For an Indian who has grown up with the traditional food theories of an Indian kitchen, the word Ragi or Nachni and its health benefits are not anything revolutionary. We have known since the day we have memories of eating solid foods that the Ragi or the finger millet has played a major role in our formative years.
It has been chosen by parents for many many generations as the preferred weaning food when facing the new world of introducing solids to their hitherto breastfed infants.
As far as millets go there are so many which grow in India. The finger millet, is probably the most versatile of the lot. Traditionally Nachni was cultivated as a rain fed crop by the tribals. The foundation for traditional food pairings and seasonal diets come from the wealth of knowledge that the adivasis possess in accordance with their sustainable lifestyles. Rain fed Nachni was harvested and allowed to sprout to bring out the nutrients to an optimal level. This was then dried and ground to a fine powder.
At Two brothers organic farms, to make the Nachni Satva or Sprouted Ragi Malt, the whole millets are first cleaned, washed thoroughly and left to soak in water for 20-24 hours. It is then sprouted over the next 24 hours in clean cotton cloths, further sun-dried and milled in stone grinders. This sprouted Ragi flour is then passed through a cotton cloth sieve to get fine sprouted-ragi malt or Nachni Satva.
Sprouting millets is an excellent method to enhance nutrition from millets.
- Sprouting after soaking removes all anti nutrients and makes them extremely easy to digest and absorb.
- Helps improve haemoglobin levels
- Sprouted Ragi is extremely beneficial for lactating mothers as well as a nutrient dense baby-food.
- A great choice of nutrition for Diabetics and people managing lifestyle disorders like obesity.
- Being a rich source of natural calcium, ragi is fantastic for growing children and adults alike.
- High in fibre
- Gluten free
- Helps in providing energy, aids restoring optimum bone density in adults and hence very beneficial for people above 35-40 years of age.
This powder, in its chocolate powder-like avatar, can be transformed into a number of sweet and savoury dishes. The Ragi malt has a sweet aroma and flavour on account of the natural sugars which come up when allowed to sprout. The powder keeps well in an airtight container for several months and even longer under refrigeration. A few measuring spoonfuls added to other ingredients of choice can form a base for several delicious dishes like Ragi mudde, Ragi kheer, Ragi Dosa, Nachni roti , Ragi vada, biscuits, cakes and the famous Ragi porridge.
The act of cooking a Ragi porridge or kanji for the infant is one which is filled with love and hope for healthy growth. As the powder mixes with the water and cooks quickly to form a silky gruel, the aroma is truly enticing. The ragi also welcomes any flavours added to it.
A pinch of salt and lassi makes the porridge a more desi flavour push whereas the addition of winter apples, dates and cinnamon gives it a more global taste profile while still retaining the use of local ingredients.
The Nachni Satva is one which most Indian paediatricians will recommend as a wonderful choice for weaning foods. This millet is known for being a rich source of calcium and is ideal for the growth and strengthening of bones.
When celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar expanded her nutrition program by including a farming community in Sonave, it added a wealth of real time inputs to her existing talks on nutrition.
The farm in Sonave near Mumbai which has been cared for by her family for four generations is a study in traditional Indian farming with care placed on local and seasonal ingredients. She talks about Nachni being an important crop in the Maharastrian agricultural belt and the varieties which include the red ragi as well. The tribals also show how to plant a ragi sapling by simply laying it on the ground. The plant takes root on its own and adapts well to an organic soil environment.
She also warns against being taken in by packaged products which use Ragi as a selling point. The best way to get the health benefits of these cereals is to choose a farm based supplier who does not add preservatives or artificial flavourings to the final product. So Ragi chips or Ragi bread, she says, will not give the same nutritional benefits as the whole millet or the consciously produced ragi flour or time tested regional recipes in the same age-old combinations like Nachni Laaddo that combines Ragi malt, Desi Ghee and dry fruits.
The best meals are often the simplest as most of our traditional cooking shows us. A Ragi dosa eaten with a simple green chutney can be so high on nutrition and also be an absolute flavour bomb which satiates our foodie senses thoroughly. Simply mix a few spoonfuls into your regular dosa batter for a boost of nutrition!
It starts with the introduction of a tiny spoonful of creamy Ragi porridge. As the baby learns to swallow semi solid foods he also learns to distinguish special aromas and tastes. Natural sugars like jaggery, date puree and raisin infused water are necessary to stimulate the taste buds when making a sweet porridge. Some communities also add desi ghee to porridge as it is believed to help with digestion and assimilation. Soft fruits like stewed apples (when in season) and soft bananas are delicious additions to a sweet Ragi porridge. A dash of full fat desi cow-milk is also a good idea when planning a wholesome meal.
Once the ingredient is introduced into the infant’s delicate system then it is very simple to make different versions using the same ingredient as the child grows older. What we are doing is helping the palate acquire a taste for traditional foods instead of getting them used to preservative laden instant cereals which are high in refined sugar and fats.
These kinds of food influences make it easier for a child to choose a Ragi pakoda eaten hot during the monsoons, than a mindless devouring of packaged chips.
When Ragi kanji was introduced as a mid day meal for poor children via Rujuta Diwekar's Sonawe project, it helped ward off malnutrition and helped provide nourishment for mental and physical growth.
It can be mixed with other flours and can be used to make anything from a simple chilla to a gourmet pancake.
The Ragi malt powder made by TBOF is most suited for busy people - it assures babies, growing children, adults and the elders a wholesome supply of nutrition; especially since these are soaked and spouted and then sieved. The malting process boosts the nutrition assimilation manifolds. Make Nachni Satva a part of your meals atleast thrice a week for the health of the entire family.