Fermentation in Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine is celebrated for its variety and versatility, and it has earned recognition and accreditation from prestigious organizations worldwide. In India, there's a common saying, "Chaar kos par paani badle, chaar kos par baani," which means that every four miles, the language and, by extension, the flavours change. This saying reflects the incredible diversity of tastes and flavours found in India. In this post, I am focussing on the role of fermentation in Indian cuisine. Or how fermentation has been used in Indian cuisine over the years. It is in continuation of our last post on fermentation, where we have spoken about the cuisines of the world. 

Refreshing, about fermentation - Fermentation is a process where microorganisms like yeast, moulds, and bacteria consume sugars and starches in food, leading to significant changes in the food. Lactic Acid Bacteria play a crucial role in this process. Over time, this process has been refined, providing numerous benefits such as enhanced flavour, improved digestibility, and increased nutritional value, including B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Fermentation is also known for its potential health benefits, such as preventing diseases like diabetes, constipation, gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, and even cancer. The world of gastronomy has increasingly appreciated these benefits in recent years.

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Onset of Fermented Food

Soma ras, obtained from indigenous grapevines and documented since ancient Vedic times, is one of the earliest documented fermented products in India. Apart from its medicinal qualities, it has been revered and worshipped.

Curd: A Versatile Ingredient

Indian cuisine often uses curd to balance the spiciness of many dishes. It can be a primary ingredient, served as a side dish, or in desserts like lassi, raita, and buttermilk (chaas). Curd plays a significant role in dishes such as dahi bada, kadhi, rabadi, aviyal, misti doi, and shrikhand, even serving as a starter for fermenting various delicacies.

Cereals and Pulses in Fermented Food

Several popular Indian dishes, including dhokla, idli, dosa, uttappam, naan, kulcha, bhatura, koozhu, wada, and pazhaiya soru, use cereals or pulses as their main ingredients. Fermentation is essential to prepare the batter for these dishes, allowing yeast and bacteria to develop. Each of these dishes is celebrated in different regions of India.

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Fermented Desserts

Indian cuisine offers a range of fermented desserts, such as Jalebi, gulgule, and selroti. Jalebi and gulgule are wheat-based, while selroti is a rice-based, ring-shaped dessert influenced by Nepali cuisine.

Sikkim: A Hub for Fermentation

Sikkim excels in the art of fermentation, especially with milk-based products. It offers a variety of fermented products like chhu, philu, shyow, mohi, and somar, each with its own unique characteristics. Arunachal Pradesh also produces a cheese-based product called chhurpi, made primarily from yak milk.

Fermentation in Non-Vegetarian Food

Fish holds a special place in Indian fermented food, with dishes like Hentak, Tungtap, lona ilish, and ngari. These dishes are appreciated for their distinct flavours. While meat products are rarely fermented due to susceptibility to microbial deterioration, there are exceptions, with dishes like chartayshya, satchu, geema, and arjia from the Himalayan region.

Vegetable and Unripe Fruit-Based Fermented Food

Fermentation is not limited to grains; vegetables and unripe fruits are used to create delicacies with high gastronomic value. Examples include gundruk, anishi, khalpi, and sinki, each made from different vegetables or fruits.

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Fermented Beverages

India boasts a wide range of fermented indigenous beverages from various states. These include Kesar Kasturi, Zutho, Chuwarak, Kanji, Chuak, zawlaidi, kiat, sunda kanji, and judima, each with unique flavours and traditions.

The significance of fermented cuisine in Indian gastronomy should not be underestimated. It offers various benefits, from enhanced flavour and increased digestibility to improved immunity and added nutritional and medicinal value. It is highly recommended to incorporate fermented dishes into meals to fully appreciate these benefits. Fermentation is not just a preservation technique; it enhances the culinary experience in numerous ways.

Have you made fermented foods a regular part of your daily intake? if not, it's the right time to make this correction. 

Healthy eating!

Neerja Bhatnagar

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  1. you left out the notorious Idli and dosa.

    1. Not at all... they are mentioned under the heading of Fermented Cereals and Pulses.


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