Friday, 31 March 2017


Soft at the centre and crispy thin lace at the edges is what characterises any 'Appam'. Made from rice, fermented with coconut palm toddy and flavoured with coconut milk, these appams evoke a kind of nostalgia in many.

Although many add sugar or eggs to appams we feel this practice smothers the distinctively sweet, rich aroma of coconut. This distinctive aroma of the coconut is created by derivatives of saturated fatty acids called lactones (octa-, deca-, dodeca-, tetradeca- lactones) — The same lactones that also flavours Mangoes. You would not add eggs to mangoes, would you?

Lauric acid, found in large quantities in both coconut and in mother's milk, has strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties. This fatty acid has protected tropical populations from bacteria and fungus for centuries.

Aarina, had the appams with sardine curry, while I enjoyed it with potato and herb baji. Lip- smacking!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Celiac disease in fish ?

Not just the west, but even India is showing a steep rise in people diagnosed with celiac disease and it's associated companion diseases (1, 2).
Increasing Celiac Disease in India.

Although numerous reasons are proposed as to the cause of this increase, nothing conclusive has turned up yet (3). Some of the leading reasons proposed for an increased number of people suffering from Celiac disease are: Increased gluten consumption. (About 90% of the  food that we eat today has gluten in some or the other form),  Rotavirus infection during childhood, Poor gut biome and some more.
Another reason that is gaining increasing traction as a probable reason for increasing celiac disease is a herbicide called Glyphosate and that is what today's post is about.
 Glyphosate is the world's best-selling herbicide- it kills any plant that comes in contact with it. So farmers spray it in their fields before sowing crops to kill all weeds. Not just that, some farmers even spray it on mature crops, because it dries up the plants and makes harvesting and subsequent processing easy (4).
In India, Monsanto is the biggest supplier of Glyphosate and they sell it under the brand name 'Roundup'. Today traces of Roundup are found in nearly all processed food- especially the ones that contain wheat and sugar- Most possible because wheat, sugar and cotton cultivation are the biggest consumers of Glyphosate (5). Not just that, domesticated animals that feed on this dried grass, will have glyphosate residue, which eventually ends up in people who consume their meat. Glyphosate is not present on the surface if the plants, it has to enter the cells of the plant to work- so even washing or any other processing will not take Glyphosate away (6).
New studies have shown that Glyphosate can actually cause Celiac disease. Not just that, when tested in fish (because glyphosate ends up in our rivers) even fish developed symptoms similar to Celiac disease(8, 9).  

Other than Celiac disease, Glyphosate is also accused of causing- Attention deficit disorder (ADHD),  Alzheimer's disease, autism, birth defects, various types of cancers, kidney disease, colitis, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hypothyroidism, liver disease, MS, ALS, Parkinsons and many more (Read this link and the associated studies 10).

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has banned Roundup and UN has declared it a probable carcinogen- but many of us continue consuming it via products made of wheat and sugar and remain oblivious to its hazards. India consumed 35,000 tonnes of Glyphosate in 2015, and the figure is expected to hit 75,000 tonnes in 2024 (11). It seems like gluten is least of wheat's problems- Monsanto meanwhile is awaiting approval for Glyphosate-resistant GMO wheat. Roundup can then be sprayed as the wheat plant grows and cost saved on manual weeding. When this happens imagine the amount of Glyphosate that will end up in our food!


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Talinum on our Plate

We came across Talinum ( Talinum fruticosum ) two years ago, when we got seeds of " Dal Spinach".

We had no idea, what to do with it and since it was called "Dal Spinach" we added it to all our dal dishes (Lentil curries). The plant turned out to be resilient and was self-seeding and we never ran out of it and it is always there when we need it.

We started getting a bit adventurous with Talinum and started using it in our stir fry dishes, where it added a bit of tang and crunch. Although it can also be eaten raw as a salad- the palate at our home is not the greatest fan of leafy salads and leaves have to be hidden in food!

So Talinum managed to reach our breakfast table this week. Pearl millet fermented idlis, laced with the faithful Talinum. The steaming changes the flavour of the leaves, making it subtly sweet.

The pearl millet was fermented overnight, from the previous day's leftover batter and the Talinum blends very well with the millet.

Can't imagine the sheer variety of food that we can make today- since we decided to chuck wheat out of our lives.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Barnyard Millet Cake.

Although, the title of this post calls this a cake- it is nothing but an oversized Idli steamed in a cake mould.
The giant Idli was made of Barnyard millet and was fermented overnight. The orange colour was because of mashed carrots and the green hue came from ground coriander leaves. I added the carrot and coriander leaves to the batter and layered it just before steaming. The white portion, of course, is the uncoloured Barnyard millet batter.
This idli, that does look like a cake- is however very nutritious. Barnyard millet, from which it is made has a good amount of macronutrients and dietary fibre.  12% of barnyard millet is fibres. 4% of which are soluble ones.  Barnyard millets, in addition, also have a low glycemic index (41 - 45) since they are low in carbohydrates.  In a study (1) published in 2014, it was noticed that people who consumed barnyard millets for 28 days showed a significant reduction in blood- glucose. cholesterol and triglyceride levels making it an ideal grain for people with type II diabetes. Despite being nutritionally one of the most superior cereals, its use in everyday cooking remains abysmally poor, just because of the lack of awareness.
 Barnyard millet is also a hardy crop and grows on hilly slopes where nothing else grows and needs very little water too . 
The idli additionally had whole carrots and coriander which gave it a lovely subtle taste and a fascinating colour. 


Sunday, 26 March 2017

Organic Chunna Idli's !

On a rocky patch in our backyard, a thorny bush, disguised as a creeper comes to life every summer. Under the scorching heat of the India summer, it produces an abundant of berries. In Goa, they are called 'Chunna', and they have different names in different parts of the world. 'Ziziphus rugosa' is a hardy plant, that loves a tough life. In Africa, there is a saying, which roughly translates to; 'when there is nothing to eat- there is always these berries'. They are green when raw and slowly turn translucent as they ripen, they are not very sweet and neither very flavorful, but studies indicate an abundance of nutrients.

Our breakfast today were Idli's ( fermented- steamed millet cakes) laced with a generous quantity of 'Chunna pulp'. The Idli's were not made from rice, but from 'pearl millet' (Bajra) fermented overnight. I used the previous day's left-over batter as a starter (about 3 tablespoons of fermented finger millet) and in the morning, added a generous serving of 'Chunna'. It so happens, using Chunna in breakfast is not new- traditionally it has been used in dosa's in certain area's of southern India- I, however, used them in the idli's and this is where an amazing transformation happens. The slightly sweet berries actually become much sweeter and when we ate the idli- it felt as if raisins were added to the idlis. Chunna had acquired a new flavour- Eureka ! what an amazing discovery!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Stuffed Proso Millet Idli's (steamed breads)

Today idli's are generally made from rice. However, that was not the case a hundred years ago. Depending on the region, idli's were made not just of rice, but also from millets. This is a tradition that is getting lost today. Polished rice, devoid of nearly most nutrition is the staple in today's idlis.
We can easily change our eating habits and get back to eating nutritious food again- for our own well-being. Our breakfast was an attempt in that direction and was made of whole proso millet, which was fermented with a little of the previous day's leftover batter. ( That batter was made of finger millet and black gram). The overnight fermentation also changed the colour of the batter from yellow to white.
The twist, however, was when we stuffed the idlis with a mixture of vegetables and fresh herbs. An enjoyable start to a lovely day. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

It's Water day- Multi Millet Flatbreads

Today is World water day, The UN decided March 22, 1993, would be the first World Water Day, and it has been held annually since. This year's theme is 'Wastewater'.
In India, 90% of the water used goes towards farming and most of it is used inefficiently. Over and above this- crops that are water guzzlers have the greatest demand. It takes 2100 litres of water to make a kilo of sugar (something that we can live without) and about 4000 litres to make a kilo of wheat.
Compare this to millets India traditionally grew- it takes just 300 litres of water for a kilogram of millets.
Now imagine if we as consumers try and make a dietary change by increasing our consumption of water efficient crops (which by the way are more healthy), won't that be a huge reduction in water that is used for the purpose of irrigation?
Could we as a society give this a thought?
Our breakfast, these millet flatbreads were made from a mixture of millets- they required less than 1/10th of the water their wheat counterparts require.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Proso Millet - Cone Dosa.

'Proso millet Cone Dosa' - Woke up to an amazing sight today- the vessel in which this proso millet batter was fermenting had overflown and messed up the kitchen platform! But I was delighted, the batter had fermented so well- I was fermenting proso millet for the first time and I was left wondering whether it was the millet or the warm night, that helped the fermentation. The dosa had a lovely flavour and was so crisp that I could actually make a cone out of it.

After food some gyan: Here is a question for you.

Will gymming or even strenuous exercising undo these effects of sugar?

Have you ever undergone a HbA1C (Haemoglobin A1C) test in order to monitor your blood sugar levels? Well, if you have heard about this test, then most likely, you were told that it measures the average three-month blood glucose level. What very few people realise about this test is that other than revealing your three-month average blood glucose level, the test also reveals something more sinister - that something, is what we would like to share with you today.

First, a gist about how the HbA1C test works. Sugar molecules have a nasty habit of binding to proteins and fats - This spontaneous binding of sugar to proteins and fats is called ‘glycation’. In fact, we even observe this property of sugar in our very own kitchens while cooking - the browning of French fries, bread etc. When a sugar molecule attaches itself to a protein - it pretty much remains attached to it for the rest of the protein’s life. Haemoglobin, a protein, responsible for transporting oxygen from lungs to the cells of our body, similarly undergoes glycation by the sugar present in our blood. The HbA1C actually measures this ‘’glycated Haemoglobin’’ - and since an increase in blood sugar increases the amount of glycated haemoglobin, it becomes extremely useful as an indicator of the “average” blood sugar over the past ninety days or so (the life span of the Haemoglobin).

Now coming to the sinister part. When proteins become glycated, two important things happen. First, they struggle to carry out their functions as they become damaged by this process. Second, they tend to attach themselves to similarly damaged proteins which only further inhibits their ability to function. Proteins are the most critical component of our body- we are what we are, majorly, because of proteins. Life on earth started because of proteins. Fortunately, proteins like Haemoglobin are replaced by our body regularly, however, there are many proteins that are never replaced or have a very long lifespan. When such proteins like those found in the eye, kidney, heart, nerves, etc are glycated, their functioning is impaired, a major reason why diabetes-related complications are associated with these organs.

What then can glycation do to our body? Well, some of the effects are obvious - like cataract and wrinkles. But, greater damage occurs within our body. High levels of glycation have been associated with cognitive decline, kidney disease, diabetes, vascular disease (blood vessel related) etc. Glycated proteins end up on the walls of our blood vessels, gradually clogging them making sugar one of the leading causes of arteriosclerosis. (1)

One must remember, that any protein in the body is subject to be damaged by glycation. Glycation of proteins is also a normal part of our metabolism and is an unavoidable part of our life. However, what we can do to drastically reduce the level of glycation that occurs in our body is ‘’reduce the availability of sugar’’ in the first place. (2) To do this, we only have to cut down or stop our intake of sugar - as simple as that.

Having said that, one must realise that all sugars do not behave in a similar fashion in our bodies - Fructose has ten times more glycation activity than glucose, which means, it can damage 10 times more proteins than what glucose in the blood can do. The most disturbing fact of table sugar (sucrose) - it is a combination of fructose and glucose. So, each time, we consume this sugar- think of what the fructose can do to your precious proteins. Let’s make our life sweet - not our food 😊

This then is food for thought – most of us gorge on sugary foods, consoling and allowing ourselves the freedom to do so, with the thought - we will just burn it off in the gym or on long walks or simply by using the stairs etc. But what about the damage that is happening on the inside? We as a society being conscious only about our external body image (weight, skin, athletic look) rarely even consider our personal internal health. We are willing to spend endlessly, to maintain an external image but not turn to saving simply by refusing to spend on ‘’Sugar’’.

P.S.: Fructose is also the sugar present in fruits and vegetables- however, the quantity is negligible, unlike the processed sugars that we consume.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Jai Hind Dosa !

Let's begin today's post with a question. Which of the following has a higher Glycemic Index: 1. A slice of whole-wheat bread from a bakery 2. A teaspoon of pure white sugar 3. Jai Hind Dosa (the one featured today and made of Foxtail millet)

Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical rating that indicates how quickly blood sugar levels rise after eating a particular of food- A food with higher GI produces a surge in blood sugar compared to the one with lower blood sugar. Food with 55 or less is classified as Low GI and the ones above 70 are classified as high GI. People with diabetes and those intending to lose weight are recommended to stick to foods that have a lower GI. So what's the answer to our question?

Counter-intuitive as it may sound, the correct answer is whole-wheat bread from a bakery (GI of 71!), sugar stands at 68 and the ground foxtail millet is 47 (The cheese and carrot reduce the GI some more, but let's stick to the higher value).  It has been known for a long time that wheat (and also white rice) produces a faster blood glucose surge than sugar ( that does not mean one can gorge on sugar. Sugar is perhaps the most harmful of the foods that we eat) but somehow very few people realise this! and this is where millets are such a gift from nature.

Today's breakfast was a dosa made of foxtail millet and was fermented overnight. Topped with grated carrots, capsicum and cheese- the moment Aari saw it, she called it 'Jai hind dosa' and the name stuck.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Ragi Masala Dosa (Finger millet)

Although breakfast items like masala dosa are made from gluten free ingredients- eating it in a restaurant always comes with a great concern- that of contamination by products containing gluten. For quite some time we had been wanting to eat this crunchy and delicious item and that day finally arrived. We had Masala dosa for breakfast today- ah! the delight. For a change, however, we replaced the 'dosa rice' with whole 'Finger millet' (Ragi) and it tasted just as good.

This post also gives me an opportunity to share a very interesting article that appeared in this months 'Pediatrics' journal (Published by American Academy of Pediatrics). The article should be of interest not just to paediatricians, but also to parents with young children. Do read the fascinating write-up, however, this is the summary.

 TEDDY,  is an international study investigating the environmental factors associated with type 1 diabetes and celiac disease in Children. Children with genetic risk for diabetes and celiac disease are followed from birth up to 15 years of age with an extensive array of biologic, psychological, and environmental measures. The article shares with us one of the conclusions of the study, which involved more than 8000 children.

When parents are unaware that their children have celiac disease, they report more behavioural problems such as anxiety, depression, aggressive behaviours and sleep problems compared to parents whose children did not have celiac disease. The findings are fascinating since rarely do people consider a child’s anxiety or depression or even sleep disorder could be related to the gut. The study also confirms previous studies that have linked celiac disease to depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.

Meanwhile, it's dinner time already !

Friday, 10 March 2017

Can any method of fermentation or baking remove gluten from bread? (Recipe included)

A question that we are frequently asked is, “Can long fermentation of wheat remove gluten and thereby make wheat bread safe?” The answer - Practically no, theoretically yes and remember, theoretically one can even build a time machine!

So, why then on a practical basis, in a home kitchen, fermentation is unable to remove gluten and how is it done in a laboratory?

A) Structure: Gluten is critical in bread making because it provides bread with strength, structure and spring (1). Without gluten, a bread does not have strength to hold itself or to create those holes, that are so much a part of most bread loaves that we eat. One of the reason, bakers put in a lot of effort kneading the dough and/or allow the dough to rest for long periods of time is to develop the gluten, which then makes the bread soft. Now imagine, that by some magic this gluten was to disappear - A wheat bread then will have no strength, texture or spring that is associated with it - neither will it be soft. The question one needs to reflect on is - if I want a bread without gluten why do I not use so many gluten free flours that are easily available?

 B) The fermenters:  Two of the most commonly used microbes for fermentation are Yeast and Lactic acid bacteria. Leavening that is done with commercial yeast generally uses Saccharomyces cerevisiae, while natural fermentation relies on a combination of many species of both, Lactic acid bacteria and Yeast. Irrespective of what method is used, these microbes feed on carbohydrates like sugars and starches during the fermentation process. Gluten is a protein - not a carbohydrate, so can these microbes then degrade it?  Yeast cannot break down proteins or fats and, requires only carbohydrates (2).

Bacteria, however, are more versatile and can survive on a large variety of food. So, can Lactic acid bacteria break down gluten? In a study, conducted in 2006, 42 Lactic acid bacteria were studied for their ability to breakdown gluten - only 13 of them could do so! (3). Scientists who experimented on wheat mixtures to reduce gluten in them used only these specific strains of Lactic acid bacteria and not just any culture. Moreover, none of these 13 Lactic acid bacteria were able to completely degrade gluten, even after 24 hours of fermentation (They require a much longer time). Lactic acid bacteria too, prefer carbohydrates over protein and keep utilising carbohydrates as their primary source of energy.

C) Bacteria need to move around a bread dough in order to break down every gluten molecule. However, that can only happen if the batter is near fluid, and is regularly stirred. Bread dough is rarely of such a texture.

So, how do scientists who remove gluten from wheat by fermentation do it? The following is one such recipe from a laboratory (4). This is what these Scientists call as the ‘’Sourdough method’’. This technique and its variations are used in all laboratories when dealing with gluten degradation.

1. To 80-gram wheat flour, add 320 grams of water (Reason C)
2. Use the following strains of bacteria as starters; Lactobacillus alimentarius 15M, L. brevis 14G, L. higardii 51B and a bunch of other specific strains only (Check the report for the complete list (4)). (Reason B)
3. Use fungal proteases, Aspergillus oryzae and A. niger to aid the Lactic acid bacteria.
4. Ferment this for 48 hours at 37c (reason B). During Fermentation, stir it continuously at 200 rpm (for this, one will need to use a machine) (Reason C)
5. Since this is a very liquid batter, not suitable to make bread - use a spray drier to dry this mass. The dry flour thus obtained will hopefully be free of gluten. (Test it)
6. To 125 grams of this spray-dried wheat, add 100 ml of water (with 1.5% Baker’s yeast), 6% cornstarch, and 3% Xanthan gum (Reason A). Xanthan gum is used to substitute for gluten in the bread.
7. Ferment it for 2 hours and bake it for 15 mins at 250c.

Viola! Gluten free ‘’Sourdough bread’ made using wheat is ready!

As you may have noticed, this technique is a far cry from what we employ in a kitchen or a bakery. B However, unknowingly, many bakers continue capitalizing on this myth - without realising that the method used was very different from what is commonly known as Sourdough methods to us. In US, some bakers, are openly selling sourdough bread, claiming it to be safe for the gluten intolerant based on this false premise. (5)

There is evidence emerging that such sourdough bread can be more harmful than quickly fermented bread for a celiac (6). When gluten is partly broken down during long fermentation, more binding sites are made available for an enzyme called TG2. It is this TG2, that plays a crucial role in the initiation of Celiac disease!

Sadly, in today’s age, scientific studies are extrapolated and stretched by tabloids that provide us our dietary advice - does anyone even read beyond the headline?  (

1. The structure and properties of gluten: an elastic protein from wheat grain P. R. Shewry, N. G. Halford, P. S. Belton, A. S. Tatham


3. Gluten breakdown by lactobacilli and pediococci strains isolated from sourdough.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Little Millet Idlis

These are not rice idlis- they are made of 'Little millet' and that is what we had for our breakfast today. We made them exactly like how one would make rice idlis- however, we replaced the rice with 'little millet'. Fermented overnight and garnished with grated carrots they were as soft and much more flavourful than their rice-based cousin.

For accompaniment, we had a chutney made from Red chillies, Coconut and Carrots- Gentle spice, subtle sweetness and creamy texture were the hallmarks of our morning today. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Dibba roti with little millet.

Dibba Roti- is a typical breakfast item from Andhra Pradesh and perhaps its closest well-known relative is the Uttapam. We took inspiration from the Dibba roti- but replaced the rice and black gram (Urad dal) with 'Little millet'.

Rest of the embellishment that goes with the Dibba Roti, like;  grated carrots, Coriander leaves, Onions, Green chillies and whole spices were retained and it made for a lovely gluten-free and wholesome breakfast. A delightful way to start a day.

This is an unfermented dosa-roti hybrid and can be quickly cooked, especially when you wake up in the morning to realise that you forgot to keep anything for fermentation the previous day. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

Happy Mind in a Healthy Body- Really ?

For quite long, I have been sharing with you research papers and articles that deal with the effects of gluten on our overall health. While perusing these research papers (which number in the hundreds), I came across a few very interesting studies, that perhaps would be of interest to many of us, but since they do not concern gluten, I did not follow up with them. However, since all of us intend to live a healthy life - I felt it would be appropriate to share a couple of them with you now and in my future posts. So here is one of them -

How our mind controls Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

RA is an autoimmune (caused by our own immune system) disease which involves painful joints among other issues. The immune system of people suffering from RA makes antibodies* not only against microbes or specific organs but against other antibodies that are present in one’s own body! These “aggressor” antibodies, i.e. the Rheumatoid Factor, bind to the innocent bystander antibodies in the blood and form large antibody complexes.  Normally, such complexes are cleared by the scavengers of our immune system - the macrophages. However, when the number of such complexes becomes humungous enough, so as to dwarf the ability of the macrophages to clear them; these complexes, then deposit on the insides of our blood vessels and joints. An inflammatory reaction follows - the T-Cells and B-Cells (other components of our bodies defence) enters the joints attempting to clear these antibody complexes. It is during this process, that the tissues which provide lubrication to the joints are gradually destroyed. This condition is not only painful but also physically damaging as it gradually leads to deformity of the joints – This is what we know as Arthritis.
For a long time, there have been reports in the RA literature stating that patients with RA were “tense”, “moody” and “high-strung”; showed tendencies of setting high standards for themselves and others, and reacted negatively when faced with falling standards. However, there was no study conducted until 1964.

Dr’s. George Solomon and Rudolph Moos of Stanford were intrigued by a case of two genetically identical female twins, only one of whom was diagnosed with RA. They carried out an extensive study on women affected by RA (1). What they discovered was that the sister with RA showed tendencies of being more nervous, more depressed and quicker to anger to both, real and imagined situations as compared to their symptom-free sibling. Close questioning of the patients and their family members, showed, that these traits were not brought on by the disease itself but were personality characteristics of these patients even before the disease set in.

In almost every case, an emotional conflict started or worsened the disease. In a follow-up study (2), the researchers were surprised to find that the generally happy twin, who avoided stressful situations (and had personality traits opposite to that of the suffering twin) who although had a genetic disposition to acquire RA, did not suffer from it. In some cases, the RA levels of such patients were in the range of the suffering patients but they never developed the disease.

Today, it is generally accepted that autoimmune diseases such as RA, lupus and multiple sclerosis may not always represent the failure of the immune system but rather could be the result of a combination of many factors, exacerbated by emotional stress.

In another study (3), which shows how the mind controls the immune system, 394 healthy volunteers were exposed to a series of cold viruses. Prior to their exposure, a series of tests were conducted to determine their stress levels.  This study showed that only 27% of the volunteers who were stress-free developed cold as compared to more than 50% of those under stress - there was no other co-relation other than stress. Studies like these, have resulted in a creation of a new branch in immunology called – psychoneuroimmunology.

So, to sum it up - a quote from Charles Raison from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University “People who have rich social lives and, warm, open relationships don’t get sick and live longer”.

(* Antibody is a protein found in blood, produced in response to an invasion of the body by a microbe or other foreign entity, capable of recognising that entity and promoting its elimination.)