What Is Millet vs. Quinoa | Bob’s Red Mill
Millet vs. Quinoa

Millet vs. Quinoa

It seems that every day a new superfood hits supermarket shelves and is revered as the next best thing to eat if you want to be healthy. Keeping up with all these nutritional trends can be exhausting, especially when it comes to grains. Quinoa, in particular, seems to have rapidly gone from a food most Americans didn't know how to pronounce, to a staple in many kitchens across the country. And if you find yourself wondering what the difference is between all these hyped-up grains, you are not alone. That’s why we have decided to discuss the differences between quinoa and a few other grains: barley, amaranth, and millet. While these four grains may appear to be the same, they are distinctly different in a few key ways. Here, we will examine the variations between quinoa and millet specifically.

What is Millet?

Millet is a gluten free whole grain that is most commonly used in Asia and South America. This whole grain is an excellent source of fiber in meals, but takes some getting used to when you’re learning how to cook it. Millet comes in various forms for cooking, and cooks most similarly to rice, however it can quadruple in size so be sure to cook it in a big enough pot.

What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa is also a whole grain that is gluten free. Quinoa is a common staple ingredient for people with celiac disease as it’s a great gluten free whole grain substitute for pasta. The mild taste of quinoa makes it a great whole grain in salads, or as a side dish as it tends to absorb all the flavors of whatever is being cooked with it. Quinoa also has a substantial amount of protein in the grain, making it a great source of nutrition. A common question that people ask is: is quinoa a grain? The short answer is that it’s actually more known to be a seed, but it’s often prepared like a grain. Quinoa is actually most related to spinach and chard, however.

What Is Amaranth?

Amaranth is gluten free grain that is also similar to millet and quinoa. The ancient grain is commonly grown in Africa, China, South America and other countries but has also been growing in popularity in North America in recent years. There are a lot of similarities between amaranth vs quinoa. Amaranth also is known to have a more potent nutty flavor than quinoa and millet.

Similarities Between Millet and Quinoa

millet grain

There are two main similarities between millet and quinoa:

  • Millet and quinoa are both whole grains
  • Millet and quinoa are both gluten free, as is amaranth

Millet and Quinoa Are Whole Grains

While both millet and quinoa are whole grains, meaning they contain the entire grain kernel, quinoa is technically a pseudocereal. What does this mean? Well, for starters let’s talk about grains. At its simplest, a grain can be broken down into three edible parts: the bran, or the seed’s outer skin, which is packed with fiber; the germ, which is the nutrient-dense embryo of the seed, full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids, and more; and the endosperm, the germ’s food supply and primary source of starchy carbohydrates. Most of the grains humans eat are encased in an inedible hull. And while some of these hulls are more easily removed than others, in certain cases, it's difficult to remove without taking away some or all of the bran and germ with it.

Achieving whole grain status means that 100% of the bran, germ, and endosperm are retained by the grain throughout this hulling process.

So, although quinoa is commonly referred to as a grain, it is, in reality, a seed harvested from a species of a plant known as goosefoot. As a pseudocereal, quinoa is more closely related to other plants like spinach and beets than it is to more traditional grains like wheat.

Millet, Quinoa and Amaranth Are Gluten Free

As with amaranth, quinoa and millet are both gluten free. If you’re wondering what gluten free really means, you are not alone. It became a relatively trendy phrase a few years ago, but most people are actually misinformed as to what it means. In simple terms, gluten is a network of proteins which can be developed when flour and water are combined then kneaded into a dough, providing an elastic texture and keeping it from falling apart.

Gluten is not usually a dietary concern, but for some, it can be dangerous. For example, those individuals with celiac disease can have severe digestive issues and other symptoms when gluten is consumed as a reaction to the two main proteins in gluten, glutenin, and gliadin. However, without a medical reason, gluten is safe and healthy to consume. The fact that these grains are gluten free is good news to those with a gluten-associated condition.

Differences Between Millet, Quinoa and Amaranth

quinoa salad

Now that we’ve established how millet and quinoa are similar, we can consider what makes each grain distinct from the other. The main differences between millet, quinoa and amaranth are:

  • Uses and pervasiveness
  • Nutrition contents
  • Appearance
  • Cooking Methods

Uses & Pervasiveness of Millet

In the United States, millet is actually used more often as bird seed than as human sustenance. However, societies in India, China, South America, Russia, and the Himalayas use millet as a common grain staple. Millet comes in several forms, including pearl, proso, fingertail, and finger millet, though these varieties are similar in flavor. Different cultures use millet, the world’s sixth most important grain, according to the Whole Grain Council, to make bread, porridge, and beer.

Quinoa, in comparison, is a staple food for many in the Andes, which is where most of the quinoa consumed in the United States is from. In addition, quinoa comes in more than 120 varieties and is typically eaten as a side dish or used in cereals, crackers, and granola.

Nutrition in Quinoa vs Millet

Quinoa is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, a rarity among grains. In fact, quinoa offers approximately 6 grams of protein per serving. Most grains, including millet, lack the essential amino acid lysine and have a lower overall protein content. However, after protein content the differences become minimal. Both millet and quinoa are excellent natural sources of fiber, magnesium, and antioxidants, which help fight off disease-causing free radicals.

Appearance of Millet and Quinoa

The majority of quinoa consumed is white or ivory, but it can also be found in red, black, and purple varieties. Likewise, millet also grows in several colors, including white, red, yellow, or gray. Generally speaking, pearl millet is the variety most commonly sold for human consumption in the United States and is a small, round, white or ivory-colored grain. Quinoa is also small but oval or disk-shaped, with a flattened or depressed band around the edges.

How Do You Cook & Eat Millet and Quinoa?

When it comes to cooking, quinoa preparation is similar to that of rice and takes approximately 15 minutes. Millet, however, is much more demanding to cook. It's not that cooking millet is difficult, per say, but it does take some getting used to. As it cooks, millet can almost quadruple in size, meaning it is a thirsty grain. If you deprive it of liquid, it will punish you with a gritty, dry, pasty pot of food. Hydrate it properly, though, and you'll find yourself with a bowl of fluffy grains that has a texture somewhere between mashed potatoes and pasta. You can eat millet and quinoa like you would rice as a main dish or a side dish, or you can add it to salads and other meals.

What Does Millet vs Quinoa Taste Like?

When serving, both quinoa and millet generally have mild flavors, absorbing the characteristics of the food around it. Though millet does have a slightly nutty quality to it.

As you can see, both millet and quinoa are wonderfully nutritious grains with their own unique characteristics and benefits. If you are in a rush and need something easy, quinoa may be your go-to. But if you seek out a culinary challenge and want to try something new, millet should be given a shot. Who knows, it may become a staple in your kitchen like it is in many around the world.

Millet Recipes and Quinoa Recipes

Now that you know the differences and similarities between millet and quinoa, you can decide which one you want to try first! We put together a list of quinoa recipe ideas and millet recipes that we are loving:


34 Comments

  1. Rosemarie Thellmann
    Rosemarie Thellmann
    I thought that barley did have gluten.
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Hi Rosemarie, it absolutely does and we updated the article to reflect that. We are sorry for the confusion.
      Reply
  2. relentless
    Which species is Bob's Millet: Pearl or Foxtail?
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Our millet is Proso. This is the only variety that is grown as a grain crop.
      Reply
  3. Elizabeth Mansouri
    Elizabeth Mansouri
    I have read that millet contains goitrogens that can cause thyroid problems, namely, goiter. What have you heard?
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      We have not heard about this. We suggest you speak with your healthcare professional if you have a concern about this.
      Reply
    2. Inst
      The biggest millet implicated in goiter is pearl millet, commonly used in Africa and South Asia. However, specific milling processes can remove the goitrogens from pearl millet, but I don't know whether they're in common use. Foxtail millet is known to contain goitrogens, but not much study has been done on it as its primary culinary use is in Chinese breakfasts, on occasion. Proso millet, as Bob's Red Mill uses, is not known to either have or to lack goitrogens, due to its primary use as birdseed.
      Reply
    3. Inst
      I have a very odd and insane solution to millet goitrogens.

      Are you familiar with iodine-induced hyperthyroidism? This occurs when you OD on iodine, i.e, eat too much seaweed, as in a typical Japanese diet. Kombu is particularly dangerous given how much iodine is in it, and in fact, you can get so much iodine from it, you can get something called "endemic coastal goiter", i.e, there's so much iodine that the thyroid starts malfunctioning and you get the symptoms of iodine deficiency.

      Now, normally speaking, millet goitrogens are resistant to iodine supplementation; the goitrogenic effect occurs at the level of the hormone uptake, not hormone production. However, if you already have hyperthyroidism induced by iodine overdosing, the goitrogens still get canceled out because the thyroid production is abnormal to begin with and the goitrogens cancel out the additional thyroid hormones.

      Long story short, put seaweed into your millet porridge to cancel out the goitrogenic effect of millet. If you develop hyperthyroidism, cut down on the seaweed quantity. If you develop hypothyroidism, increase the seaweed quantity. It's a mad scientist solution, but if you have some kind of attachment to millet diets, it's the way to go. And you might be willing to run induced-hyperthyroidism in the short-run, with some medical supervision, because hyperthyroidism promotes weight loss. Just be careful, of course.
      Reply
  4. Barbara Sands
    Enjoy many of Bob's products and would enjoy receiving recipes and nutritional information. Thank You
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      That's great Barbara! You can sign up for our emails at the bottom of our website. https://www.bobsredmill.com/
      Reply
  5. Della Kan
    So glad to read the article!
    As a Chinese, Millet porridge is very famous for eating together with the grilled steaks and
    steamed man-tou ( flour buns) or noodles as a soup like substitute!
    Lot to hear & receive your recipes and explanations!
    Reply
  6. Beverly Krieger
    Which grains are best for diabetes care? & which is high glycemic?
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Hi Beverly, we suggest you speak with your nutritionist about this. We don't have medical information in reference to our products. Good luck on your health journey!
      Reply
  7. Inst
    Also, I'll mention a standard northern Chinese preparation for millet. Use a low-flavor oil (i.e, refined) to toast the millet first; I think you could try to substitute butter if you want. That's equivalent to Italian risotto, but given how long millet takes to cook, the risotto approach works very well. Then add 15-16x the millet quantity in water, boil lightly. The millet flavor, the sweetness and nuttiness, really come out if you prepare it like risotto first.
    Reply
  8. Rao Dasari
    I am looking for the following types of millets. These are grown as cover crops and the seeds are available for these crops. However, these are not sold for human consumption. Please let me know if you can procure them and supply.

    1. Foxtail millet
    2. Barnyard Millet
    3. Brown Top Millet
    4. Little Millet
    5. Kodo Millet
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Rao, the only type of Millet we source is Proso. We do not have plans to bring any other varieties into our line of products.
      Reply
    2. Priet
      Indian stores carry all these millets, for human consumption. The brand is MANTRA.
      Reply
  9. Cassandra Butts
    Thanks for the information. It was very helpful.
    Reply
  10. Priet
    Contrary to what is mentioned in the article, millets do contain Leucine. Foxtail millet has the highest at 1044 mg and kodo millethasthe least at 419 mg.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Priet, there was no mention of leucine in this article. Also, we do not source Kodo or Foxtail Millet. The only Millet variety we source is Proso.
      Reply
  11. Julie Dalia
    Hello -

    If you use whole millet in baking bread, does the whole millet get digested?

    Thank you - love your products and long-term commitment to natural and healthful foods.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Whitney Barnes
      Hi Julie, yes - the whole grain is digested.
      Reply
  12. SP
    But, Millets can be grown with very less water and can be grown in arid regions, where as Quinoa is grown only in Andeas/cold climate. So, the carbon footprint of Quinoa is much higher and Millets are much more environment friendly and can be grown locally in most countries. So, rather than importing Quinoa, eat millets and support your local farmers. The article seem to promote Quinoa, but from what I read, Millets have been consumed for ages and proven to be more nutritious and healthy than Quinoa.
    Reply
  13. Sheila powell
    I WANT TO BUY SOME OF THE PRODUCTS. MY FRIEND WAS TELLING ME ABOUT MILLET SHE SAID SHE EATS THAT MORE THAN OATMEAL IVE USED SOME PRODUCTS LIKE CAROB IN PLACE OF CHOCOLATE I FEEL IN LOVE WITH IT
    Reply
  14. Pavan
    Nice article.

    But I personally feel that the title is not very apt.
    It should read quinoa - Proso Millet.

    If you check the protein content of Browntop millet, I am pretty sure it matches to the Quinoa.

    Otherwise, a very informative article. Thanks for sharing.
    Reply
  15. Rose Mark
    I want to substitute quinoa for millet in a whole grain bread. Do I need to cook the quinoa before adding it to the dough or can I just add it uncooked?
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Rose - I'd recommend following your originally recipe; if the millet is cooked, use cooked quinoa. If it's raw millet, use raw quinoa. It will depend on the soak/rise/bake time of the recipe.
      Reply
  16. Sue
    I'm making a Senegalese stew that is supposed to be served over millet; however, I haven't been able to find millet in the stores. What would be the best substitute in this case? I have Quinoa, brown rice, pearl barley and farro in my cupboard. Thank you.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Whitney Barnes
      Hi Sue - truly any of those grains would be a good substitute. Strictly in terms of size, quinoa would be the closest.
      Reply
  17. sl
    Hi, do you have any plans to introduce finger millet?
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Whitney Barnes
      Hi! It's not likely. We carry only Proso Millet and have no current plans to change or expand.
      Reply
  18. perfura
    thanks for sharing the blogs
    Reply
  19. Ankita Basu
    The blog is great. The H2 tag though (he he )
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Good catch! Should update momentarily :)
      Reply

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