Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Indian traditional foods, often called the Ethnic Foods number over 5000 and are prepared and consumed locally with very little national foot print. Why? The main reason is the difficulty in keeping these products for long with out quality deterioration and assured safety. Most of them have water activity much beyond the safe zone and are vulnerable to spoilage by microorganisms like bacteria and mold. True many of them contain high sugar which also provides extended storage. How ever for establishing a pan-India market, food products need to be stable for at least 3-4 months. Though with reliable cold chain transport and storage their shelf life can be extended for a few days or a couple of weeks, slow growth of organized retail sector with modern facilities, which controls less than 5% of the retailing business, does not ensure seamless distribution, reliable cold display facilities and strong sales promotional regime.

The mere diversity of sweetmeat and savory products makes it difficult for the food industry to pick and choose the right product mix that can ensure nation wide acceptance. It is most unfortunate that even after 64 years of independence, there are no reliable and comprehensive information base regarding these foods, their relative popularity, production details and authentic recipes and preparation methods. Most of these products are made at the micro-enterprises level managed by skilled artisans with some experience and practically no mechanized production equipment are available for increasing productivity if they are to be part of the main stream food industry. The most "reputed" food research institute with a history of more than 60 years has done very little to look at these products from a technological perspective. Catering training institutions with their emphasis on preparing their trainees for making prepared foods in eateries and hotels and presenting them attractively are constrained to go beyond recipes and preparation mode because of limited technical capability. Probably there is a need to set up "culinology" institutions in India which can combine recipes, preparations, process standardization and mechanization as the existing R & D players in the country have miserably failed to bring to surface the fantastic potential of Indian traditional foods to capture the imagination of the world, through their sheer negligence.

One may be tempted to ask the question as to how the industry is meeting the current needs of the market for some of the favorite foods in great demand, if large scale production facilities are not in existence and any one even faintly familiar with this industry knows that what is being offered through thousands of sweetmeat shops in the country have their origin in small homes and kitchens prepared by one or hundreds of artisans in hostile environment with sweat pouring from their bodies and presented attractively in small as well as big shops. Most "industrial" type kitchens employ these artisans who are mostly illiterate and who have very little knowledge about hygiene and sanitation though some units do deploy some mechanized unit operation equipment like grinders, mixers, fryers, stainless steel containers, pumps, extruder etc. There are also a few large scale players who do manufacture some traditional foods for pan-India markets using modern fryers, vacuum evaporators, continuous forming machine, canning facilities, inert gas filling units, modern packing materials, gas fired and electrical heating systems and others, rightly claiming to be technology savvy. Products like potato chips, canned gulab jamun and rasagolla, preserved shreekand, tetrapack lassi and chaas, inert gas filled snacks, roti and papads, chikki, spice mixes, traditional meal preparations in RTE format, many frozen products etc are coming from main stream food industry with well developed modern manufacturing facilities.

If there is a slow but perceptible trend of large manufacturing enterprises enjoying brand reputation entering the traditional food line, there must be money in this area of business. While technology, trained work force and financial resources are the foundation for a sound manufacturing entity, it is only in the area of good quality labor that organized industry feels the pinch and if they are not able to sustain themselves against SMEs it is only because their products do not compare well with that of SMEs with regard to authenticity and eating quality. This is where a trained working force will help them to bring up the credentials of their products. The million dollar question is from where they will get these personnel? The high tech courses run by Universities in food processing are not relevant as far as traditional food manufacture is concerned and any how a university trained food technologist will never agree to be a "Halwai" in the industry! The need for a short duration training course to benefit the traditional food industry is increasingly being felt and it is time for the AICTE to evolve a training course of the above type for universities and other technical institutions in different parts of the country on a priority basis.

While on the subject of training in ethnic food manufacture, the recent decision by a private institute in Orissa to start a one year course in sweet making for the benefit of local industry is a welcome development. Bikalananda Kar Industrial Training Centre at Salepur in Cuttack district has recently announced the launching of a one-year certificate course in sweet technology soon which if materializes may be the first such course in the country. According to the organizers the course is aimed at creating skilled manpower in sweet industry and stream lining local industry with use of modern technology and hygienic practices. As per the details provided the trainees, 64 in number every year with a Class X education, are expected to learn the art of preparing modern and traditional sweets popular locally. If learned food processing teaching faculty from the nearby Jadavpur University in West Bengal can pitch in to "train the trainers" through a well designed program, the course will become a technically sound one. Any such course must cover in a simple language preferably in local language various aspects of food processing operations relevant , machinery that can be used, importance of hygiene and sanitation, waste disposal, water quality, food safety and quality control, food microbiology, food contamination and food packaging. Tendency to over emphasize theory must be avoided as the trainees will have relatively low science awareness and practical aspects must receive priority.

It is good to see a new awareness being created regarding the heritage foods and their importance for the country. If their rich culinary qualities and nutritional advantages are rightly emphasized, there is no reason why Indian foods cannot capture the imagination of the whole world. What is needed is to accord high priority to them by the public funded R & D agencies and Universities in the country for making them more science based than artisan dependent and provide the industry with minimally trained work force. Institutions like the one in Cuttack must be replicated all over the country for which GOI and State governments should extend liberal financial support.


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