Great. The ubiquitous South Indian breakfast entity, the Idly has become an International Food celebrity with a Day now declared in its honor.
March 30th was World Idly day, if you remember our posts celebrating the true story of the perfection of the recipe for Lumiere's Idly batter followed by the factual retake of this humble food following the declaration of the World Idly Day. Well, I went back to the days when the Idly was neither humble nor common a breakfast food in the days of yore when I was a little kid back home in Alappuzha taking jaunts in my grandparent's abundant paddy fields.
Kerala, especially my native coastal district of Alappuzha, is far more humid and hot than Bangalore perhaps can ever be. So food spoils rather easily and we have devised our own little ways in the pre refrigerator era of resisting spoilage, fermentation being one of them.
Breakfast then was a different story amongst the humblest of people.
Rice left over from supper was always covered with water overnight. In the warmer morning sometimes there were these few little bubbles popping showing how fermented it had already turned emitting that typical yeasty kind of sour-ish smell. It was consumed first thing at daybreak before going to work in the fields with a little left over fish gravy or ideally, with a little salted buttermilk sprinkled with some chopped chives (small onion) and a green chilly. It was a fortifying curiously delicious meal that slaked hunger & thirst together in one go and cooled the system as the body labored hard under the relentless sun pouring down the fields.
Pazhankanji (Old Gruel), looked down upon as the food of the poor, was thus one of the oldest fermented foods with which people broke their fasts and were none the worse for it.
Today fermented foods are all the rage with the new endorsements of our traditional knowledge that upto 80% of our immune system resides in the walls of the intestines. Fermented foods spike the growth of beneficial bacteria or what is termed as Gut Flora.
This is where we arrive at the gut of the matter, the most intriguing and impressive part of this whole bit of study that links the wellbeing of the intestines & the digestive system with the well being of the entire nervous system including the brain.
That the seat of Intuition is the Gut has been sensed by humankind since the dawn of civilization. There is a greater correlation between the glamorous Brain and the rather unglamorous Gut than we may been previously led to think !
On an average a brain has nearly 100 billion neurons and is the seat of all our thinking]. The gut (digestive system of the body) has close to 500 million nerve cells and 100 million neurons and is almost the size of a cat’s brain .
In fact it is not for nothing that the Gut has been regarded in traditional knowledge systems as a 'second brain' .
There is a tremendous amount of information flow from the gut to the brain via the Vagus nerve, one of the longest nerves inside the body whose central purpose is to relay the information and status of internal organs like gut and heart to the brain.
Recent scientific evidence also suggests that a big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the chemicals & nerves in the gut. For example 95% of body’s Serotonin is found in the gut.
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter which is a well known contributor towards the feelings of well being. Sometimes it is also called a “happiness hormone”.
There are also many instances of people experiencing extrasensory perception (ESP) or clairvoyance after colon cleansing has taken place. One of the reasons for this could be that a clean well toned gut with healthy flora frees its neurons to help the brain increase its processing power.
Fermentation in food processing increases the bio-availability of minerals present in food, helping the body assimilate more nutrition. The micro-organisms break down complex protein, carbohydrates and fats into more easily assimilated molecules. In an era when antibiotics are so frequently prescribed and gut flora is so frequently damaged, fermented foods replenish the micro flora of the digestive tract.
Whatever may be your favorite fermented food -Organic or home set yoghurt, lacto fermented vegetables, pazhankanji consumed at daybreak, Dhokla, Idli, Dosa, Appam etc - Just don't forget to include a wide variety in your daily diet!