The First Step 

Hey,

Have you ever wondered what is the science behind cooking??  We’ve always said that cooking is both science and art

The art part of it is known and practised by all.. But the science part of it is neglected unless you are into the field of Food Science, nutrition, food technology, or the like where you have taken up food as a profession.. 

So,  here I am, with a degree of Master of Science in Food Science and Nutrition, trying to share my knowledge and impart the bit of education that I’ve received over the years. Practically how science is used in day to day life,  is what I would like to focus on. 

So keep reading my blogs, and do write in your queries at anytime, any hour and I’ll heartily try to solve them. Also send in any suggestions for me to improve. 
Regards, 

Anvi Damani 

How is chikki made?

Chikki is a very common and most loved snack consumed by each and every household in India. It is a hard crack made of peanuts / ricepuff / til (sesame seeds) / Rajgeera or anything that one can think of, and jaggery / sugar.

We all Know how is it made, and like my other articles, I will not mention the recipe here since its available all over the internet. What I will do is give you the basics and give you the science behind each step so that you can never go wrong with making chikki.

Like I always emphasize on, cooking right is a science. If you know it, you are a Masterchef!

So let’s get started.

I’ve already told you the ingredients of making chikki. Lets jump on to the science and Know – How of making chikki.

1. Caramelization of sugar: The first step we take in making a chikki is to caramelize the sugar or jaggery.
However, using jaggery i sbetter than sugar since it contains micronutrients and added benefits which i shall enlist in the next article. Right now it is important to know that sugar is 100% sucrose while jaggery is only 65-85% sucrose. So the caramelization process is the same for both.

Now what is Caramelization?
Caramelizaton is the non – enzyatic browning that takes place in sugars which gives the characteristic brown color and a nutty flavour to the dishes. Also, this process occurs in the absence of a protein source.
When subjected to heat with or without water, a series of reaction occur which results in the formation of caramel.

a) The Initial stage where anhydrous sugar (sugar without the presence of water) is formed. The glucose (the unit of sucrose) gets converted to either glucosan or levo – glucosan.

b) The second stage where the increasing time of heating at above 160 degrees Celsius causes the formation of a series of products.
– at 35mins of heating, the sugars lose 4.5% of its weight (due to reduced moisture / water content) and a compound called isosaccharosan is formed.
– with further heating, (% of the weight is lost and a compound called caramelan is formed.
– later, 14% moisture is lost and a compound called caramelen is formed.
– finally, an insoluble compound called caramelin is formed which is responsible for the Caramel – like flavour, odour, taste, colour and appearance.

So, it is very important to cook the mixture till this compound is formed so that you can be proud of your own chikki and so that the chikki has that nutty flavour.

2. Amorphous Sweet: It is important to note that chikki is a kind of an amorphous confectionary which means that that there are no crystals in its structure. The nuts, ricepuff, etc., act as interfering substances in the formation of the crystalline pattern. hence they look glassy and feel smooth.

3. Hard Crack: When the sugar / jaggery syrup is cooking, its consistency is checked in a bowl of cold water. When a drop of the above syrup is added, it should form a ball and remain hard. it should break with a cracking sound. This means that the perfect consistency for the chikki has been achieved, which when cooled will be a perfect crunch. If the heat is turned off before this stage is reached, the chikki will become sticky and chewy. and if over – cooked, it will give a chikki which is too hard and difficult to chew.

This texture is basically due to the caramelin formed as a result of caramelization and also because the sugar syrup has become absolutely concentrated. The is no moisture causing the softness.

4. Time Factor: It is very important to spread / roll into balls, the chikki immediately after it is out of the pan. At least as soon as your hands can bear the temperature of the mixture. Simply because once the mixture cools it will become hard and then it will be unable to mould it. That can be inferred from the cold water test as performed above. It exactly tells you the texture of the chikki when cooled.

So, thats all about chikki. All the best for your experiments with it. And do write in for any queries or further inputs. And keep reading for the benefits of using jaggery over sugar.

Knowledge is never bad! It is always a boon!

Bajra Papad v/s normal Papad: Top 10 benefits

How many papads do we have in the market? Plenty! Probably we don’t even know the variety of flavour and types available. But the most common ones that we consume is urad dal Papad and khichiya Papad (which is most commonly consumed by the Gujarati’s or marwaris). So here comes Bajra Papad with an all new healthy prospects and along with that rises the question, why?

Why bajra Papad?

Here I enlist a few of the benefits of bajra papads and why and how should they be preferred over the others!!

1. India is the largest producer of bajra or pearl millet in the world. So naturally it should be our privilege to be able to utilise our own produce in our day to day life and especially when millets are so nutritious. Also it forms a cheap supply of health and nutrition to our poverty stricken areas. Go Swadeshi!

2. Nutritional Value of Pearl Millet:

100g of bajra contain:

  • Proteins: 10.9g
  • Fat: 5.4g
  • Carbohydrates: 61.7g
  • Energy: 347.9kcal
  • Iron: 6.42mg
  • Calcium: 27.35mg
  • Fibre: 11.4g

The above values are according to the data provided in the Food Composition Tables by the National Institute of Nutrition(2017). Pearl Millet (bajra) has a better quality nutrition when compared to the rice flour used in khichiya Papad and better functional properties than the other dal papads available in the markets.

3. The high iron and zinc content in bajra help in increasing the hemoglobin levels in the blood and hence maybe a potential ingredient in preventing iron deficiency anemia and other blood related disorders.

4. Almost 80% of the total fibre in bajra is insoluble fibre which aids in easy bowel movement and therefore can be used to prevent or treat constipation. Having a high fiber content also makes it an ingredient to resort to by people who are aiming at weight loss and reduction in obesity. High fibre makes you feel full faster and for a longer period of time(satiety) which thereby will reduce the amount of food intake. Here goes away some of your excess body weight!

5. The presence of insoluble fibre also gives bajra the ability to prevent formation of gall stones. When excesssive amounts of bile (a fluid released by liver and stored in the gall bladder. It helps in fat digestion) is released, it’s tendency to form gall stones is increased. Pearl millet prevents the excessive secretion of this bile and hence protects against gall stones.

6. Bajra being a millet can also be safely consumed by diabetics without the fear of the blood sugars rising manifold since bajra has a low glycemic index.

7. You have a problem with stomach acidity? Then you definitely need to consume Bajra flour since it is one of the very few ingredients which naturally increase the pH of your stomach and make it alkaline, as a result of which, formation of acidity and stomach ulcers is avoided.

8. Presence of lignins, phytonutrients and a high magnesium content of bajra makes it cardio protective. These components act as anti oxidant, reduce blood pressure and relieve heart stress.

9. Pearl millet is also rich in phosphorus which makes it an essential ingredient for bone growth and development and also for development of ATP which is the most important energy molecule of our body.

10. Bajra has anti allergic properties because of which these papads can be included in the diet of a pregnant or a lactating woman. Also, being gluten free, it can be consumed by people Celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Here I’ve listed the major functions of pearl millet and considering them, I would not hesitate to mention that bajra can be termed as a functional food. Functional food is something which serves more functions than merely providing nutrition. And today, the use of functional foods in the diet is becoming a trend. So why not use Indian ingredients as functional foods rather than foreign super foods such as kale, quinoa or the rest?!

Let’s be Indian. Let’s be healthy. Let’s be functional!

Bajra Papad – the Color Secret 

Okay so this somehow sounds boring… Bajra Papad??  Eeeuw… But no.. They taste really good.. And specially with the recipe that I’m going to provide here. 

Yes, since this is a novel recipe and I myself couldn’t find the recipe online (an authentic one that worked well), I’ll be attaching the recipe without which explaining the science behind it wouldn’t be given justice. 

So, bajra Papad Is made up of bajra flour and I have also added some rice flour to it for better consistency and taste. 

Recipe: 

Preparation Time: 5mins 

Cooking Time: 5-6mins 

Post cooking Time: 10-15mins 

Drying Time: 4-5hrs (sun drying)

Yield: 50g (No. Of Papad depends on the size) 

With my size it yielded 15-20 papads. 

Ingredients:

1+ 1/2cup (300ml)  water 

1/2 cup (100ml/60g) bajra (pearl millet)  flour 

1/2 cup (100ml/59~60g) rice flour 

5g Ginger – chilli paste (3:2)

1/2tsp salt(to taste) 

1tsp whole jeera (cumin seeds) 

1tsp ajwain (carom seeds) 

1tsp sodium bicarbonate 

Method: 

1. Boil the water, add the spices (do not add the sodium bicarbonate)

2. After 1 min, mix the two flours and add to the above boiling mixture.

3. Continuously mix with a wooden ladle or spoon till thick consistency, and it becomes dough like, and leaves the sides. No flour lumps should be present. 

4. Transfer it to another plate, add Sodium bicarbonate, mix a little and let it cool till your skin can tolerate the temperature. 

5. Knead it properly to form a smooth dough. Divide into equal sized balls. 

6. Roll these balls with oil as and when required (so that the dough does not stick during rolling and tear off) Roll in between plastic sheets or ohp sheets. (make sure that the plastic sheets do not give wrinkle marks to the rolled out papads or else they will crack during drying.)

7. In case you are bad at rolling(like I am), you can use a round cookie cutter of desired size to give it proper shape. The thickness should be 0.1mm – 0.2mm. Not too thick not too thin. 

8. Spread the papads on a cotton cloth and sun dry till they are hard. Collect and store in air tight containers. 

9. These can be microwaved / roasted / fried. (I would always prefer microwaved, since they give u the original flavour of the Papad, plus its super healthy!! ) Serve with khichdi, rice, pulao, or anything u wish. You can have it as a snack too if it’s microwaved!!  

Okay, so now let’s come to the science behind all of this. 

1. Cooking of the flour and making a dough: As discussed in my earlier blog, the Cereal (rice and bajra together) gels with the water and forms a Gelatinized mixture when heated at temperetures above 80 degrees. Therefore it forms a soft dough when it cools as all the water added has been trapped between the starch granules present in the flours. 

2. Addition of sodium bicarbonate: This chemical is a leavening agent, so as a result it contributes to the softness and crispiness of the Papad. If u notice, when u add the sodium bicarb and leave for a while, and then again knead it, the dough has already risen and increases in size and volume and becomes a little softer and porous. 

Also, when we eat papads, they are not very hard nor too soft. It has a perfect blend of softness and hardness owing this property to this magic element. 

Remember I had asked you not to add soda during the boiling of water? Why did I do so?

Simplest scientific reason being, sodium bicarbonate solution has a pH of 7, which is alkaline. And when pearl millet or bajra is added to this alkaline water,  it changes color to grey as reported by this particular study  by R. D. Reichert in 1979. Therefore it is very important to understand when sodium bicarbonate should be added in different preparations. when sodium bicarbonate is added in water, the color of the papads  is brownish grey and when the soda is added after removing from the fire, the color remains green. Which is more appealing without compromising the effect of soda on the Papad. 

3. Drying: Drying is a process where the moisture content of the food is reduced to 10-12%. It is different from dehydration, since in dehydration, the moisture is reduced to less than 3%. So when we dry, the moisture content of the Papad gets evaporated and we get the hard texture of the Papad. 

Yes I know that sun drying is the most unhygienic way of drying the papads, but at this level this can be done inside homes to make it more hygienic. But if u have access to a tray dryer, you are most welcome to use it for drying the papads. 

I’m also a nutritionist, and so I would recommend healthiest of ways to eat.. You can trust me with this though!  

So, here are some tips to make these papads more healthy: 

1. You can use sprouted bajra flour instead of normal bajra flour. 

2. You can add spinach / carrot / beetroot puree or any other vegetable puree that you want. Just make sure to adjust the amount of water added. 

3. Garnish the papads with salad and coriander leaves and have it as a starter instead of an accompaniment. 

So this is all that you need to know about bajra papads. All the best for your endeavour with making good scientific papads!! 

The Science Behind Khandvi

Today, we consider the western foods to be great and yummy, and most preferred, but when it comes to the knowledge and science that goes behind the making of the traditional Indian foods, one might just fall for it all over again. Our grand parents and great grandparents might not have been as educated as we are, but they had way more knowledge and understanding of the foods they cooked everyday than we know of eating everyday. 

Today we shall discuss about khandvi, which is a native dish of Gujarat, India, where people love to eat the roasted gram flour rolls, spiced and flavoured. In Maharashtra, this dish is commonly known as suralichi vadi air patuli. 

Again, I would like to mention that I will not be providing any recipe as that is available on the web on numerous websites. Here we will talk about the uncommon. 

Khandvi is made up of a mixture of besan or roasted Bengal gram flour and buttermilk. Everyone knows that the cooking of this mixture is the most tricky and difficult part of the entire recipe. So here’s why. 

The roasted gram flour is rich in its protein content. This is enhanced by the use of buttermilk, which is also high in proteins. When dissolved in water, these protein molecules absorb moisture  and swell. The volume increases and the viscosity or the resistance to flow decreases. That’s when we say that the batter is thickening. While making khandvi, the thickness of the batter is very important. Because if it becomes too thin, it will be difficult to roll, and if it becomes too thin, it will b too difficult to evenly spread on to the flat surface. It will then form undesirable lumps. 

But what happens to the proteins? 

The proteins in the solution form, or a sol form gets converted to a progel state by denaturation and polymerisation. 

1. Denaturation: it is the phenomenon in which the original structure of the proteins is hampered or changed to a new structure in the presence of various factors like change of temperature, pH, moisture, etc. 

2. Polymerisation: It is the process in which the bond between the two amino acids break due to the reaction with water. 

So as a result, the gram flour mixture thickens in the presence of moisture and difference of temperature. 
Now, when the gram flour mixture is in the progel state, the functional groups (hydrogen bonding and hydrophobic groups) become exposed so that it facilitates formation of the protein network in the second stage. 
Second stage? 

Yes, there is a second stage as well. When this mixture is cooled to room temperature or refrigeration temperature, there is a decrease in the thermal kinetic energy which promotes formation of stable non covalent bonds among the above exposed groups which results in the formation of a gel. So what you see on the flat surface, after you have spread the batter and cooled it, is a gel. Only when a proper gel is formed, you will be able to make rolls out of it. 

The sol state to progel state is a non reversible reaction which progel to gel state is a reversible reaction. On re-heating the gelled batter, it will melt back to the progel state as it must have been experienced when you re-heat some curries made of gram flour. This is because hydrogen bonds are the major contributors to the network formation. 

Next time you can try this by keeping aside some part of the heated mixture and then re-heating it when cooled. Experience for yourself!!

Also, we have used curd in the form of buttermilk. Why curd and nothing else

Curds are an excellent source of leavening agent. Leavening agents are basically substances which lead to rising of the batters and doughs and making it soft and voluminous. This leads to soft gels of the proteins and which is why you have that smooth texture and soft “melt in the mouth” feel of the khandvi. The moisture in the form of buttermilk will keep the khandvi moist and prevent drying and hardening of the khandvi.  Too much or too little of this important ingredient will result in the failure of the recipe. So beware!! 

Here’s all about science behind khandvi. Try the recipes by keeping these points on mind and I’m sure you will never go wrong. You would know how to improve next. 

Keep reading for more recipe sciences. Enjoy scientific cooking. After all, cooking is  an art as well  as a science!! 

Mango Pickles – a need for taste or preservation for mangoes?

Day in and day out, each Indian adds flavour to his meals by including pickles, commonly known as achaar. But, ages back, was the pickle made to add variety to the meals or as a simple method of preserving fruits and vegetables?? 

In the era of old age, when people did not have access across the globe, the Indian farmers felt the need to preserve the extra stock of mangoes that grew in India. It came as a preservation method to avoid wastage of food for efficient food management. 

Also, being a seasonal fruit, the discovery of preservation methods, gave the added advantage of availability of the fruit throughout the year, in the off seasons. 

Mangoes are an Indian favourite and is known as the king of fruits! And we Indians convert this fruit into various other forms and enjoy it’s lavishness throughout the year! But now, let’s have a look at the different forms of pickled mangoes and the science behind each. 

Today, since pickling has become a business to earn extra profits, Special varieties of mangoes are picked specially for the purpose of pickling. Usually all the mango pickles are made of raw mangoes since they prove to be tangy and sour to taste and make very good pickles. 

1. Sookhi kaeri (dried mango pickle): The technique used here for preservation is sun drying. The pieces of mango is sun dried for several days till it is completely devoid of moisture and feels a little hard, dry and the edges feel crispy. This reduces the water activity in the mango and hence the micro organisms fail to thrive in that environment. Also, the enzymes present in the mango itself requires a certain amount of moisture or water activity for it to function. As a result the mango is preserved for several months.  It is then spiced with salt, turmeric, whole jeera, etc. to make it tasty!

2. Murabba and Khaman (both are varieties of sweet mango pickle): another technique used to preserve mangoes is to use sugar. When sugar is added to the mangoes, in the form of a sugar syrup, the sugar being hygroscopic, competes with the enzymes and micro organisms for the moisture. As a result, the organisms and enzymes cannot function according to their roles and hence, sugar acts as a preservative. 
Due to high osmotic pressure, the water from the organisms is drawn out resulting in its death. As a result the pathogenic or spoilage bacteria are unable to survive in that osmotic pressure. Hence the mangoes are preserved. However, Indians being sweet lovers, find these forms of pickling extremely tempting. They pair it with theplas, parathas, etc., and enjoy it’s flavour. 

3. Methia kaeri (fenugreek mangoes): The bitter phenolic compounds present in the fenugreek seeds are probably responsible for the preservative effect. However, studies need to be carried out with regards to this. Hence, nothing can be said for sure. 

But a sure reason is use of oils in all the other mango pickles. Be it mixed mango pickle or fenugreek or woth any other ingredient. The oil cut down the air supply, and therefore the oxygen supply to the spoilage and pathogenic bacteria. So they fail to thrive. This is also the reason why our grandmothers used to fill a layer of oil over the pickles in the bottles and jars. Today as we become health conscious and start to add less and less oil to pickles, have you noticed that the topmost layer of the pickle often seems to be covered with fungi? 

Why? 

Simply because that’s where they receive their nutrition plus air to thrive and spoil the pickle. 

So next time when you ask your moms to add less oil, think again. You might just be wasting a lot of her efforts in the long run! 

4. Sour Mango pickle: we all know that sour would mean the presence of excess acids. Now these acids are definitely not too harmful for us, but they are definitely harmful for the toxic bacteria and fungi. These thrive in an optimum pH of around 6.5-7 which is almost neutral. While the pH of these pickles is less than 4.6 which is acidic. The raw mangoes and lime, naturally lower the pH of the food product that kills the micro organisms. 

5. Salt: The very 1st step in almost all pickle recipes is addition of salt to the raw mangoes, or immersing them into a brine solution (a mixture of water and salt)!

Why? 

Because salt absorbs water from the foods and makes it too dry. This prevents the growth of microbes in the food and hence preserves the food. 

Here I’ve listed various ways of preserving Mangoes and the science that stands firm behind it. However there are more ways and more secrets behind the pickles. Keep reading my blog for them. 

So, next when you are wondering about how can you extend the pleasure of eating mangoes, follow these principles. Your taste buds will surely thank you for it!!

How does a chapatti puff? 

Indian Flat Bread, as it may be well known in the West, is locally known as chapatti or a roti in India. It is an age old practise of eating a soft – soft chapatti topped with loads of ghee with a Sabzi of one’s own choice. Be it Bhindi, karela, dal makhni, paneer butter masala, or any dal, chapatti is the best and healthiest option to team it up with.

And yes, all of us try our best to puff it up while we roast it directly on the gas burner so that it’s soft and gives a one of its kind mouth – feel. But we all fail and then learn and then finally rise with a proper puffed roti after several trials. But ever wondered why and how does it rise or puff so beautifully?

Here’s the answer.

Chapatti is made of atta that’s been kneaded into a dough with water salt and a little oil. Some people may add a little curd as well to make it softer and some may use milk instead of water. But what happens in the process?

1. Atta is made up of proteins called gliadin and glutenin. On becoming wet, these two proteins combine to form a protein called gluten which is responsible for this puffing. It’s a binding agent and provides the necessary structure to the chapatti. During kneading, when gluten becomes elastic and sticky, it forms a network of structures. Also, kneading causes the air to be trapped within these structures. So the more you knead, more the air trapped. But, do not knead too much. Or else, these gluten strands may break and give you failed puffed chapattis.

2. Atta also contains carbohydrates, specially starch which is responsible for the structure and volume of the chapatti. It co – works with gluten to provide the typical chapatti structure.

3. The use of milk or curd, add to the fat content of the dough. The role of fats is to tenderize the dough and give a soft chapatti. As mentioned earlier, leavening results in a soft chapatti, curd is another example of the leavening agent. The favourable bacteria in curd ferment it to produce carbon dioxide, which contributes to the air present in the puffed chapatti.

4. When you roll out the chapatti, make sure all sides are even. Otherwise the air trapped inside does not get uniformly heated and so the chapatti does not puff properly.

5. During roasting, steam is generated from the existing water content of the dough. This results in expansion of the air molecules trapped inside the rolled chapatti and hence we see the risen or puffed chapattis. Have you noticed the steam that escapes the chapatti in case you accidentally pierce the chapatti?? It is this air and steam that causes expansion of the chapatti.

Steam is a way to leaven the food product. Leavening leads to a voluminous and a soft product. And hence chapatti is leavened Majorly through the use of steam mechanism.

Easy isn’t it?

But not as much. The degree of kneading is a crucial step on getting a proper puffed chapatti. So next time analyse whether have u under kneaded or over kneaded the dough.

So next time when u make a chapatti and are wondering why is it not puffing, you got to see your kneading styles, the amount of water, curd or milk you added and the way you have rolled out your chapatti.

All the best!!

What happens when you add boiling water to semolina? 

Recently, I was trying to make a semolina / suji batter for dhokla. As usual, the First person we sought help from us out very own Mom.. So I asked her for a quick remedy and she told me add warm water to semolina and keep it aside for a while since I’d run out of curd to provide that leavening factor. Then add any veggies you want, add eno and jus bake.

Being too smart, I added boiling hot water to semolina and then I realized the water was less compared to suji and so I set to heat water again. In the meanwhile what do you think happened to the mixture??  

Yes, it Gelatinized.. 

It became sticky and lumpy. And even after adding more water, it did not separate. So all you have to do is keep beating it or whipping it till it all mixes up and forms a homogeneous mixture. 

But here you need to take a precaution. Whenever you add water to any cereal, for any purpose, make sure you do not add boiling water. Just add warm water, which you think is just below 80 degrees Celsius. Because otherwise, you will not get the desired texture of the food that you originally planned to prepare. 

This may happen with any other cereal. So be smart, be alert, be scientific when you prepare food and I’m sure you won’t end up making blunders in the kitchen. 

And yes, keep taking help and suggestions from you mom and grandma. No one can guide you better!!