According to Ayurveda, ahara is made up of five mahabhutas (elements) and related bhutaagni (digestive enzymes) that will break down their ingredients during digestion and metabolism when stimulated by Antar Agni.
Ancient wisdom concerning the processing, preservation, and consumption of foods has been practiced in India for many generations. Classical Ayurvedic texts encompass a wide range of topics when it comes to food, such as the various types found naturally around us – their properties at different times of year or locations, and how they may affect our health in both good ways and bad.
Ayurveda strives to process and preserve food in ways that keep the prana of the food intact. They do this by preserving it with sugar, salt, or ghee instead of using chemicals or freezing the food.
Why are Foods Processed?
Not all foods are appropriate for consumption right off the bat; thus, it is necessary to convert them into a form in which they can be eaten. One way to do this is through processing techniques- converting one item from its original state and into something new entirely. This allows us to alter the qualities of certain food items and make them more digestible.
This is known as Karana in Ayurveda—or ‘Processing’ of food substances. Processed foods result in the transformation of an ingredient’s inherent qualities due to processes such as dilution, churning, heating, or cleansing.
There are multiple ways to process food before it can be consumed:
- Shoucha- cleaning, washing, rinsing.
- Toya Sannikarsha- cleansing and treating food with water.
- Agni Sannikarsha- Using heat to cook or treat the food.
Effects: Shuchi (cleansing), and Toya Sannikarsha (treating with water and fire) can change the quality of rice. For example, Shuchi removes all impurities from the rice. Water is then also used to boil or process the rice along with Agni snnikarsha (providing the heat from fire for cooking). All these processes change the rice’s qualities which makes it lighter. Once the gurutva (heaviness) is removed from processed rice, it is easier to digest when consumed.
- Manthana – Churning, Grinding
Effects: The churning process of curd—manthana—induces favorable qualities in its ingredients.
Consider the example of curds; it typically has a property that causes edema and inflammation, but when it is processed through manthana or churning, it loses this undesirable attribute. In fact, the churned curds will relieve inflammation or exacerbate inflammation.
Food has different properties depending on its location. The area where the food is grown, cultivated, and stored affects its quality.
For example, fleshiness is present in all types of meat (Mamsa), but the quality of meats from animals living in arid climates and those that live near bodies of water differs. The impact on health for both is unique too. This distinct impact on human health is caused by the difference between regions, or desha.
Time periods, seasons, etc. also change the quality of food. Over time, fruits go through changes in taste, smell, and quality.
Adding the flavoring agents or sweet-smelling agents
Additives change the quality of foods. For example, when sweet-smelling plants such as saffron
are mixed with milk—their properties change and it gains flavor. There are other plants and spices that do this too; enhancing the flavor of foods while they add color and aroma to them. These additives also make food taste better while increasing its nutritional value.
Keeping the food or medicines dipped in certain liquids
By dipping the food substances or medicines in some other liquid and letting them stand, you can affect their quality. Dipping grain products like rice, lentils, and vegetables such as spinach leaves in water or warm water for a certain length of time can remove excess potassium and harmful toxins from these foods making them safer to eat.
- Kala Prakasha
passage of time, change of season
Kala Prakasha or the passage of time also has an influence on food. This should not be mistaken for the effect of Kala on food. When it comes to cooking and preparing meals, in Kala Praksa there is a gradual change that can only take place over time
When fermented liquid medicinal drinks, etc are subjected to closed fermentation; their medicinal quality is enhanced greatly by the passage of time.
Containers or vessels used for storage and preservation of food
- Keeping or storing food ingredients in different types of containers can have varied effects on the food substance.
- When ghee is stored for 10 days in a Kamsya Patra, it becomes poisonous. Similarly, pickles should not be stored in aluminum containers.
Foods come in their natural state with different nutrient amounts – that are improved when cooking. Cooked food becomes easier to eat and digest, it looks appetizing, tastes good, has a nice flavor, and is soft enough to chew.
Correctly cooked foods also reduce the risks of pathogens getting into your system (thus preventing illness) and allow you to properly break down food so it can be digested without trouble.
For a more in-depth chat about the right food processing – register for our program with Dr. Balathanadayuthabani, (Ph.D. in Science for sustainable development from Sweden and a Co-Founder at B&B Organics), where he will give you some insightful healthy cooking practices.