Finger millet or ragi is the staple grain across rural Karnataka. It is suitable for cultivation in dry areas and is grown in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Goa and Rajasthan. It forms a major part of the rural poor's diet. It has a long storage capacity and the straw can be used as cattle fodder.
It is said to be one of the most nutritious cereals packed with iron, proteins, calcium and fibre. It is low in fat, gluten-free and easily digestible. In Karnataka one of the first foods given to babies is made from ragi. Known as "ragi seri" it is a porridge mix made of dried and roasted ragi, cumin and fenugreek. Ragi seri is given to babies to strengten bones and ready them for the milestone of walking. It is also given to new mothers to increase hemoglobin levels. Green ragi is given to lactating mothers to enhance milk production. Since it is a source of natural iron, people suffering from iron deficiency and anemia benefit greatly by consuming ragi.
Weight watcher also benefit by consuming ragi. Ragi has an amino acid called Tryptophan which cuts down appetite and helps losing weight. Ragi is digested at a slower rate (as compared to wheat or rice) and gives a feeling of fullness thus reducing the need to eat frequently. The agricultural community in rural Karnataka consume ragi balls as staple breakfast which gives them energy, keeps them full and enables them to engage in hard labor. Ragi also has cooling properties and cools the stomach.
The benefits of ragi for bone health cannot be stressed enough. Rich in calcium it is essential for growing children, adults and old people. Ragi can prevent osteoporosis and stress fractures in those who already suffer from osteoporosis.
Diabetics and people with high cholestrol can control their sugars and cholestrol by regular ragi consumption. Ragi has a low-glycemic index and does not break down into sugars as fast as wheat or rice. The phytochemicals in ragi slow the digestion process and prevent high starch absorption. Because it has an amino acid called Threonine it prevents fat formation in the liver thereby lowering blood cholestrol levels.
With the coming of new-age lifestyles, people have migrated from traditional foods to quick and easy foods. People in urban areas rarely use ragi and its usage is somewhat restricted to rural areas. By doing so we are missing out on the plethora of benefits that ragi has to offer. It is time to readjust our lifestyles and add ragi to our diets once again. Ragi is a versatile cereal and can be made into many tasty dishes like dosa, upma, rotti, balls, biscuits, porridge, breads et al. Ragi malt is a popular drink that can be consumed by the young and old alike. In Karnataka, ragi hurritu is a tasty snack made with cardamom, jaggery etc. This can be added to milk/water and had for breakfast or at any time of the day when one craves a nutritious but tasty snack! The powder can be made and stored for months. It is available commercially too.
Ragi's multiple good properties like longer shelf life, nutrients, food value and commercial viability should be reason enough for us urban folks to add a dash of ragi into our daily diets!