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Kambu millet seeds are small in size, averaging two millimeters in diameter, and are round to oval in shape. The light brown to tan seeds are attached to elongated spikes which resemble cattails. These spikes rise from long stems with long leaf blades. Each seed is not uniform in color and may also contain shades of purple or yellow. Kambu millet seeds are hard and firm with a slightly musty fragrance that some describe as mousy. They have a mild, nutty, and sweet flavor with some bitter and alkaline notes.
Kambu millet is available year-round.
Kambu millet, botanically classified as Pennisetum glaucum, is a cereal grain that belongs to the Poaceae or grass family. Descended from wild grasses found in the central highlands of the Sahara Desert, Kambu millet has been cultivated by the people of West Africa and India for thousands of years. Kambu millet is one of the most widely grown varieties of millet and is usually turned into a flour and used in bread and porridges. It may also be found in whole-grain form, cooked like quinoa, does not contain gluten, and is considered a good alternative for those diagnosed with celiac disease.
Kambu millet contains protein, starch, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin E. It also contains essential minerals like iron, zinc, and folate.
Kambu millet is best suited for cooked applications such as boiling and can be cooked like quinoa, simmered in boiling water, and then left to cool. Whole-grain millet can also be used in place of rice in dishes like biriyani, used in hamburgers and meatballs, or dry-roasted for a nuttier flavor. Kambu millet is often milled, then ground into a flour. In West Africa, it is used to make tô, which is a traditional porridge that is cooked with tamarind, lemon, wood ash, or potash. The porridge is allowed to cool and thicken and is served with a vegetable relish. In India, Kambu millet flour is used to make flatbreads called rotis or chapatis. Kambu millet pairs well with coriander leaves, cumin seeds, turmeric, garam masala, green chilies, ginger, lentils, garlic, onions, bok choy, carrots, and apples. It will keep up to two weeks when stored in a cool, and dry place in an airtight container. It can also be stored as flour in the freezer up to six months in a plastic bag.
Millet is one of the most widely grown crops in sub-Saharan Africa and is a staple food source. Kambu millet grains are traditionally milled by hand, pounded with mortar and pestle, and then winnowed in the wind. They are used in a number of traditional foods and beverages such as Namibia’s oshikundu, which is a fermented drink that can be both alcoholic or non-alcoholic, and South Africa’s opaque beer.
Kambu millet originated in the Sahel region of West Africa and spread to the semi-arid tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Its cultivation in Mali dates back to 2500 BCE and to 2300 BCE in South Asia. Today, the largest producer of Kambu millet is India, and most of India’s Kambu millet comes from the harsh desert region of Rajasthan, where improved hybrids have been in development since the 1960s. Today small areas of production of Kambu millet also exist in Brazil and the United States, and it can be found at local markets in Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, South America, and North America.