Foxtail millet: a nutritious minor millet
Author: Smita N. Shingane

Foxtail millet (Setaria italica (L.) P. Beauv) is also known as Italian millet, Kangu, Kangani, Kalakangani, Koni, Rala and Kaon in different parts of India. It is one of the oldest crops cultivated for food grain, hay and pasture. The most recent archaeological evidence demonstrated that the foxtail millet is the most ancient crop as its domestication in China dates back to 8,700 years ago (Lu et al., 2009). According to Vavilov (1926), the principal centre of diversity for foxtail millet is East Asia, including China and Japan. It is an important grain crop in temperate, subtropical, tropical Asia and in parts of southern Europe. China, India and Japan are the major foxtail millet growing countries in the world. In India, the cultivation of foxtail millet is confined to Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and some parts of Maharashtra.

Foxtail millet is well recognized as a short duration, rainy season crop. It belongs to genus Setaria, tribe paniceae and family Poaceae or Graminae in the grass family. There are about 125 species widely distributed in warm and temperate parts of the world. Foxtail millet (Setaria italica (L.) P. Beauv.) is an autogamous, diploid (2n = 18), C4 panicoid crop species with a relatively small genome size of ~515 Mb (Li and Brutnell, 2011) with haploid Chromosome number (n = 9). It is essentially grain crop of 90-100 days duration. Taxonomically, foxtail millet consists of two subspecies, S. italica subsp. italica and subsp. viridis. The geographical origin of foxtail millet based on cytological studies indicated that wild ancestor of foxtail millet is S. viridis (Kihara and Kishimoto, 1942; Li et al., 1945). Based on the comparative morphology of the foxtail millet accessions, foxtail millet is classified into a European complex (Race Moharia) and a far Eastern complex (Race maxima) (Prasada Rao et al., 1986). Race Moharia includes cultivars with relatively small inflorescences, while race maxima include pendulous inflorescences. Cultivars from India are morphologically different from those of Europe and the Far East and are recognized as race indica (Prasada Rao et al., 1986).

The plant is an erect leafy stem that grows 60-75 cm tall and bends quite a bit at maturity due to heavy weight of ear head. The leaves are flat, linear or lanceolate tapering to a setaceous point having 30-40 cm long and 1.25 cm wide green in colour. Panicles are erect, dense, cylindrical and bristly having 2-4 spikelets in each involucre. The spike is 5-32 cm long and 2-4 cm in diameter. Spikelets are two flowered, protected by two glumes and are generally in clusters of 40-50. There are 1-4 bristles at the base of each spike. Morphology and anthesis behaviour make foxtail millet one of the most difficult species to cross pollinate. Foxtail millet and the weedy green foxtail are morphologically and genetically allied. Foxtail millet also crosses naturally (de Wet et al., 1979) and experimentally with green foxtail (Li et al.,1945) to produce fertile hybrids (Prasada Rao et al., 1986) and both have same number of chromosomes (2n=18). Foxtail millet is largely a self pollinated crop with cross pollination averaging about 4 per cent (Li et al., 1935).

The foxtail millet grain is (per 100g) rich in protein (11.2g) and iron (2.8mg) as compared to rice (7.9 g protein and 1.8 mg Fe) and rich in fat 4.0g per 100g which is superior to rice and wheat ( grain is good source of Beta-carotene, which is the precursor of Vitamin A (Murugan and Nirmalakumari, 2006). Foxtail millet is mixed with legumes to make porridge and also mixed with soybean to make mixed flour. Foxtail millet has low glycemic index (GI), used for preparation of low GI biscuits and burfi, a sweet product, and it is an ideal food for people suffering from diabetes (Thathola et al., 2010; Anju and Sarita, 2010). Foxtail millet is also fermented to make vinegar, yellow wine, maltose, beer and other related products. It is also used for feeding cage birds and by-product of the foxtail millet is used as animal feed.


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About Author / Additional Info:
Dr. Smita Narendra Shingane has done Ph.D. in (Genetics and Plant Breeding)