Nutrition Meets Food Science

Bajra Roti Can be Even More Nutritious & Healthy!

Last year was celebrated as International Year of Millets and we have witnessed many activities in order to increase the consumption and production of millets along with its popularization among all stake-holders not just here but globally. India is the largest producer of millets with about 20% of global production. Almost half of bajra or pearl millet (about 44% of global production) is produced in India. Thus, we can make some difference in the millet scenario. As nutrition security is under threat due to population, global warming, pollution, lifestyle changes and consequent health problems. Millets can greatly help in alleviating some of these as they can withstand unfavourable weather as well as being resistant to pests.

Bajra is a major millet produced in India in many states and has been consumed traditionally. It not just has some ecological advantages mentioned earlier, but also has health benefits. It is rich in protein and dietary fibre as well as has many essential micronutrients such as iron and zinc. Because of high dietary fibre content, it is useful in weight reduction and for those who need to watch blood sugar.

Bajra unfortunately has some antinutritional factors phytates and oxalates that reduce the absorption of iron and zinc, it is necessary to reduce these by some means so we get the full benefit of these essential minerals. It has been shown that soaking, sprouting, fermentation and other methods traditionally used have very useful function of reducing the antinutritional factors thus making bajra healthier. However, there is presence of goitrogens, however, studies need to be carried out to show their effectiveness after processing. In absence of such studies, it is better to consume adequate iodine through such means like iodised salt etc. so no iodine deficiency is caused.

A traditional item prepared with bajra flour is roti or bhakri. This is also prepared using jowar. Bhakri is coarser than wheat roti. Since wheat has gluten, it can be rolled thinner without tearing, so it becomes finer than bajra bhakri, but if one wants gluten-free then bajra is a good choice. To make it slightly tasty or with more variety, one can add jowar or other grains or even add vegetables such as potato, peas, cauliflower or methi etc and convert it to stuffed paratha or thalipeeth or thepla. Bajra has also been used for similar food, khakhra with fenugreek (methi) and cumin (jeera) and rolled thinner and roasted drier to make it crisp. This is also used as a snack.

Bajra khichdi is another traditional dish prepared with bajra grains. It is usually prepared with pulses and vegetables. For khichdi, bajra grains are soaked overnight to soften them to help in cooking. Soaking also removes much of phytates, the antinutritional substances which bind mineral making them less bioavailable. Thus, soaking not only helps in cooking but improves nutritional status.

In South India fermented foods are made such as dosa and idli. As variation, they could be made using bajra or kambu. Idli rice, black gram and bajra are separately ground with water and then mixed together before fermenting overnight, so next day could be pan fried to dosa or steamed to idli. The fermentation not only improves flavour, promotes growth of probiotics and makes fluffy products, but most importantly reduces the antinutritional factors in bajra so it not only adds dietary fibre and protein to the product but improves bioavailability of minerals.

Dr Jagadish Pai

Editor, PFNDAI

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