Dehusking small millets – its what we retain that matters

Cereal grains that we eat in the form of rice have a husk that we cannot digest. We need to remove this outer most layer to bring it to a form where as much of the nutrition in the grain is made accessible to our bodies. This process of removing the husk is called dehusking, sometimes also referred to as hulling.

Getting the dehusking right, means retaining as much of the nutrition in the grain and conveying it to the consumer. The primary nutrition expected from cereal grains is its carbohydrate content. The carbohydrate content in cereal grains is what gives us energy. Other than the carbohydrate contents cereal grains also offer us an opportunity to get a good proportion of our fiber, minerals and fatty acids requirement. These three are found not in the endosperm, the hard part of the rice kernel. It is almost entirely present in the surrounding bran layer.

A sketch showing the different parts of a typical husked cereal grain
A sketch showing the different parts of a typical husked cereal grain

Let’s look at the structure of a small millet grain. The outermost layer of the grain is the cellulose rich husk, within that we find the bran layer and further within is the hard rice kernel. The protein rich germ of the grain, the point from where the seed would germinate, is a small spot towards one edge of the endosperm. This is a simplified description of the structure, in some grains, there are multiple layers of husk, in some the germ might be within a recess in the endosperm, but broadly speaking, all husked cereal grains such as paddy, foxtail  millet, kodo m., little m., proso m., brown top m., etc. can be approximated to have such a structure.

Now, if the carbohydrate rich endosperm is consumed without the fiber, mineral and fatty acid rich bran, it results in a lot of energy being absorbed too soon by our body. Do this multiple times during the day on a regular basis and we end up compromising our digestive system and making it more prone to various GI and lifestyle diseases. Retaining the fibers helps exercise our digestive system, and leads to a much slower absorption of the carbohydrates by our body. The minerals and fatty acids provide much needed nourishment and also add to the taste and texture of the cooked rice.

As one can expect a structure that is rich in fibers will be fairly flaky and not very hard or dense. So the challenge of getting dehusking right, is essentially the challenge of  removing the hard and stiff outer husk while retaining as much of the soft and flaky bran layer just within it.

Some of you might have already recognized that the rice kernel with its germ and bran removed is the white (aka polished) paddy rice that one typically finds in the market. As I shared in an earlier post, I refer to these as bleached rice – there’s nothing polished about them. So how does one get dehusking right, i.e. get natural bran rich millet (or paddy) rice and not end up with bleached rice? I shall share my experience and what I have learned in the next few posts.

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