millet is grown, for example, in relatively high rainfall areas of Ghana. The types there are entirely different from those of West Africa's nearby dry zone. In general, they have seedheads (spikes) that are shorter and fatter; grains that are bigger, rounder, and whiter; and plants that mature much earlier. These differences are so conspicuous that the plants were previously classified as a separate species.4

Such types there have been little studied or appreciated by the world at large. Yet they appear to be promising in their own right and are good sources of genes for earliness and large grain size.5

The potential of pearl millet for the tropics can be seen in Ghana, where early millet is extremely important to rural people. The type grown there normally matures at the peak of the rainy season, a time when farmers have exhausted their food stocks from the previous harvest. At first, they gather pearl millet when the grains are in the dough stage and are soft and sweet. Usually, the freshly harvested heads are steamed, threshed, and dried. This process—the exact reverse of normal practice—probably makes it possible to recover the immature grains that would otherwise turn to mush when threshed.6

SUGARY TYPES

In India, as in Ghana (see above), pearl millet is sometimes roasted and consumed like sweet corn. Here, too, the grain is harvested in the milk or dough stage. This is a facet of pearl millet that has received little (if any) investigation. Yet it is reminiscent of the situation with maize a century or so ago. At that time the practice of eating maize grain in the soft, sweet, doughy stage was known only to a few Indian children and perhaps some adventurous farmers.7 Today, "sweet corn" is a major food of North America, and a huge research effort has been expended on selecting strains whose grains convert sugar to starch only slowly so that they stay sweet. Canned sweet corn is in fact America's favorite preserved vegetable and has been outselling all the others since World War I.

Pearl millet, too, should have a big future as a sweet treat to be eaten more like a vegetable than a cereal.

4  

Pennisetum gambiense Stapf & Hubb. Today, however, they are considered to belong to race globosum of Pennisetum glaucum native to Ghana, Togo, Benin.

5  

Appa Rao et al., 1982.

6  

This is a fascinating tradition, well worthy of study and emulation. See section on parboiling, page 301.

7  

Sweet corn was not seen by the first colonists who reached North America, and when it was found in a valley in central New York in 1799 it was not appreciated at first. Some was planted along the coast but evoked no particular interest. Sweet corn began to be cultivated widely only after the Civil War (that is, in the 1860s).



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