Fermented Rice – A Storehouse of Goodness


Rice has been the staple food grain in south India for many centuries, providing people with dietary energy and nutrition. But, even after it is cooked, rice may not be completely digestible by the human body. Many of the micronutrients, though present in the grain, may not be readily bio-available for absorption. An excessive dependence on freshly cooked rice could lead to depletion of micronutrients leading to degenerative conditions.

Rice and other food grains have phytic acid, which is a principal storage form of phosphorous. Phosphorous is tightly bound to the phytic acid molecules and makes this mineral bio-unavailable to the human body. In addition to the tightly bound phosphorous, phytic acid also binds with other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them bio-unavailable as well. This compound is referred to as phytate. In addition to the making the minerals bio-unavailable to the human body, they also inhibit the key digestive enzymes in our body including pepsin, amylase and trypsin. Due to this nutrient inhibiting property of phytate, it is considered an anti-nutrient.

How do we make sure that we get maximum nutritional benefit from rice? The answer to this question has already been discovered and has been practiced by the people in India for many centuries – it is the fermented rice.

Fermented Rice

Fermented rice is called pazhankanji or vellachoru in Malayalam, pazhaya saadam in Tamil and paaniwala chawal in Hindi. The recipe to make dish is extremely simple and straightforward. This is how it was done traditionally: Rice is cooked in the afternoon and excess water is drained. After the rice cools down to room temperature, it is soaked fully in water and stored in an earthen clay pot. This covered pot with soaked rice is left overnight at regular room temperature. The rice would ferment by the next morning.

Owing to fermentation by lactic acid bacteria, rice becomes slightly sweet and sour but the taste is not a whole lot different from freshly cooked rice. Traditionally, fermented rice is eaten for breakfast with a side dish, raw onion or green chili. Some prefer to drain excess water and eat it with curd (yogurt) and a slight sprinkle of salt.

Recently, Assam Agricultural University has discovered that fermented rice provides immense health benefits. The lactic acid bacteria break down the anti-nutritional factors in rice resulting in an improved bioavailability of micro-nutrients and minerals such as iron, potassium and calcium by several thousand percentage points. For example, after 12 hours of fermentation of 100 grams of rice, the availability of iron changed from 3.4 mg to 73.91mg (an increase of 2073%). The university also found that fermenting rice for as low as 3 hours significantly increases the bioavailability of nutrients.

In the agrarian communities of south India, fermented rice played a big role in the lives of people. It gave the energy, the nutrition and the cooling effect that they needed for a full day of manual labor. It was a common food eaten by almost all the agricultural laborers, which is what most people did for a living. Unfortunately, people moving up the food chain (or wealth chain, rather) looked down on fermented rice as the pauper’s food and ignored the great nutritional value it provides.

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