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  • Writer's pictureSanah Alban

South Asian Probiotic Foods and Gut Health

This week I shared a recipe for mango lassi. Lassi is a traditional and ancient yoghurt-based drink originating from the Punjab area and has been consumed for centuries for its cooling effect and benefits to digestion and gut health since the primary ingredient is yoghurt.


I wanted to share a little more on gut health and other probiotic foods from South Asia. We hear so much about foods like kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut nowadays, so I'd like to bring to light some awesome probiotic foods from the Indian Subcontinent that our ancestors have been consuming for generations!

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Vegan Mango Lassi - a modern twist on an ancient drink. Be sure to check out my recipe!

What is gut health?

Gut health normally refers to the function and balance of bacteria of the many parts of the gastrointestinal tract. It's important to take care of our gut health as all food is broken down in the gut to a simple form that can enter the bloodstream and be delivered as nutrients to the body. This is only possible with a healthy digestive system. A healthy gut contains healthy bacteria and immune cells that ward off infectious agents like bacteria, viruses and fungi. A healthy gut also communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones, which helps maintain general health and well-being.


What are probiotics?

One aspect of maintaining a healthy gut is replenishing the probiotics in our guts. Probiotics are microorganisms, good bacteria, which are essential for the functioning of our body as they aid in digestion, boost immunity and prevent many health conditions. Unfortunately this good bacteria is often destroyed because of illnesses, frequent intake of antibiotic drugs, alcohol consumption and even stress, but fortunately it can be naturally replenished with certain foods. Here are some examples of traditional probiotic foods in South Asian cuisine.



Yoghurt

Yoghurt (curd or dahi) can be enjoyed on its own, with a meal or as a drink like chaas or lassi. It's best to prepare it at home (by adding cultures to boiled milk and setting it for a few hours) as commercial versions are often made using chemical agents and not fermented long enough. And do not fret, you can also prepare your own vegan yoghurt at home with non-dairy milks and vegan probiotic capsules!

Homemade yoghurt is a great source of probiotics

Achaar

Achaar is traditional pickles from the Indian Subcontinent made by mixing seasonal fruits and vegetables in spices and salt, drying them out in the sun and then adding some oil. The process of fermenting the fruits and vegetables out in the sun with the salt and spices favors the growth of good bacteria and makes achaar a good source of probiotics. A little achaar can be enjoyed with a meal and again homemade is much better than store bought as commercial achaars lack the natural enzymes.


Homemade Achaar (Indian Pickles). Photo by Prachi Palwe

Kaanji

Kaanji is a traditional Punjabi winter drink made with black carrots or beetroot, crushed mustard seeds, salt and water. The mixture is left to ferment for up to a week and bacteria is allowed to grow. Move over kombucha, kaanji has entered the chat!


Kaaji (fermented carrot and beet drink). Photo by Playful Cooking

Idlis and Dosa

Idlis (savory rice cake) and Dosa (thin pancake or crepe) are staples in South India and are made by fermenting rice and urad daal.


Dhokla

Dhokla is a savory cake from Gujarat and is made from a batter of fermented besan (gram flour) daal or rice.


Dhokla. Photo by Playful Cooking

What other South Asian probiotic foods do you normally have? Let me know in the comments!



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