Now, white ragi gives nutritious food a makeover

Now, white ragi gives nutritious food a makeover

Until very recently, bakers did not even consider ragi as a potential alternative to maida because of its colour

The red and white ragi. Credit: Special arrangement

You could soon treat yourself at the bakery without guilt as the dainties from the oven come with the goodness of ragi but without losing any of their allure. This is possible with the white variety of ragi (finger millet), which is traditionally known to be reddish-brown in colour.

Until very recently, bakers did not even consider ragi as a potential alternative to maida because of its colour.

With a suitable substitute available, researchers at V C Farm Krishi Vijnana Kendra in Mandya, a regional research station under the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru, believe that by incorporating white finger millet flour in bakery products, bakers can retain the preferred golden hue of their products and also provide nutrition.

White ragi, or the KMR-340 variety, presents new possibilities for not only bakeries, opening doors to healthier biscuits, mixtures and breads but also outlets serving dosas, idlis and upma.

Often called ‘superfoods’, millets, which contain protein, fibre, essential amino acids, phytochemicals and micronutrients, are more nutritious than food grains like wheat and rice.

The KMR-340 variety has 12 g of protein, an even higher protein content than commercially available varieties of ragi that have about 10 g of protein per 100 g.“These snacks or foods with ragi are also gluten-free, providing a substitute for people with gluten allergies,” says Dr Raveendra H R, senior scientist in Plant Pathology at V C Farm.

The UAS bakery training unit is also testing the variety’s shelf-life, rancidity, taste and texture for commercial viability.

Finger millets are traditionally restricted to dishes like mudde, rotti, malt and porridge and consumed by those familiar with the cereal.

“With diabetes and hypertension on the rise, we wanted to find a way to diversify food habits and ensure that the familiar colour will help them try healthier alternatives,” said Dr C R Ravishankar, retired breeder (small millets) at V C Farm, Mandya.

His team introduced the KMR-340 variant of the ragi commercially in 2018.

Just 20 days ago when Nagaraj R, a farmer in Mysuru district, harvested his first crop of white ragi, he could not believe his eyes. Standing out in a field of green, the white ears of ragi were a sight to behold, he recalls. “Normal ragi sells for Rs 37 a kg while white ragi fetches Rs 50. There was some benefit in trying out this crop,” says, Nagaraj, who was approached mostly, by private buyers, including those through social media. White ragi yields 45 quintals a hectare during late kharif and can be grown in similar climatic conditions and time frames (95-100 days) like other ragi varieties.

In Thovinakere in Tumakuru district, Siddaganganna T L grew the crop on one-and-a-half acres of land two years ago. He recalls that about 50-60 years ago, there was a similar variety called majjige ragi, “I am happy that a similar variety has come back,” he said.

The yield was used at home, but he did sow the crop again. “The seeds are recommended for sowing during late kharif, but that is too late. I was also unable to procure seeds the next season,” he said. Many like Siddganganna acquire their seeds from farmer collectives and don’t receive instructions or support from scientists.

While the crop has the potential and farmers are interested, Dr Raveendra fears that the market chain is not yet well-established. Many people are unaware of the existence of this variety and consequently, the demand for the crop is still in its nascent stages.