Last year, Americans discovered the many benefits of consuming coconut oil, which came as no surprise to us Indians. Knowingly or unknowingly we have been brought up with these little nuggets of wisdom deeply ingrained into our lives. Now, the Americans are catching up on another quintessentially Indian recommendation — fermented rice gruel, or pazhankanji as you may know it. For a generation that demands scientific proof for everything, here’s another reason to believe that our forefathers were geniuses.
It was not necessary in those good old days to prepare a hot morning breakfast. Instead, fermented rice gruel, prepared by soaking previous day’s rice in water overnight, was used as a traditional breakfast in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The gruel would be consumed with nutritious side dishes such as buttermilk or chilly chutney.
What happens when cooked rice is soaked in water overnight? It is found that the bacteria generated in the rice during fermentation produce lactic acid, which breaks down the anti-nutritional factors in rice. This process results in improved bioavailability of micro nutrients and minerals such as iron, potassium and calcium. For example, the availability of iron in 100 gm of boiled rice increases from 3.4 mg to 73.91 mg after 12 hours of fermentation.
Fermented brown rice is rich in magnesium and selenium which help strengthen the bones and to a certain extend prevent the occurrence of degenerative diseases such as arthritis and cancer.
Making a business of it
Pappadavada, a swanky restaurant in Kochi, has made fermented rice gruel, pazhankanji in Malayalam, a dish of choice for the gourmet. The restaurant follows the traditional ways of preparing the dish but pepper it with a small serving of all-time favourite tapioca along with coconut chutney, small onion, pickle, curd and green chilly.
“We start serving it by 11 am and it will be over in two to three hours,” said Minu Pauline, its proprietor. “I have noticed office-goers come regularly for it. Those who travel by bike also prefer it for its rehydrating effect.” Her two restaurants in the city sell about 50 bowls a day. “My Facebook post on pazhankanji has become a hit and there are non-resident Keralaites who are on vacation come specifically asking for it. And they go back thoroughly disappointed if we had done for the day.” Perhaps an element of nostalgia, too!
Researches have listed the following benefits of having fermented rice gruel
1. Prevents fatigue: Fermented brown rice produces a considerable amount of vitamin B12, which helps prevent fatigue. Remember, people who take fermented rice used to perform physically strenuous jobs in the past.
2. Cures ulcer: Fermented rice gruel is rich in Vitamin B. The vitamin prevents acidity in the body, and offers a very simple remedy for ulcer. The other micro organisms that are produced during fermentation help balance the PH level in the stomach. It also places healthy bacteria in the gut.
3. Secretes breast milk in lactating mothers: Lactation is important for new babies and many of feeding women have the problem of low milk secretion. Fermented rice is a good source of lactic acid which helps secrete more milk.
4. Helps relieve constipation: Fermented rice gruel is a natural laxative. It has healthy bacteria that help the bowel movement without side-effects.
5. Beauty care product: Fermented rice is considered a beauty secret of Asia. It helps in the production of collagen, which is necessary to maintain elasticity of the skin.
6. Reduced blood pressure: Fermented rice is a rich source of potassium. Researches show high intake of potassium reduces blood pressure. Consuming the rice as breakfast will also keep the body light and energetic.
The writer is senior dietician, Medical Trust Hospital, Kochi...