The millet man: How a young man’s idli business turned into a global sensation

The queue will start in front of this idli shop before sunrise. Idli cooked at the ‘Vasena Poly’ roadside stall in MVP Colony, Visakhapatnam is not an ordinary idli but is made from eight packs of nutritious cereals. Each idli is cooked wrapped in a special type of leaf. Behind that taste is the craft of a young man, and a big dream he had.

Chittem Sudheer, a young man, started this new venture for the welfare of farmers in Andhra Pradesh. Sudhir's stall was recently visited by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu after he tweeted about the taste of this idli made by roasting small grains. Venkaiah Naidu described Chittam Sudhir as an entrepreneur. Here is his story of being a culinary expert and about his delicious idlis which wowed even the Vice President of India.

Taste and care for the farmers
Sudheer started this rare restaurant in September 2018 with an investment of Rs 50,000. He named his shop Vasena Poli’ (meaning ‘alternative idlis’). Sudhir holds a master’s degree in economics. He also learned about organic farming. For two years, he interacted more with farmers and tribals in the north of Andhra Pradesh. That is from where he understood the benefits and strengths of small grains.

Although nutritious, sadly not many people are unaware of the value of these grains. In fact the ones who are aware of it do not use it in their everyday cooking. He was wondering how to bring it to the city. Sudheer had already decided that he did not need to watch any YouTube videos to prepare various delicacies adding these grains. He was keener on experimenting with his own recipes. And experts from the University of Andhra Pradesh and the Center for Small Grain Research have given 'tips' on how to avoid losing its nutritional value.

How to prepare Millet Idli
He serves idlis made from eight types of nutritious millets like jowar, bajra, aarika (kodo millet), korra (foxtail millet) and saama (little millet). Grains are soaked for 8 hours, finely ground, and again set to ferment for 8 hours. You can make soft and delicious Millet Idlies the next morning. You will be served three idlis on a plate. Those idlies are made with three types of small grain powder. A total of eight types of cereals are used in the shop. The Chammanthi that comes with idli is also special. This chutney is made with bottle gourd, ginger and carrot are abundantly supplied with the idlis. Along with this, you will be served a regular chutney made with Channa dal. The price is Rs 50 per plate.

Sudheer's specialty carries no resemblance to the idli found in Kerala and elsewhere. This idli is made by pouring the batter into a cone made out of ‘adduck’ leaves. This variety of leaves are found all over Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. The medicinal value and aroma of the leaves double as they get steamed along with the millets. Small grains such as courgette, sorghum, bajra, koto, chama, millet, varak and barley are rich in minerals such as iron, magnesium, potassium, and copper. It is also rich in Vitamin B6, C, E and K. They are easily available in the tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh. They are also easy to cultivate.

Sudheer buys these small grains directly from farmers, which are more nutritious than rice. About 700 kg of small grains are procured from farmers in the villages of Vijayanagar, Srikakulam, and Visakhapatnam every month. Although the base price in the market is Rs 30 per kg, Sudheer buys from farmers at Rs 70 per kg. The benefit to the farmers is not small.

Superhit after the initial hiccups
Sudheer started his business near the beach at Lawsons Bay Colony in Visakhapatnam. Initially, the customers were elderly. But soon the young men began to arrive. On the way to and from the office, many people were waiting for food in that small shop. It also created a minor traffic jam. After one of the locals lodged another complaint, the authorities went to the municipality and asked them to move the shop to another place. But by then, Sudhir had created a community of 'idly fans' there.

So the shop was shifted to MVP Colony.

He also began selling it online. It didn’t take much time for these healthy idlis to be the toast of the town. When it became popular, Sudhir felt moving to a permanent shop was the next step. With the Vice President's tweet, Millet Idli's fame reached not only all over India, but it became an international hit. Famous food vloggers came in search of the shop. At present, he delivers around 200 plates per hour on a busy day, according to Sudhir. Sudheer is in the process of expanding his Millet Idle shops to more locations soon.

Small but powerful
Nutritionists say we need to adopt a diet that fights diabetes, allied diseases, and cancer. Health experts say that a diet low in fat, high in protein, high in fiber, and rich in minerals is the key to overcoming lifestyle diseases. The answer to the question of whether there is such a magical food is yes. Modern medicine refers to small grains as superfoods that combine all of the above benefits. There are many small grains (millets) such as kuvarak, sorghum, bajra, kodo, chama, millet, varak and barley which are small in appearance, but high on nutrition value.

Millets, when compared to wheat and maize, are high on nutrients, gluten-free and have a low glycemic index of 54-68. The presence of a high amount of dietary fiber, proteins with all essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals helps in stabilizing the blood sugar levels. Millets can be a part of a healthy diet for a diabetic patient that prevents blood sugar spikes and promote insulin sensitivity. They are also loaded with an impressive profile of antioxidants that include beta-glucans, flavonoids, anthocyanidins, tannins, lignans, and policosanols. These antioxidants play a crucial role in lowering LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and help to maintain the blood vessels healthy and clear off the clots, thereby lowering the risk of heart disease, and stroke.

Small grains and their nutritional benefits
This is the smallest grain which is also known as kuvarak, muttari, kanjipullu and panjipullu (finger millet). This calcium-rich millet is often referred to as 'poor man's milk' and was included in baby food by the older generation. It is strongly recommended for those fighting anemia and also serves as a good galactagogue for new mothers aiding in lactation, in revitalizing the skin even while maintaining blood glucose levels.

In addition to calcium, ragi is a drought-tolerant crop that is rich in iron, phosphorus, protein and fiber. So Ragi will be an asset to our health care in the days to come. Every 100 grams of ragi provides you with 344mg of calcium the most essential mineral required for strengthening bones, teeth and preventing the risk of osteoporosis.

Bajra:Bajra is a specialty of small grains known as kambam and pearl millet. Bajra is a pearl of small grains shaped and colored. Bajra is high in unsaturated fats. Since bajra is a good source of magnesium, it is good for heart patients to add bajra to their diet.

Magnesium is capable of preventing risk factors of cardiovascular diseases like BP and diabetes. It is also rich in iron, zinc, dietary fiber and protein. Survives high temperatures and gives good yields. It consists of complex carbs, is absorbed slowly from our digestive tract, leading to greater satiety while ensuring a continuous flow of energy.

Sorghum (Jowar): A grain known as corn and kaffirkon. It grows in bunches with white seeds and is rich in protein and fiber. Sorghum, which is rich in iron, is good for preventing anemia. Several of the phenolic compounds in sorghum have been linked to anti-cancer effects. A serving of sorghum contains 48% of the recommended daily intake of fiber!

Kodo millet: Kodo millet, also known as varak, is high in fiber. The kodo millet, also known as cow grass, rice grass, ditch millet, Native Paspalum, or Indian Crown Grass originates in tropical Africa, and it is estimated to have been domesticated in India 3000 years ago.

Kodo Millet, which is high in protein and antioxidants, is beneficial for diabetics. Regular consumption of Kodo Millet is beneficial for postmenopausal women suffering from metabolic diseases like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. It helps to hydrate your colon and prevent constipation. Controls your blood sugar.

Chama (Little Millet): Chama is a weed that grows with paddy. High in protein, dietary fiber, and unsaturated fat, chama is very tasty and nutritious. Little millet contains magnesium which can help improve heart health. Vitamin B3 (niacin) in little millet helps lower cholesterol. Little millet is also a good source of phosphorus which, helps with fat metabolism, body tissue repair and energy production.

Millet (Foxtail millet): Although millet is used as a bird feeder, it is an edible small grain. Foxtail Millet is rich in Calcium which is very important for maintaining your bone health. It also contains vitamin D. Eating Foxtail Millet in the form of sprouts helps fight diseases such as osteoporosis and could reduce the risk of fracture.

Small grains have a higher protein content than staple grains. The high mineral content and the number of vitamins make them a protective food that helps the body maintain good health. (Protective food). Cereals are ideal for people with gluten allergies as wheat does not contain the protein gluten.

The richness of dietary fiber and the lack of starch make it possible to convert whole grains into a low glycemic index (Low GI food) diet for diabetics. This means that the blood sugar level rises to a very low level after digestion. Eating these will also reduce the need for insulin. For these reasons, it is time for the market for food items made from small grains. Initiatives such as Millet Idli, which prepares and markets such food items, have great potential.

Small grains can be used to make any food that can be cooked or eaten directly, such as chapatis, health mixes, noodles, biscuits, cakes, snacks, and pastries. There is no doubt that these are the best health foods for those with and without lifestyle diseases. If small grains are germinated, dried, and powdered, their benefits can be increased tenfold. It is also good for the body to grind sprouted grains, add water, dilute, and strain it. Eating small grains like ragi in this way is very beneficial for breastfeeding mothers for the elderly and pregnant women.  

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