Toor dal | Pixabay
Toor dal | Pixabay
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A common misconception about lentils is that they are rich in proteins. In fact, 100 g of the much-maligned maida (which is more or less similar to the all-purpose flour of the West) has about the same amount of protein as 100 g of cooked toor dal. But, to be fair, lentils are packed with way more nutrients and also have the advantage of harder-to-digest carbohydrates, which makes them a good source of plant-based protein. And there are legumes richer in protein than toor dal. Fun fact: Two of the hard-to-digest carbohydrates in legumes like kidney beans (rajma)—raffinose and stachyose—cannot be digested by our digestive systems efficiently and, thus, become food for the bacteria in our guts. They metabolize these carbohydrates and produce gas, causing a rather familiar discomfort and occasional wind production. Turns out, eating fart-producing beans is not a bad idea at all because it encourages the growth of a diverse colony of healthy gut bacteria, who are, in general, excellent tenants. 

Some lentils can be hard to cook and require a fair amount of time. Soaking reduces cooking time significantly. Though soaking does technically leach some flavour into the water, the difference is largely imperceptible because we tend to add a ton of extra flavour using spices. 

Pressure-cooking also helps to shave off cooking times by almost 50 per cent. One of the hardest legumes to cook, the chickpea (chana), can be cooked to perfect softness if you add a pinch of baking soda to the pressure cooker. Baking soda (see Chapter 5) breaks down pectin, the hard substance that holds the plant’s cell walls together, and accelerates the cooking of chickpeas (or any other legume for that matter). As always, our knowledgeable grandmothers will also throw in a teabag into the pressure cooker when making chana. They might tell you that it’s meant to impart a lovely dark brown colour to the pale white chana, but the more useful, non-cosmetic purpose is to neutralize all the unused baking soda, which has a nasty, bitter and soapy aftertaste. Tea, as we will learn in Chapter 4, is an acid, while baking soda is basic. Acids and bases tend to react and neutralize each other. 


Also read: How much can you trust Bollywood’s favourite dietician Rujuta Diwekar?


Another minor annoyance when cooking dal is the foam it produces in the pressure cooker, which makes it hard to clean the lid afterwards. A teaspoon of oil added to the water in the pressure cooker will significantly reduce foaming when cooking legumes. 

Urad dal in particular plays a big role in south Indian cooking. Lactobacteria on the surface of the dal and rice will, in the presence of water, cause fermentation, a behaviour exploited to make idlis, dosas and other lip-smacking items. 

Given that the weather is warm and humid all through the year in south India, fermentation is largely predictable and controllable.

Science of Wheat

Now we have rice and dal out of the way, let’s consider the other staple carbohydrate: wheat. The original grain that made large-scale human civilization possible, wheat (like rice, corn and sugarcane) is a grass, making the grass family of plants one of the most successful species on the planet. Whether we have domesticated these grasses, or they have deviously convinced human beings to stay addicted to carbohydrates and, thus, grow them on a massive scale, at the cost of other plants, is a question worth pondering over when you mix atta and water and let it sit for 30 minutes. If you aren’t doing autolysis, which is what this step is called, you are skipping the single biggest science trick when it comes to making the perfect chapatti, or a paratha, naan or kulcha for that matter. 

The Indian subcontinent mostly uses two kinds of wheat flours: maida, which is made just from the endosperm, and atta, which includes a little bit of the bran. This is unlike the more ‘wheaty’ parts of the world—the Middle East, Europe and North America—where there is a cornucopia of variations based on the variety of wheat, how much of the bran is used to make the flour and how finely it has been ground. Of late, because urban Indians seem to have rediscovered millets, there has been an explosion of both gluten-free flours and wheat flours ‘enriched’ with millet flours.


Also read: White rice linked to diabetes, especially in South Asia, says 21-nation study done over 10 yrs


The milling process (in a chakki, which is a set of two millstones used to grind grain into flour) used to make atta causes a fair bit of damage to the proteins and starches in the flour, which makes atta not an ideal flour to bake leavened bread. A loaf of bread baked with atta tends to be dense and crumbly, and not soft and airy like it is if you use the whole wheat flour available outside India. This is also why leavened breads, such as naan and kulcha, tend to use maida, which is not made using the stone-grinding process and, thus, has better gluten development when leavened. If you want to make a whole wheat loaf of bread in India, your best bet is to use 70 per cent maida and 30 per cent atta for the best results. 

Here is what happens when you add water to atta or maida. There are two proteins in wheat—glutenin and gliadin—that form a stretchy and elastic structure called gluten, which traps air to create give your finished bread a light and airy texture. Maida forms stronger gluten structures than chakki- ground atta, which is why chapattis made of maida are chewier than those made using atta. Gluten formation in a chapatti is focused on creating a soft, yet not overly chewy, superstructure. But in a loaf of bread, gluten formation is focused on making a strong structure that is able to handle the expanding gas generated by the yeast in the dough, finally turning it into a crisp brown crust at high heat in the oven, thanks to the Maillard reaction. 

This excerpt from ‘Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking’ by Krish Ashok has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Very misleading article!!comparing 100 gm of cooked dal to 100 gm of maida,what a load of bullcrap.
    100 gm of maida has around 11 gm of. Protein while 100 gm of dal has around 20-22 gm protein,almost twice the protein.And,lets not forget that maida has only a third of the vitamin b1 ,folate as atta or that maida has only a quarter of the magnesium as atta.Whike consuming small portion of it or once in awhile is okay(in india where white flour,white rice is unenriched) ,consuming a predominantly maida rich diet can easily cause deficiencies.

  2. Too much knowledge has led all to get scared of foods to consume with guilt. If consumed in moderation nothing really goes wrong anytime.

  3. Give some money….they make, shit also Hero as they have more protein than any.
    Have some sense print.
    All nonsense

  4. Ye zindagi ke mele, ye zindagi ke mele..
    Duniya mey kam na honge afsos hum na honge…
    Duniya hai mauj-e-dariya katregi zindagi kya,
    Pani me mil ke pani anjam ye ke pani…sssss

  5. Almost all dieticians and scientists are very clear that the maida is not good for health as compared to lentils entire write up is weird. Its misleading. Do not encourage such articles. If u cannot do good atleast don’t spread bad unproven information.

  6. when I have seen the article I rubbed my eyes to confirm that what I am seeing is correct.
    ” In fact, 100 g of the much-maligned Maida (which is more or less similar to the all-purpose flour of the West) has about the same amount of protein as 100 g of cooked toor dal”

    The comparison is between 100 gm Maida and 100 gram cocked dal. But 35 mgs of raw dal when cooked becomes 100 gms. It is deliberate misrepresentation of facts. And it claims and the author is an expert . Print should should have good editorial /cross checking practices in place.

  7. Mr. Ashok…. Your article us a sigh of relief to those who are used to white bread….. Manchurian dishes….. Nooodles…….. That’s y children addicted to these food stuffs still grew with good body mass……. I’m sure you article was never meant to recommend people to eat maida as against lentils or millets….. It was just an observation delivered to sat…. It’s not all that bad🧐. … Frankly speaking I’m not a mom whi is overtly bothered about calorie count as far as my kids eat freshly prepared home cooked food with indian food crops and vegies….. I donno y people overreact to any different thought in any subject…. Like this and still worst…. Tag it as anti nationalist……. They need some Indian farm grown food for thought🤔 bloody organic frieks!!

  8. This is a story created by person interested in selling Maida. Print should have vetted this article. Calling print to remove this asap

  9. Lentils is masoor and masoor only, it is a legume; please do not use word lentils for other pulses, beans and legumes.
    Maida is not whole wheat flour and is therefore without fibre, now the west is also realising that all purpose flour is not a healthy option and especially after the pandemic, there is stress on healthy eating and comparing maida with dal is like comparing apples and oranges.

  10. A simple fact, a 5000yr old civilization and food habits is time tested and can’t be wrong. Everyday new details comes out which validates that our food habits are much better.
    The only adjustments that needs to be done is go out and work. Not just eat the heavy diet.

  11. Falàe and misleading. Maida is made from wheat, which has 12% Protein. Dals have 20+ percent proteins. The two are not comparable.

  12. That is it. Now I am sure that ThePrint is both anti-national and anti-humanity. Maida aur sugar khiwake sabko marvayeinge ye.

  13. Maida has nearly four times the amount of carbs to deliver the same amount of protein. It also has way lesser fibre and more sugar. Controversial title to the article just to get clicks

  14. Most bullshit story I have ever read. Shame on “The so called Print”. Promoting maida as protein source or even thinking about wrting it down online showcase the wicked sense of mind. Aren’t you aware of the challenges people already facing consuming “Your Protein Source Maida” on everday basis?

    Aren’t you aware of its glicemic index or its insulin spiking factor? Aren’t you aware that it stays in the itestines for much longer period to actually rott inside the body?

    And you F* stupid are talking about its protein content and comparing it with pulses. STOP misleading innocent people with your BS article titles and get a real job!!

  15. your article about Maida vs dal protein content is absolutely not true as 1 cross section of the wheat grain has 85% Carbohydrates,13% protein ,1.5% iron and .5% alcohol. When Maida or refined flour is milled the outer brown husk and covering is discarded , Where the protein content is present. The gluten which is a protein cannot be used by the body. As it is difficult to digest. Wash a small round piece of maida dough in water for 5 continuous days and what is left over is a rubbery substance called gluten. Gluten does impart certain qualities to a dough but definitely not protein nutrition to the body. Maida is bad. Period. Would like to know what method you used to arrive at your article. 🙏

  16. Masala lab is doing a commendable job and keeping it as simple as possible to explain all intricacies

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