Bajra is a traditional Hindi name for the Pennisetum glaucum crop — also known as pearl millet. It’s likewise known as dukn, cumbu, gero, sanio, kambu, babala, or bulrush millet. The grain is primarily grown in Africa and India, where it’s a major source of nutrition. However, it’s also grown and consumed in many other places around the world.
Bajra refers to the edible seeds of pearl millet plants. They grow in various shades of white, yellow, gray, brown, and bluish-purple. The seeds are typically cooked as a cereal grain or sometimes finely ground and used as a flour. This article provides a general overview of the bajra and its health benefits.
Bajra pearl millet is just one of many types of millet. Some other popular varieties of millet are fonio, finger millet (ragi), Job’s tears, foxtail, and Kodo millet. Most millets have impressive nutritional profiles, including bajra. Here’s the average nutritional profile of 1 cup (170 grams) of cooked millet:
- Calories: 201
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 1.7 grams
- Carbs: 40 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sodium: 286 mg
- Folate: 8% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Iron: 6% of the DV
- Magnesium: 18% of the DV
- Thiamine: 15% of the DV
- Niacin: 14% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 14% of the DV
- Zinc: 14% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 11% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 11% of the DV
In general, cooked millet is a good source of protein and carbs and a decent source of fiber. It’s also a good source of vitamins and minerals. Overall, millet is a nutritious carbohydrate source.
It’s also gluten-free and a suitable choice for people with celiac disease or those following a gluten-free diet — as long as you ensure that you’re purchasing a product that’s certified gluten-free.
Bajra is high in beneficial plant chemicals like antioxidants, polyphenols, and phytochemicals, all of which are known for contributing to optimal human health in many ways.
However, the presence of beneficial polyphenols may also inhibit some of the minerals in bajra, such as iron and zinc, from being fully absorbed by your body.
Like most millets, bajra is a nutrient-dense source of protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant chemicals.
Does bajra have health benefits?
Similarly to some other grains, bajra has been linked to significant health benefits simply due to its status as a whole grain food. Regularly eating whole grains like bajra may help prevent chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Still, eating bajra may offer more specific health benefits of its own, too.
May aid weight loss
If you’re trying to lose weight, adding whole grain foods with a low-calorie density like bajra to your diet may be beneficial.
The calorie density of a food measures its calorie content relative to its weight (in grams) or volume (in mL). For example, a food that has 100 calories per 100-gram (3.5-ounce) serving would have a calorie density of 1. A food that has 400 calories per 100-gram serving would have a calorie density of 4.
Foods with a low-calorie density help you feel full but for fewer calories. Foods with a calorie density greater than 2.3 are generally considered high. Bajra has a calorie density of 1.2. Thus, foods like bajra with a low-calorie density may aid weight loss.
Maybe a good choice for people with diabetes
Overall, most types of millet are considered to be a good grain choice for people with diabetes. Foods that are high in fiber, especially cereal fibers like bajra, have also been associated with improved outcomes in the management of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
What’s more, millet has a lower glycemic index (GI) than some refined grain products like white rice and white bread. Plus, some emerging research in animals and humans has found that millet proteins may contribute to improved blood sugar levels.
On average, most types of millet have a GI value of 43–68. Foods with a GI value of 55 or below are typically considered to be low. The GI is a measure of how much certain foods affect blood sugar levels. Foods that are lower on the glycemic index are usually better choices for people with diabetes.
In some cases, glycemic load (GL) may be a better measure of how a food affects blood sugar levels. GL differs from GI by also considering the typical serving size of a food. A GL of 10 or below is considered low, while a GL of 20 or more is high.
One study noted that millet flakes have a GL of 9.2, meaning they have a low GL. That said, some of the research that supports these claims did not use bajra specifically, and the use of both GI and GL in diabetes management is controversial. Therefore, more research is needed to understand exactly how millet affects blood sugar levels.
Contains nutrients that may support healthy hair, skin, and nails
You may have heard that bajra is good for your hair, but the millet itself has not been studied as a hair treatment. However, bajra is a good source of many nutrients known for contributing to healthy hair, skin, and nails, including:
- Vitamin B6
Regularly eating bajra as part of your diet could help prevent deficiencies in these nutrients. Still, due to a lack of research, bajra and other millets cannot be said to directly improve hair, skin, or nail health at this time.
Some of the potential health benefits associated with regularly eating bajra are weight loss, improved diabetes management, and a higher intake of nutrients that support healthy hair, nails, and skin.
How to cook bajra
Bajra is a versatile ingredient that can be used to replace rice, quinoa, oats, and other grains in many dishes. To prepare bajra, simply bring 1 cup (170 grams) of millet and 2 cups (473 mL) of water or broth to a boil. Next, reduce it to a simmer and let it cook for about 15 minutes. This method should produce a light, fluffy grain.
If you want your bajra to be more like a porridge, you can add up to 1 additional cup (237 mL) of water, dairy, or broth. You can also toast the dry millet for a few minutes before adding the liquid to bring out a rich, nutty flavor in the grain.
Prior to cooking, bajra may be soaked for hours or even days in water or a Lactobacillus-rich dairy like buttermilk or kefir. Fermenting millet and millet flour is common in Africa and Asia. It not only affects its flavor and taste but also likely its nutrient content.
One study found that pearl millet flour that was fermented and frozen for 2 days had a 30% increase in levels of some phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds are chemicals in plants that help your body respond to aging, inflammation, and chronic disease.
While research on the topic is limited, some studies suggest that soaking or sprouting millet prior to consumption, as well as how the grain was initially processed, influences the accessibility of some of its nutrients, such as iron, zinc, calcium, and antioxidants.
Other ways to eat bajra
Bajra is commonly ground into a fine flour that can be used to make roti and other types of flatbread. Yet, bajra flour is not limited to flatbreads alone. It can also be used to make cakes and pasta or as a replacement for other types of flour in many recipes.
Another way to enjoy bajra is as a puffed millet snack similar to popcorn. You can buy pre-puffed millet snacks or pop millet at home on your own. Puffed bajra can be eaten alone or used to make sweet or savory snack bars.
To pop millet, add 1 cup (170 grams) of bajra to a dry frying pan. Set the heat to medium-low and let the millet sit for a few minutes. Once it turns a golden brown color, stir it lightly and then let it sit for another few minutes until all of the grains have popped and puffed up.
Finding true bajra pearl millet may be difficult, though you can check online or local specialty stores that carry products from Africa, Asia, and particularly India. Bajra flour ground from pearl millet may be more readily available.
Similar to many other cereal grains, bajra is typically boiled, although it can also be consumed as a flour or puffed grain snack.
Does bajra have any risks?
Overall, consuming moderate amounts of bajra is considered safe for most people. Because it’s a gluten-free grain, even people with celiac disease can have it as long as they feel confident there was no cross-contamination with other gluten-containing grains.
One concern you may hear of bajra and other millets is that they contain antinutrients. Antinutrients are compounds in certain foods that may block or inhibit the absorption of other beneficial nutrients.
Some research suggests that bajra contains phytates, oxalates, and possibly other antinutrients that could interfere with the absorption of iron, zinc, phosphorus, and other micronutrients consumed in the same meal.
Again, some studies suggest that fermenting or sprouting millet prior to consumption, along with how it was processed, influences its antinutrient levels and the absorbability of some of its micronutrients and antioxidants.
However, it’s important to note that the benefits of consuming nutrient-dense foods that also contain some antinutrients usually outweigh the downsides of not consuming these nutrient-dense foods at all. Furthermore, soaking, fermenting, or spouting millet may reduce its antinutrient content.
Although bajra contains some antinutrients that inhibit the absorption of other vitamins and minerals, the grain is safe for most people, including those following a gluten-free diet.
The bottom line
Bajra is a type of pearl millet grown primarily in Africa and India, although it’s consumed worldwide.
The gluten-free grain is low in calories but packed with healthy nutrients that may contribute to weight loss, improved blood sugar levels, and other health benefits.
There are few risks associated with regularly eating bajra, and the grain is very versatile as a cooking ingredient. However, true bajra pearl millet can be difficult to find in some areas.
If you have access to bajra, try substituting it for quinoa or rice in your favorite grain-based dishes as a way to begin experimenting with this nutritious grain.
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