Roti ,being a staple especially in the north, is made effortlessly by the house wives for ages without using any mechanical contraptions as hand rolled rotis are preferred to that made in some improvised hand presses. The type of wheat to be used, its desirable quality, washing and sun drying, grinding in chakki, dough making, rolling into round sheets and baking are part of the day to day life of all wheat eating populations. The variants of roti like parotha, nan, tandoori, etc are also based on wheat made regularly in many house holds in India.
Mexicans have stolen a march over Indians in evolving mechanical devices for making a product called tortilla based on maize and the tortilla making machine is a standard fixture in many many parts of that country. The revolutionary evolution of Mexican restaurants and world wide acceptance of the foods originating from that country like Burritos, Quesadillas, Nachos, Chalupa, Guacamole etc has spread the popularity of these foods, pioneered by Tacobell chain of restaurants in USA and other parts of the world. Tortilla making was originally by hand but design of compact machines with varying capacities to suit all pockets made it possible to make freshly pressed tortilla, untouched by hand, in any quantities at any place. In many Mexican restaurants Tortilla is made fresh in front of the customers for serving hot.
It took almost 50 years after independence for India to come up with a machine that can make mechanized roti designed by the Mysore based CFTRI and plants with 1500-2000 rotis per hour capacity are being offered by some equipment makers in the country. Though the roti plant delivers a product looking like roti, its sensory qualities leave much to be desired. The plant, based on extrusion sheeting, cutting into round discs with recycling provision for the scraps, toasting on belts under direct firing by gas based burners and cooling, has some electronic controls though not to the desired extent. The plant being made by a couple of fabricators suffers from too frequent break downs and early wear and tear of the parts. The biggest draw back is the dramatic change in textural quality of the product after 24 hours of making. The product dries fast and breaks during serving, when supplied to institutional buyers making it unacceptable to the consumers at large. Though many units have been set up, their working status is still uncertain though several of them are known to be lying idle.
Why does such things happen in India? One possible reason could be the system of R & D that exists in the country which is highly bureaucratized and works with the speed of a tortoise. Keeping away the user industry under the pretext that the designs are to be patented, naturally will result in a technology that has never been tested under industrial conditions which only can bring out design flaws that need rectification. Within the R & D group there is a high degree of segmentation with different specialization and limited inter group interaction can leave many flaws unnoticed before giving to the user industry. In this particular case inputs from wheat technologists during development could have avoided the problem that has grounded most of the plants installed. The tendency for retrogradation of starch in roti is well known and overcoming this phenomenon lies within the purview of wheat scientists. Why not scientific community forget about their ego and self interests while developing technology like this for the sake of the consumer, industry and the country?
Sheeting by passing the dough between rolls has also been tried without much success. Similarly pressing the dough between plates to get thin round sheets also did not succeed. Roti is thus not a simple product and requires multidisciplinary inputs to overcome the problems encountered in designing systems for large scale manufacture. Besides rolling, toasting also is not a simple operation as conduction heating only gives best results where as large scale plants depend on a combination of conduction and convection heating to get a fully toasted product, not easily acceptable to roti eaters. Last word has not yet been heard on roti plant but unless the development work is taken up as a collective effort with close association with industry, it will be a long wait before a fully functional and hassle free roti plant emerges. Or may be, the industry will have to look to Taiwan or Korea for developing such a plant!