Goodness of Kurakkan

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

Sri Lankan traditional staple food items are mainly of rice flour, wheat flour and occasionally kurakkan flour. The latter is being used mainly to make pittu, roti and string hoppers. People doubt about the goodness of kurakkan; as a result they use wheat and rice flour more than kurakkan. Locals use them daily for preparing foods for breakfast and dinner

In most countries millet seed or kurakkan is being used as the main ingredient of bird seed mixtures. Sri Lankans, especially rural population, use kurakkan as a main ingredient in most food preparations. Presently, biscuit companies in Sri Lanka use kurakkan for their products. It is grown in Anuradapura, Monoragala, Hambantota, Kegalle, Ratnapura, Nuwara Eliya, Ampara, Badulla, and Jaffna Districts. Most farmers favour cultivating irrigating transplanted kurakkan to traditional rain-fed farming which frequent droughts may damage. Tiny in size and round in shape, millet can be white, gray, yellow or red.

The most widely available form of kurakkan found in supermarkets is the pearled, hulled variety, although traditional couscous made from cracked millet can also be found. Our ancestors have been using finger millet or Kurakkan for ages, and one could trace the origin to China. For centuries millet has been a main crop in China, India, Greece, Egypt and Africa, used in everything from bread to couscous, and as cereal grain.

The Bible also mentions millet as a treasured crop. The Indian millet variety is known as Bajra. In Sri Lanka its red variety has been known as Kurakkan or Kurahan. In the dry zone it has been a staple food. The reddish brown shawl that the former President wears is symbolic of kurahan, one of the chief peasants' food items of Hambantota District. It was the former president's father's brother D.M. Rajapaksa, the member for Hambantota in the State Council (1936-1944) who first wore a reddish brown shawl. (ref: SumanaSaparamadu, Sunday Observer July 20, 2008)

Nutritional Values of finger millet (Kurakkan)
Moisure 13.24%: Protein 7.6%: Carbohydrates 74.36%: Fibre 1.52%: Minerals 2.35%. It includes Magnesium, Manganese, Tryptophan, Phosphorus, and B vitamins.
Fat 1.35%: Energy 341.6 cal/ 100g
1 cup 240grams (285 Calories) cooked millet contains:
Manganese 0.66mg, Tryptophan 0.10g, Magnesium 105.60mg and Calcium
B Vitamins – Niacin (vitamin B3) in millet can reduce bad cholesterol.
Phosphorus 240.00mg (This micro-nutrient in millet helps fat metabolism, repair of body tissue and to create energy. Phosphorus being an essential component of adenosine triphosphate or ATP, is a precursor to energy in the body)

Heart-protective properties
Magnesium in kurakkan contains heart healthy properties. In addition, studies show that magnesium can reduce the severity of asthma and reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Magnesium also lowers the blood pressure and risk of heart attack, especially among the older people with atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease. Niacin (vitamin B30 in kurakkan can help in lowering high cholesterol. One cup of cooked kurakkan provides 26.4% of the daily value for magnesium.

Avoid Gallstones
Eating foods high in insoluble fiber helps reduce the incidence of gallstones. Women who eat kurakkan can avoid having gallstones, a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology shows.
Protection against breast cancer:

When researchers looked at the quantity of fiber that 35,972 participants in the UK Women's Cohort Study ate, the researchers found a diet rich in fiber made of whole grains, such as finger millet, and fruit which can prevent risk of breast cancer for pre-menopausal women. (Cade JE, Burley VJ, et al., International Journal of Epidemiology- 2007 Jan 24).

Goitrogenic property
Millet contains goitrogens – naturally occurring chemicals that interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. If you have an enlarged thyroid gland due to low thyroxin secretion, you should avoid kurakkan. Cooking may destroy goitrogenic chemicals and substances.

Kurakkan is gluten free, Kurakkan though considered as a grain, is actually a seed. Millet is one of the four gluten-free grain-like seeds on the Body Ecology programme. These seeds provide serotonin which calms and soothes your mood.

Glycaemic Index of Kurakkan
The carbohydrate content in Kurakkan is similar to that of rice and wheat flour. A research paper from A Thathvasuthan, A Chandrasekera, DGNG Wijesinghe and HMDK Jayawardena (Tropical Agricultural Research Vol 19: 101-109 (2007)) shows the determination of blood glucose elevating effect (glucaemic response) of pittu and rotti prepared from rice flour and kurakkan flour. According to the research paper carbohydrate percentage of rice flour and kurakkan flour were 73.7 and 69.0 respectively. The GI of pittu and rotti, prepared using Bg 403 rice flour were 52 and 64.0 and that of kurakkan flour were 71 and 80 respectively. Based on the GI, it can be suggested that pittu is better for health than rotti, while rice flour is better than kurakkan for preparing these food items.

These findings may answer the question that most diabetics want to know. Is food made with kurakkan better for diabetics than food made with rice and wheat flour? According to these researches, diabetics should eat less kurakkan, though it is considered as more nutritious than foods cooked with rice and wheat flour.

One can always check on his or her glucose level two hours after enjoying a kurakkan meal. That would give the answer, too.

In preparing to cook kurakkan, soak it in water for 24 hours to remove the phytic acid that binds up minerals and enzyme inhibitors that make it difficult to digest.

You cook kurakkan just like you cook rice, but with more water (3 cups to 1 cup of millet). You determine how much water must use depending on how soft you prefer having your grain. Experience the benefits of kurakkan nutrition that made it the prized grain of so many ancient cultures!

Please note that people having diabetes should avoid all high GI foods, including kurakkan.

Some reference to The World's Healthiest Foods, www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?

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