Remember the last time you had a crisp dosa? As the morsels disappeared into your mouth, you probably would have said a word or two in praise of the cook for getting the rice-black lentil batter into the perfect proportion. But would you have credited a few anonymous little creatures for this culinary dexterity? The microbes, bacteria and yeast that worked tirelessly on the batter for about a day-and-a quarter giving the dosa lots of nitrogen, soluble proteins, reducing sugars and enzymes? It's they who made your snack fluffy and tangy. The English language terms their labour as fermentation.
Today probiotics take inspiration from traditional fermented foods. But even at its best, the industry cannot offer either the variety or the taste created by traditional cooks and their tiny foot soldiers. And of course, traditional fermented foods are much cheaper.
Most times, as in the case of dosa batter, raw materials provide microbes.Yeast granules easily available in the market are also good fermenting agents. Jyoti Prakash Tamang, food microbiologist at Sikkim Central University, Gangtok says "Some microbes help in bio-preservation of perishable vegetables, fish and meat products.' But he adds that adding synthetic compounds to preserve foods affects fermentation.
Filling The actual values of proteins, carbohydrates and minerals are rarely measured in finished products. But a breakfast consisting of a mixture of fermented cereal and pulses was found to be more filling than other foods like white bread, rice flakes and semolina preparations by researchers from the department of food science and nutrition, Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women's University in Mumbai. The researchers attributed this to the high protein, high fibre content and greater water to volume ratio of fermented food. See recipes idli and dhokla
Shikha Sharma, a dietician from Delhi points to another significant quality of fermented foods