Naturally fermented foods may help strengthen your gut microbiome which are basically the beneficial bacteria and microorganisms that live in your digestive tract. Gut microbes are now believed to be key to many aspects of human health including obesity, immune, metabolic and neuro-behavioural traits. Reseraches believe that fermented and probiotic foods are seen to improve immunity, aid in better digestion, prevention of allergies and also treating diarrhea.
One such naturally fermented food that is commonly made in most South Indian homes regularly are idlis and dosas. Who knew eating the humble idli (in moderation) could actually benefit your health?
Besides idli/dosa batter here are some of the other Indian foods that are fermented:
- Curds/dahi/yogurt– a part of of a traditional meal in most Indian families, this contains live cultures.
- Gajar/Beetroot Kanji (North India): a drink made with fermented carrots/beetroot
- Traditional Dhoklas (Gujrat) that are fermented and not instant
- Traditional Handvo (Gujrat)-where the batter is let to ferment overnight
- Fermented rice– called panta or poita bath(Assam, West Bengal,Tripura), pazhaiya choru(Kerala), pazhaya saadam (Tamil Nadu) is basically the extra cooked rice soaked in water overnight during which it ferments, and is eaten in the morning with buttermilk and garnish of onions, green chilies etc.
- Gundruk (Himalyan areas, Darjeeling, Sikkim): Fermented greens
- Sinki (Himalyan areas, Uttarkhand, Sikkim): Fermented radish
- Iromba( Manipur): A dish made with fermented fish
Besides these there are many drinks/dishes that incorporate curds/buttermilk like kadhi, Rajasthani rabdi, Ragi ambli (Karnataka) and yeast fermented products like traditional naan and parottas.
Coming back to the humble idli, what exactly happens when you ferment the idli batter?How does it become more nutritious?
During the fermentation process the carbohydrates get converted into simpler sugars that are easier to digest. This is one of main reasons that it is given to babies and those who are sick. It also increases the bioavailablity of many vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium and calcium and also increases the vitamin B content. It was seen that after 12 hours of fermentation of 100 grams of rice, the availability of iron changed from 3.4 mg to 73.91mg .
Unlike other fermented foods which still have the live cultures, the steaming process will kill the live cultures but it still makes the idli more nutritious than plain rice and dal.
Try making your own batter instead of buying store made ones. It’s easy, just follow this recipe:
Ingredients for Idli:
- Idli (Par boiled) rice: 2 cups
- Urad dal (skinless) : 1/2 cup
- Fenugreek seeds – 1/2 tsp
- Beaten rice (poha) – 1/3 cup
- Salt : to taste
- Wash and soak the urad dal (without skin), idli rice and fenugreek seeds in water for 6-7 hours. Soak poha for 1/2 hour before grinding.
- Grind the urad dal with enough cold water to make a smooth, fluffy paste. Keep aside.
- Grind the idli rice along with the poha with enough water till you get a smooth paste.
- Now mix the rice batter with the urad dal batter. Add salt (if the weather is cold, avoid adding salt if the weather is hot) and mix it well to aerate the batter with enough air to aid in fermentation.
- Let it ferment overnight (if it’s cold, you can keep it inside the oven with the light of the oven switched on).
- In the morning, mix the fermented batter well and grease the idli moulds.
- Boil water in a steamer, once water starts boiling, pour the batter into the greased moulds.
- Steam for 10-12 minutes or until it is cooked.
- Serve with sambar and chutney.