Wheat in Indian cuisine

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Khapli gehu/ emmer

As in 2022

Neha Bhayana, Feb 28, 2022: The Times of India

On celebrity chef Vicky Ratnani’sInstagram page, you see a reelof him smearing butter on theglowing, golden crust of a freshly-bakedschiacciata, a Tuscan focaccia breadtopped with olives and gunpowder. MiraKapoor’s Insta stories had a picture ofher plate on which a simple roti sitsbeside baingan bharta and kashiphalsabzi. The star wife has posted a stickerthat reads “so good” on the picture. Read the hashtags and one realises acommonality — Ratnani’s bread andKapoor’s roti are made using khapliwheat, an ancient grain that has recently caught the fancy of foodies. Khapli gehu or emmer is an ancestor of modern wheat that was found inWest Asia around 10,000 years ago. Emmer was widely used in Italy and Egyptduring Pharaonic times. It was thestaple diet of the Roman armies and thelabourers whobuilt the pyramids. The graincame to India during the Indus Valley civilisation. Farmersstarted cultivating it in southernMaharashtra, the Saurashtra region of Gujaratand certain partsof the south. However, likeother ancientgrains, emmerwas forgotten as modern wheat rose tofame. But with growing interest intraditional and low-gluten foods, khapli is being rediscovered. Rajas Paranjpe, who runs an organic food store inMumbai, says the demand for khaplihas doubled every year for the last fouryears. “Khapli atta used to sell forbarely Rs 15 to 20 per kg in 2018 andnow retails at Rs 180 to 200 per kg,” hesays, adding that they ship around1,000 kilos of khapli flour every monthto customers in India and 18 countriesabroad via their website. Wheat has been typecast as a villain in health conscious circles foryears now and most weight-watchershave been opting for millets which arethe reigning superstars. Paranjpe believes that khapli wheat is giving theragi-bajra-jowari brigade competitionbecause it blends into the Indian dieteasily. “Rotis made with emmer areas soft as the ones made with regularwheat, only a few shades darker andmildly nutty flavoured,” he says. At Chef Ratnani’s home, rotis have only been made with khapli flour fortwo years. “Chapatis made with khapli are much lighter and tastier thanregular wheat ones,” says Ratnaniwho has made bread with the grain afew times, too, after trying sourdoughmade with emmer during trips abroad. Unlike normal wheat, khapliwheat is a long grain, almost like basmati, and its flour is milled usingtraditional methods — washing, sundrying and stonegrinding so itkeeps the germand nutrients ofthe wheat intactand weakens thegluten. Khaplicultivators claimit has just one tothree percentgluten comparedto other wheatvarieties likesharbati, sinhore and lokwanwhich have eightto 10% gluten. Shilpa Pargaonkar, a child development expert based in Bhopal,avoids wheat and rice — she consumes millets because of their nutritive value. “But once a week if I amin the mood for a conventional meal Ihave chapatis made with khapli andhand pound rice,” she says. Bangalore-based wellness coachAkhila Mahalingam found it hard tofeed her children millet bhakris whichare coarse and therefore switched tokhapli four years ago. “I make chapatisand laddoos with khapli,” she says,adding that this grain has also benefited her husband who is diabetic. Small-scale studies have foundthat khapli is beneficial for diabeticsbecause it has a low-glycemic indexwhich results in slow release of sugar in the body and helps one feelfuller for longer. Gurgaon-based nutritionist Ruchika Sodhi recommends khapli to brides-to-be andthose who have skin allergies. “I havefound emmer quite useful in reducing skin problems,” she says.

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