Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Has any one bothered to ask the simple question as to why modern day youngsters are more enamored by foods from western countries rather than being proud of their heritage foods numbering over 5000, inherited from their forefathers? Why is that a kid, hardly 3 year old, craves for chocolate products and high sugar confectionery items like artificially colored candies in stead of hundreds of sweet meat products available in the corner shops of Halwaiwalla? Is it the taste that drives these kids to western foods or the habit formed during the early childhood due to over indulgence of the parents? Or could it be that the convenience factor, good product stability, attractive packing and massive promotion by the industry that tilt the scale in favor of confectionery products like candies and chocolates? Probably a combination of all the above must have caused this gross distortion in the food preferences of young generation.

There are thousands of ethnic foods originated in India during its 8000 years of history and these food products have been continuously evolving, influenced by successive cultures entering India from time to time. Whether it is a meal or a side dish or a snack or a sweet Indian population, as diverse as they are, can be proud of their indigenous foods which lately are captivating the taste buds of consumers all over the world. If Indian restaurants are becoming more and more popular these days, even over taking Chinese or Mexican cuisines, it can be attributed to the rich diversity of products representing more than a hundred ethnic communities in the country. These culinary treasure will only expand in the coming years if the enterprising restaurateurs pay more attention to the design of their eateries and hygiene and sanitation aspects. Indian "curries", though demonized for their strong smell and spicy and pungent taste, have become cynosure of all eyes because of the realization that spices and herbs are repository of a host of phytochemicals with health promoting properties. 

Emergence of "Retortable Pouch Process" as an industry standard during the last one decade made it possible to "stabilize" shelf life of a number of food preparations of Indian origin. Thanks to this technology there are over three dozen products of Indian origin on the shelves of super markets and retail out lets spanning the entire country. These RTE products faithfully represent the original fresh preparations with least distortion of flavor and taste. Who could have thought a few years ago that the famous Indian Pulav could be preserved for more than 9 months or for that matter the south Indian delicacy Bisibelebath for almost an year? Curry preparations like sambar, rasam, dal, aloo gobi, aloo palak, chole, paneer muttar, avial, kootu, etc are to day preservable for as long as an year. The country must salute the pioneering scientists whose committed work has resulted in making available these products to the Indian consumers in India as well as in other countries on a "platter". 

Snacks and savories which are mostly fried in edible oils are made by thousands of cottage scale operators and are sold fresh from small shops and bakeries with limited shelf life of a few days. Potato chips and extruded products, made by the organized sector enjoy a much longer shelf life because of the antioxidants and other stabilizers used during the process as well as the functionally superior packing materials but typical Indian snacks like Samosa, Vada, Bonda, Dal Vada, Chakli, Mixture, Kodubele, Vadian and Ghattia and many others are still being left in the lurch because of lack of interest among scientists to work on them as well as due to apprehension among the entrepreneurs regarding the difficulties in marketing them. Probably greater R & D efforts are called for in studying the basic aspects of their making that control the final product quality and to work out strategies to extend their shelf life. 

The Indian confectionery products like Chikki, Besan Laddu, Carrot Halwa, Doodhi Halwa, Son Papadi, Jangri, Badam Halwa, Khoa and Chhakka based items, etc are rich in nutrients like proteins derived from  milk, peanuts and Besan, micro nutrients derived from vegetables like Carrot and Ashgourd, PUFA from Almonds and other nuts, though some of them do contain high sugar and fat levels. Compare them with different type of sugar confections of the west which are practically based on white sugar and flavor. Unfortunately the processes to make Indian confections vary enormously from place to place and from person to person while there are no standard quality or safety parameters to be adhered to. No wonder the kids do not get "hooked" on such products so easily, driving them to western products like chocolates and candies.

Recent development of processes that ensure better shelf stability for some important sweetmeat products by a scientific group in CFTRI Mysore bodes well for this sector. Through this work the scientists are atoning for their past neglect of Indian traditional sweetmeat products which are universally liked in the world. For almost 3 decades the only products that could claim long life were Gulab Jamun and Rasagolla which were canned in open top sanitary cans for obtaining a shelf life of about an year without any significant quality deterioration. The CFTRI processes for preserving sweets  like Boondi Laddu, Bombay Halwa, Carrot Halwa, Doodhi Halwa, Doodh Peda, Milk Burfi and Coconut Burfi , without using any chemical preservatives are expected to kick start the revival of this sector in a big way if the technology transfer is not sought to be hampered through high price tags for selling them. As the packing technology is not matched by machinery development for their mass manufacture, it is unlikely that large players would be interested in this development. It is therefore advisable to pass on the technology through mass contact programs involving live demonstrations and some basic training of SMEs in different parts of the country.

Design of appropriate equipment portfolio for mass production of many India sweets are fraught with insurmountable technical difficulties which should be addressed immediately, if Indian sweetmeat products have to become a big hit with foreign buyers. This is an area with some dilemma for the country to decide because most of the traditional preparation processes are predominantly manual in nature involving skilled artisans and introduction of large scale automated machinery may see many of them thrown out of their jobs which may not be a desirable development in a socially sensitive country like India. Keeping this industry labor intensive also serves the purpose of keeping the process and recipe secrets within the country and ensure monopoly for years to come.       


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