Not too long ago, a popular actor crooned in a biscuit commercial, `Biscuit ke naam pe maida kha rahe ho…’ Well, perhaps you may just be eating refined flour in the name of whole-wheat products.While there is a long way to go till we steer clear of unhealthy refined flours completely from our diets, there is a slow but perceptible shift to healthier options in the eating habits of people, who realise that including jowar in the diet can be good for weight loss and jau or barley is good for the liver.
They know that adding bajra in a dish will up its iron content or that buckwheat or kuttu ka aata can help reduce blood sugar levels. But one does not always need to make only rotis out of them or use them in porridge. The local supermarket aisles are a testimony -you find options such as ragi idlis, multigrain dosas, which is all very welcome. Our restaurants are taking a cue too.
Woodside Inn at Colaba rustles up a fine Ragi Crepe with Malabar spinach, bean sprouts, American corn, cauliflower, cottage cheese and smoky red pepper sauce, while the Roasted Beet Burger at Crafts Deli Bistro Bar at Phoenix Marketcity, Kurla where nachni flour is used for the burger bun is quite a hit. The city seems to have re-discovered these healthy grains with a vengeance.
Chef Manager Glyston Gracias of Smoke House Deli shares, “In the earlier days, people consumed grains such as ragi, jowar and bajra but due to commercialisation, they switched to ready-to-eat processed foods.Somewhere 2005-06, I observed that there was a move from canned foods to fresh food as people realised that fresh foods are much healthier,” he says. However, soon fresh foods too got commercialised as production could not meet demand. “Artificial means and manipulation to increase production, further made people reach out for organic food. So in a way, we have gone back to our roots,” he adds.
Head nutritionist and master coach at GOQii as well as author of The Great Indian Diet book with Shilpa Shetty, Luke Coutinho concurs.”Although these grains were native to Indian diets, they got pushed back with the opening of the gates that flooded Indian markets with junk and processed foods,” he says.
Almost five years ago, food blogger Deeba Rajpal, decided to make the switch from refined flour to alternative flours. “I realised that I am just doing what everybody else is doing and in the process, consuming empty calories. That’s when I shifted over to experimenting with different grains which are available locally in the market,” she says.
Since Rajpal mainly blogs about baking, she realised that a lot of grains don’t work so well with the process.”Many people say that they use ragi for baking but I don’t like how it turns out in cakes. I tend to use more of buckwheat and amaranth for the dishes I prepare,” she says.
Rajpal may not be a fan of ragi when it comes to baking, but owner and head chef at Icing on Top, Ayushi Shah loves the nutty flavour it lends her cookies. “It’s a different texture than flour, so it takes a little getting used to. We decided to go with ragi in our cookies as it has a naturally nutty and chocolatey flavour to it,” says Shah, who introduced a range of bitesized gluten free cookies and wholewheat crackers less than a month ago to her menu.
The idea for using ragi instead of regular flour came to Shah when some time ago, her father-in-law chose to go gluten-free for health reasons. “My mother-in-law made him gluten free ragi cookies at home and I thought I should try the same,” she reveals. “Besides, ragi is rich in minerals, reduces bad cholesterol, and has anti-aging properties. We use it not only as a healthy alternative to flour, but also because it is gluten free and can be consumed by those people who are gluten intolerant.”
Her next experiment is with bajra crackers In order to keep up with the trend of offering gluten-free and vegan dishes to their customers, Smoke House Deli is launching their new health menu soon. Some of the dishes on the menu include Kale and Millet Soup, Grilled Peach and Papaya Salad with Amaranth Granola, Jowar Gnocchi and Mushroom Fricasse and Jowar Fettuccini with Tomato Braised Vegetables. As he serves us a piece of Cacao Nib and Soya Milk Cheesecake with a Nachini Crust, Chef Gracias says that the best part about using grains such as jowar, bajra and ragi in their foods, ensures a great texture to the end product. “It gives a bite to the dish. One actually feels they are eating something healthy without feeling stuffed. Earlier, I had difficulty eating the portion of the pasta we served here, but I can finish off a plate of Jowar Fettuccine without a problem. There is no lethargy, on the contrary, one feels active after consuming a dish made of these grains,” he adds.
Making the switch
Switching over completely to these alternative grains or flours may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Rajpal warns of little things that may go wrong if one tries to become a purist when it comes to these matters. “Absorbency of each flour is different and ovens behave differently in different kitchens. I would suggest, use half of these alternative flours and half the regular flour in a recipe, and gradually increase the quantity of the healthy grains as you become confident. Follow a blog or join a like-minded community on Facebook to share your thoughts on these foods. At the end of the day, it’s important to see what’s on your plate, rather than eating blindly,” she points out.
As important as it is to slowly make the switch to these alternative grains or flours, it is as necessary to get the right quality of these grains. “Make sure you get the flour from a reputed place or it is very likely that it might be mixed with refined flour. You can also ask your trusted grocery store to get the flour for you,” adds Shah.
Coutinho, who often makes jowar or ragi rotis and pancakes and uses amaranth in health bars and cereals, has the last word on the subject.”Wheat gets a bad reputation today because so many people are gluten intolerant, and many people also `think’ they are gluten intolerant when they are not. All they have are weak guts and digestive systems, weakened due to wrong food choices and lifestyle, which makes it difficult for the body to break down gluten,” he explains.
“That’s when grains like ragi, jowar, amaranth come to the rescue. They are gluten free, have good quality protein, make excellent complex carbs and have a good amount of vitamins, fibre and trace minerals.They are low in GI and hence, are excellent for people with diabetes, and for people looking to lose weight.”