Anand is a smallish town (pop 200,000) in southern Gujurat which just so happens to be the center of the Indian Dairying Universe. In 1947 Dr. Kurien started the AMUL dairying cooperative in Anand, and through his influence, this model swept the country in the “white revolution”. Now, AMUL is one of the worlds largest dairy cooperatives, processing over 500,000 liters of milk per day. On a recent visit to Anand, I got to visit the AMUL plant along with the Institute of Rural Management, and the Microbiology Department at the Anand Agricultural University. At AAU, I the good fortune of meeting Dr. J. B. Prajapati, coordinator of the Swedish South Asian Network for Fermented Foods (SASNET), and head of the lab at (get ready, take a breath) ICAR Niche Area of Excellence Functional Fermented Dairy Products with Synbiotics, Department of Dairy Microbiology, SMC College of Dairy Science, Anand Agricultural University (or…ICARNAEFFDPS,DDMSMCCDSAAU). It was awesome…
To begin with, two of Dr. Prajapati’s graduate students showed me around the lab. In one room: the CO2 chamber where they cultured anaerobic strains of probiotic lactobacilli bacteria. In the next room, the High Performance Liquid Chromotography apparatus used to analyze the metabolites produced by those cultures. Imagine a weirder and much geekier “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (Max and the Microbe Mill?) except that the stuff in the test tubes won’t turn you blue, just improve your digestive health and possibly boost your immune system. I couldn’t believe it-there were actually people who were more excited about the science of fermentation and probiotics than I was. When my guide showed me his freeze drying set up for packaging commercially available probiotic bacterial strains my heart skipped a beat, and when a student explained how she was doing her thesis on a probiotic whey drink with a mix of bacteria and yeast cultures I had to be resuscitated.
After lunch in the mess hall, and the full tour of the Ag college, I got to sit down with Dr. Prajapati for a brief history of SASNET and a general survey of fermented foods in India. SASNET is a network of researchers who meet biannually to promote the study of fermentation and its connection to human wellbeing. From what I can tell, they have their work cut out for them. The list of fermented foods that have originated in the subcontinent, or have successfully transplanted here is stunning; Handwo, Khaman, Dahi, Dokla, Dosa, Idli, Jalebee, Kulcha, Bhaturar, Warrie, misti-dahi chaas, uttapam, bhallae, vadai, chaang etc… and this is not including the hundreds of regional variations, or the over 10,000 different kinds of ferments that Dr. Jyoti Tamang has catalogued across the Himalayas. Which is pretty exciting, considering my plans traverse this geography from Rajasthan to Kerala, and K
olkata to Laddakh.
Finally, Dr. Prajapati had to say goodbye. But, to top it all off, I got to hop on the back of a motorcycle and visit the market for some tasty Khaman (fermented gram flour, fried with spices, sprinkled with cilantro)-a specialty of Anand. Then it was back on the bus to Ahmedabad, to catch a train to Udaipur early the next morning. Which is where the story will pick up next time.
Dosa dough spinner
P.S. I wish I could recall the names of the two graduate students who graciously served as my guides and interpreters. They were fantastic and I can’t thank them enough, though unfortunately anonomously.