereal</span> Grass of whose fruits are used as grain, or said fruits

A cereal is any grass cultivated for the edible components of its grain, composed of the endosperm, germ, and bran. Cereal grain crops are grown in greater quantities and provide more food energy worldwide than any other type of crop and are therefore staple crops. Edible grains from other plant families, such as buckwheat, quinoa and chia, are referred to as pseudocereals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Proso millet</span> Species of plant

Panicum miliaceum is a grain crop with many common names, including proso millet, broomcorn millet, common millet, hog millet, Kashfi millet, red millet, and white millet. Archaeobotanical evidence suggests millet was first domesticated about 10,000 BP in Northern China. The crop is extensively cultivated in China, India, Nepal, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Middle East, Turkey, Romania, and the United States, where about half a million acres are grown each year. The crop is notable both for its extremely short lifecycle, with some varieties producing grain only 60 days after planting, and its low water requirements, producing grain more efficiently per unit of moisture than any other grain species tested. The name "proso millet" comes from the pan-Slavic general and generic name for millet. Proso millet is a relative of foxtail millet, pearl millet, maize, and sorghum within the grass subfamily Panicoideae. While all of these crops use C4 photosynthesis, the others all employ the NADP-ME as their primary carbon shuttle pathway, while the primary C4 carbon shuttle in proso millet is the NAD-ME pathway.

<i>Eleusine coracana</i> Species of grass

Eleusine coracana, or finger millet, also known as ragi in India, kodo in Nepal, is an annual herbaceous plant widely grown as a cereal crop in the arid and semiarid areas in Africa and Asia. It is a tetraploid and self-pollinating species probably evolved from its wild relative Eleusine africana.

Fonio Species of cultivated grass

Fonio is the term for two cultivated grasses in the genus Digitaria that are notable crops in parts of West Africa. They are millets with small grains.

Pearl millet Species of cultivated grass

Pearl millet is the most widely grown type of millet. It has been grown in Africa and the Indian subcontinent since prehistoric times. The center of diversity, and suggested area of domestication, for the crop is in the Sahel zone of West Africa. Recent archaeobotanical research has confirmed the presence of domesticated pearl millet on the Sahel zone of northern Mali between 2500 and 2000 BC.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics</span>

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is an international organization which conducts agricultural research for rural development, headquartered in Patancheru with several regional centers (Bamako, Nairobi and research stations (Niamey, Kano, Lilongwe, Addis Ababa, Bulawayo . It was founded in 1972 by a consortium of organisations convened by the Ford and the Rockefeller foundations. Its charter was signed by the FAO and the UNDP.

<i>Panicum</i> Genus of grasses

Panicum (panicgrass) is a large genus of about 450 species of grasses native throughout the tropical regions of the world, with a few species extending into the northern temperate zone. They are often large, annual or perennial grasses, growing to 1–3 m tall.

<i>Digitaria exilis</i> Species of grass

Digitaria exilis, referred to as findi or fundi in areas of Africa, such as The Gambia, with English common names white fonio, fonio millet, and hungry rice or acha rice, is a grass species. It is the most important of a diverse group of wild and domesticated Digitaria species known as fonio that are harvested in the savannas of West Africa. The grains are very small. It has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable use of the land. Despite its valuable characteristics and widespread cultivation, fonio has generally received limited research and development attention, which is also why the species is sometimes referred to as an underutilized crop.

Foxtail millet Species of grass

Foxtail millet, scientific name Setaria italica, is an annual grass grown for human food. It is the second-most widely planted species of millet, and the most grown millet species in Asia. The oldest evidence of foxtail millet cultivation was found along the ancient course of the Yellow River in Cishan, China, carbon dated to be from around 8,000 years before present. Foxtail millet has also been grown in India since antiquity.

<i>Echinochloa frumentacea</i> Species of grass

Echinochloa frumentacea is a species of Echinochloa. Both Echinochloa frumentacea and E. esculenta are called Japanese millet. This millet is widely grown as a cereal in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Its wild ancestor is the tropical grass Echinochloa colona, but the exact date or region of domestication is uncertain. It is cultivated on marginal lands where rice and other crops will not grow well. The grains are cooked in water, like rice, or boiled with milk and sugar. Sometimes it is fermented to make beer. While also being part of staple diet for some communities in India, these seeds are, in particular, eaten during religious fasting. For this reason, these seeds are commonly also referred to as "vrat ke chawal" in Hindi. Other common names to identify these seeds include oodalu (ಊದಲು) in Kannada, Shyamak (শ্যামাক) or Shyama Chal in Bangla, jhangora in the Garhwal Hills, bhagar (भगर) in Marathi-speaking areas, samo or morio seeds in Gujarati, or kuthiraivaali (குதிரைவாளி) in Tamil.

<i>Echinochloa colona</i> Species of plant

Echinochloa colona, commonly known as jungle rice, deccan grass, or awnless barnyard grass, is a type of wild grass originating from tropical Asia. It was formerly classified as a species of Panicum. It is the wild ancestor of the cultivated cereal crop Echinochloa frumentacea, sawa millet. Some taxonomists treat the two taxa as one species, in which case the domesticated forms may also be referred to as E. colona.

<i>Echinochloa</i> Genus of flowering plants in the grass family

Echinochloa is a very widespread genus of plants in the grass family and tribe Paniceae. Some of the species are known by the common names barnyard grass or cockspur grass.

<i>Echinochloa crus-galli</i> Species of plant

Echinochloa crus-galli is a type of wild grass originating from tropical Asia that was formerly classified as a type of panicum grass. It is commonly known as cockspur, barnyard millet, Japanese millet, water grass, common barnyard grass, or simply "barnyard grass". This plant can grow to 60" in height and has long, flat leaves which are often purplish at the base. Most stems are upright, but some will spread out over the ground. Stems are flattened at the base. The seed heads are a distinctive feature, often purplish, with large millet-like seeds in crowded spikelets.

<i>Sorghum bicolor</i> Species of plant

Sorghum bicolor, commonly called sorghum and also known as great millet, broomcorn, guinea corn, durra, imphee, jowar, or milo, is a grass species cultivated for its grain, which is used for food for humans, animal feed, and ethanol production. Sorghum originated in Africa, and is now cultivated widely in tropical and subtropical regions. Sorghum is the world's fifth-most important cereal crop after rice, wheat, maize, and barley, with 59.34 million metric tons of annual global production in 2018. S. bicolor is typically an annual, but some cultivars are perennial. It grows in clumps that may reach over 4 m high. The grain is small, ranging from 2 to 4 mm in diameter. Sweet sorghums are sorghum cultivars that are primarily grown for forage, syrup production, and ethanol; they are taller than those grown for grain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Commercial sorghum</span>

Commercial sorghum is the cultivation and commercial exploitation of species of grasses within the genus Sorghum. These plants are used for grain, fibre and fodder. The plants are cultivated in warmer climates worldwide. Commercial Sorghum species are native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia.

<i>Panicum sumatrense</i> Species of grass

Panicum sumatrense, known as little millet, is a species of millet in the family Poaceae.

Ancient grains Small, hard, dry seeds used as food

Ancient grains is a marketing term used to describe a category of grains and pseudocereals that are purported to have been minimally changed by selective breeding over recent millennia, as opposed to more widespread cereals such as corn, rice and modern varieties of wheat, which are the product of thousands of years of selective breeding. Ancient grains are often marketed as being more nutritious than modern grains, though their health benefits have been disputed by some nutritionists.

<i>Atherigona</i> Genus of flies

Atherigona is a genus of flies in the family Muscidae.

<i>Spodiopogon formosanus</i> Species of grass

Spodiopogon formosanus or the Taiwan oil millet is a species of perennial grass in the family Poaceae. It is endemic to Taiwan. It is traditionally grown as a cereal crop by the Taiwanese aborigines.



  1. Raw, uncooked
  2. Hard red winter.
  3. White, long-grain, regular, raw, unenriched.
  4. Sweet, yellow, raw.
  5. Sorghum, edible portion white variety.
  6. Millet, proso variety, raw.


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