In conversation with Dr. Mahendran Radhakrishnan, Associate Professor and Head, CENTP, NIFTEM-Thanjavur, India
Dr. Mahendran Radhakrishnan is Associate Professor and Head, CENTP, NIFTEM-Thanjavur, India. He has published / co-published around 100 articles till date on sustainable foods systems. In this interview he will take us through the role of technology, potential as a food source and the opportunities and challenges for millets-based products.
Q1. Can you take us through the role of technology in food and how it can be used to develop millet-based products?
A1. Technologies, mainly, Food processing technology, play a critical role in developing millet-based food products by creating innovative and nutritious products that appeal to consumers' tastes and preferences. Millets are nutrient-dense and gluten-free grains traditionally consumed in many parts of the world. However, they have not received as much attention as other grains. Food technologists can use various techniques to develop millet-based food products that are easy to prepare, have a long shelf life, and are cost-effective. Some techniques include milling, extrusion, and fortifying with vitamins and minerals. Food technologists can also modify the texture, flavour, and appearance of millet-based products to make them more appealing to consumers. Food technology can also assist in creating value-added products by incorporating millet in food items like bread, pasta, noodles, cakes, and biscuits, among others. Value-added products can increase the demand for millets and allow farmers to increase their income by diversifying their crops.
Q2. What research have you been involved in regarding millets and their potential as a food source and nutrition?
A2. I have worked on non-thermal food processing technologies, particularly cold plasma processing. Cold plasma technology has emerged as a promising tool for improving food safety and extending the shelf life of food products. Cold plasma is a type of ionized gas that can interact with food surfaces. It can be used for Surface decontamination, Preservation, Nutrient retention, and Packaging. Overall, cold plasma technology has great potential for improving food safety, quality, and shelf life, while reducing the use of chemicals and preservatives. However, further research is needed to optimize the cold plasma process and assess its impact on the sensory and nutritional quality of food products.
Q3. What are the challenges and opportunities in promoting the use of millet in the food industry?
A3. Millets are highly nutritious and have a low glycemic index, making them a promising alternative to conventional grains like wheat and rice. However, promoting the use of millets in the food industry presents some challenges, including Consumer awareness: Millets are not commonly consumed in many parts of the world, and consumers may not be aware of their nutritional benefits or how to use them in cooking. Processing: Millets are small and hard grains that can be difficult to process, and their flour lacks the gluten that provides elasticity to dough, making it challenging to create baked products like bread and cakes. Distribution and market access: Millets are often grown by small-scale farmers, and their distribution and market access can be limited, making it difficult to scale up production and promote their use in the food industry.
Opportunities include various health benefits, sustainability, innovation and international recognition: briefly, Millets are highly nutritious, gluten-free, and have a low glycemic index, making them a promising ingredient for products that cater to health-conscious consumers. Millets are drought-resistant and require fewer inputs than other crops, making them a sustainable alternative to resource-intensive conventional grains. The unique properties of millets, such as their texture, flavour, and nutritional profile, present an opportunity for food technologists to develop innovative and value-added products that appeal to a wide range of consumers. The United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets to raise awareness of their nutritional benefits, promote sustainable farming practices, and increase their use in the food industry.
Q4. Where do you see the greatest potential for growth in the use of millets in the food industry, and what steps do you believe need to be taken to realize this potential?
A4. Realizing the potential of millet requires a concerted effort by various stakeholders, including farmers, policymakers, food processors, and consumers. First, there is a need for research and development to improve the processing, storage, and value addition of millets. This can involve developing new processing technologies, creating innovative recipes, and improving the nutritional profile of millet-based products. Small-scale farmers who grow millets need support in terms of training, access to credit, and market linkages. This can help to increase the production of millet and provide a sustainable source of income for farmers. Governments can play a crucial role in promoting the use of millets by providing incentives for farmers, promoting research and development, and creating favourable policies for the production and marketing of millets. Consumers need to be made aware of the nutritional benefits of millet and how to use them in cooking. This can involve promoting millet in schools, organizing awareness campaigns, and creating innovative marketing strategies. Collaboration among stakeholders, including farmers, food processors, policymakers, and consumers, can help create a more sustainable and inclusive food system that promotes millet.
Q5. What is your opinion on the significance of platforms such as MILLETS INDIA in discovering new and innovative technologies, fostering community connections, and creating business opportunities?
A5. As the run up to International Year of Millets, the first edition of MILLETS INDIA gathered the industry stakeholders, new comers, innovations and at the conference session, Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), NutriHub stirred the dialogues and discussions surrounding millets, the second edition will be grander and more important for the industry. By leveraging the reach and influence of MILLETS INDIA, it is possible to create a more sustainable and inclusive food system that fosters community connections, generates business opportunities, and promotes millets in general.
Q6. What are the supply chain challenges for the processing of millets, and how can these be overcome?
A6. Smallholder farmers often grow millets and trade in local and regional markets. The processing of millets presents challenges, including a fragmented supply chain, inadequate infrastructure, limited market access, inconsistent quality, lack of value addition, and limited awareness. To address these challenges, infrastructure investment is needed, including processing mills, storage facilities, and transportation networks. Creating awareness among consumers about the nutritional benefits of millet can also help to increase demand for millet-based products and create opportunities for value addition. Collaboration among stakeholders, including farmers, traders, processors, and policymakers, can help to create a more efficient and sustainable millet supply chain.