Fer­ment food for the gut

Al­most all com­mu­ni­ties in In­dia have fes­ti­vals that re­volve around stale food high on pro­bi­otics

Down to Earth - - FOOD - SANGEETA KHANNA

EVER WON­DERED how food was pre­served at a time when there were no re­frig­er­a­tors or elec­tric­ity, only Grandma or Mother Na­ture to turn to? It was the prac­tice of ei­ther fer­men­ta­tion or de­hy­drat­ing food, that pre­served eat­a­bles. Com­mon dur­ing the Pa­le­olithic age, when food just in­volved hunt­ing and gath­er­ing pro­duce from jun­gles, fer­men­ta­tion as a process has been prac­tised by all com­mu­ni­ties and tribes and is mak­ing a come­back in mod­ern kitchens in a big way.

Ac­tu­ally, de­hy­drated and fer­mented food is so com­mon that most of the time we fail to no­tice it. Fish is de­hy­drated or fer­mented and meat is smoked and de­hy­drated. Milk is pre­served by fer­men­ta­tion, which is how so many cheeses evolved all over the world. Fresh veg­eta­bles are de­hy­drated or pick­led to last the harsh win­ters or desert sum­mers in many places across the globe. Grains are fer­mented in many ways to make a meal that aids sleep or di­ges­tion. Grains are also used to pro­duce al­co­holic drinks for reg­u­lar con­sump­tion.

Many tribes make fer­mented beverages in their own way us­ing dif­fer­ent grains or fruits or starchy tu­bers, what­ever grows in abun­dance lo­cally. Fer­mented fish paste, fer­mented soy­abeans and pantab­hat or pakhal

ab­hat are com­mon among In­dian re­gional cui­sine as well as the tribal cui­sine.

Al­most all com­mu­ni­ties in In­dia have some fes­ti­val around the spring sea­son that re­volves around “stale food”. This overnight stale food is pur­posely kept at room tem­per­a­ture and of­ten gets sour, but the cus­tom is not to re­heat the stale food and eat it for all meals the next day.This has been a great way to in­tro­duce the body to the com­ing sea­son’s pro­bi­otic as well as path­o­genic mi­crobes through overnight food. The pro­bi­otic bac­te­ria help build good im­mu­nity, boost­ing gut flora, and the in­oc­u­la­tion with path­o­genic bac­te­ria in small num­bers pre­pares the im­mune sys­tem for sea­sonal ill­nesses by switch­ing on the Im­munoglob­u­lin M pro­tein, a ba­sic an­ti­body, as the first im­mune re­sponse.

No­tably, this overnight meal is eaten on a day called Shee­tal shashthi by Ben­galis and

around the same time of the year, by Marathis and Sind­his as well. It is sup­posed to bring im­mu­nity from small pox in­fec­tions. Maa Shee­tala is con­sid­ered the god­dess who treats small pox and this rit­u­al­is­tic con­sump­tion of fer­mented food is in­ter­est­ing in this re­gard. Sind­his call this fes­ti­val Satam around the

shrawan month and the stale food is called kanbo and in­cludes fried frit­ters of the sweet and savoury va­ri­ety. Mithila Brah­mins also eat overnight stale daal poori, kheer, sattu, badiyan (dried len­til cakes) and drink the ex­tract of a herb called chi­rata, which is an im­mu­nity boost­ing agent. The as­so­ci­a­tion of this ritu- al in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties with im­mu­nity is also no­table.

Apart from the rit­u­al­is­tic con­sump­tion of pro­bi­otic foods, al­most all com­mu­ni­ties in the coun­try have some­thing cooked or pre­pared reg­u­larly that helps build up pro­bi­otic flora. Th­ese are mostly the foods that are fer­mented with the ex­per­tise handed down through gen­er­a­tions, in­volv­ing recipes that are wo­ven around the avail­abil­ity of some fresh pro­duce, scarcity of some other in a par­tic­u­lar ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion.

Peo­ple all over the moun­tains smoke meats, fer­ment fish and lentils (in­clud­ing soy­abeans) to pro­long their shelf life as well as to make them more di­gestible and nour­ish­ing. Peo­ple in the coastal re­gions have the tra­di­tion of eat­ing fer­mented rice gruel that keeps the body cool and helps op­ti­mise nu­tri­ent avail­abil­ity. Kash­miris have a par­ticu- lar lik­ing to­wards fish with stale rice.

Peo­ple from Ra­jasthan, Ut­tar Pradesh and Mad­hya Pradesh make kanji vada, a del­i­cacy. Those from the cen­tral plains make a type of fer­mented sea­sonal pickle that is a great source of pro­bi­otics.

The pop­u­lar break­fast dish of puffed rice ( mur­mura) or poha is good pro­bi­otic food too. The rice prod­ucts are made af­ter par­boil­ing paddy and sun dry­ing it for a few hours be­fore ei­ther beat­ing it flat to make poha or roast­ing it in sand to get puffed rice.The rice fer­ments par­tially af­ter par­boil­ing and re­tains the mi­cro­bial flora, get­ting su­pe­rior food value as well as par­tially digested proteins and car­bo­hy­drates.

Vine­gars are made us­ing juices of sug­ar­cane, fruits like ja­mun, grapes, ap­ples and even co­conut wa­ter. Kacham­puli, a nat­u­rally fer­mented vine­gar of garcinia juice, is pop­u­lar in Coorg, co­conut vine­gar in Ker­ala and sugar cane vine­gar is pop­u­lar all over the coun­try. Ja­mun vine­gar is seen as a medic­i­nal sup­ple­ment for di­a­bet­ics al­though its sugar reg­u­lat­ing prop­er­ties are de­bat­able.But all nat­u­rally fer­mented vine­gars have great pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ments.

Yo­gurt has been the sim­plest way to fer­ment milk and make it more nour­ish­ing. Yo­gurt is used in many ways in all cuisines of In­dia. A pop­u­lar drink called jau ki ghaat from Ra­jasthan is pre­pared by cook­ing bar­ley flour with yo­gurt to make a thin slurry and then rest­ing it overnight for a mild fer­men­ta­tion. The drink is re­fresh­ing and nour­ish­ing with a good dose of pro­bi­otic flora.

Rice, bar­ley and some other grains are used to make liquors of dif­fer­ent types, be it ch­hang from Leh or other coun­try liquors that are fer­mented in ev­ery tribal home around Jhark­hand, Odisha, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh.

Toddy is a pop­u­lar drink in coastal ar­eas and wher­ever toddy palms grow. Toddy yeast is even used to fer­ment some food items in many com­mu­ni­ties.

One can fer­ment foods even in mod­ern kitchens. Sauer­kraut, radish or sea­sonal veg­etable pick­les can be made with mus­tard pow­der; kanji can be made us­ing car­rots or beet­root at home eas­ily. Even fruit juices can be used to make vine­gars at home.

Ja­mun vine­gar is a good source of

pro­bi­otics

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: SANGEETA KHANNA

Radish pickle can be made at home with mus­tard

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