It is a common notion that porridge or gruel is a kind of soft liquid diet specifically prescribed only during fever or sickness. But the fact is that it is only a diet for sickness but a traditional food item having rich nutritive values. It can be consumed to strengthen our body when we are healthy and also during specific period of sickness and convalescence.
Reference in ‘Pattinapalai’
There is a reference in ‘Pattinapalai’ regarding ‘the gruel profusely flowing like a river from boiled rice’. We have lost many varieties of porridge made from highly nutritive cereals and grains that our ancestors had consumed as a staple food item. Some of them are termed as Kodhikanji (boiled), Uraikanji (solidified), Palkanji (milky), Vadikanji (distilled), Oottakanji (nutritive) and Sudukanji (hot). The rich gruel generated from boiling rice is also termed as ‘Rice milk’. These can be the predecessors of what we currently consume as ‘soup’. It’s prudent to appreciate porridge as a diet that could rejuvenate our body and its health rather than considering it a sickening and old fashioned food item.
When one is suffering from fever and other related sickness it is better to avoid food items that would be challenging for digestion and also for the gastro-intestinal tract. It is recommended to have simple diet like porridge that proves easy to digest and nutritive as well. This will help in reviving the lowered digestive process due to sickness and at the same time will facilitate in absorption of essential nutrients in the body. It can also recompense the loss of water due to dehydration. Siddha medicine believes that there will not be fever if there is no intestinal problem. And it is commonly felt that for any kind of fever there will be a disturbance in the digestive tract. So it is advisable to have porridge which will help during sickness to revive digestion and also faster recovery from illness.
Puffed rice porridge
It is very much supportive for those who suffer from fever. Rice can be fried after removing the husk and it can be made as porridge. It can also be consumed during dysentery and pain due to gastro intestinal problems. Porridge made of puffed rice is very popular in rural areas. The reason is that it is very easily available for them and also that they remain wise by not using ‘over the counter’ drugs without being prescribed by clinicians, eventually ruining the gastro intestinal tract the way we usually do!
It is highly nutritive and common in the southern parts of Tamil Nadu and also among Srilankan Tamils. It’s also a wonderful diet for those who have thinned down due to sickness and also for those who are thin due to malnourishment. Take 10 g each of Thuvaram paruppu (tur dal), Ulutham paruppu (urad dal), Thattai payaru (cow pea), Kadalai (groundnut) and Pacharisi (raw rice) and knot them together in a piece of cloth. Boil the knotted cloth with the grains in a mud pot in one liter of water and allow it to shrink to 1/4th or 250 ml. After removing the cloth the porridge can be consumed. As there are grains and pulses present in its content the porridge is rich in protein as well. Sprouted grains and pulses can also be used to enhance its nutritive value further. It is better to spread pepper powder on it before consuming.
As it can be easily digested and also being richly nutritive it is prescribed specially for kids and aged. While visiting sick persons it is better to give this kind of porridge to help them regain lost health instead of giving them the much advertised and popular health foods and drinks.
Regularizing menstrual cycle
For generations, porridge made of Ulundhu (urad dal) and Vendhayam (fenugreek) has been supporting the well being of women in our society. At the time of puberty and immediately after that period, porridge made of these is given regularly in order to regularize menstrual cycle and also to strengthen the internal reproductive parts. But having ignored those traditional and meaningful practices of the past and also due to consumption of modern and junk food items, the women of current generation suffer seriously from many ailments in relation to the menstrual cycle. Urad dal is rich with minerals like calcium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium and also vitamins. It is also rich with protein and fiber content. Fenugreek is medicinally useful in regulating menstrual problems.
Dry ginger knot porridge
After removing the skin, cut the ginger to small pieces and knot them together in a piece of cloth. Boil the knotty cloth with ginger in the gruel made of raw rice. Decant the supernatant and it can be consumed. It will increase appetite. It can help in curing constipation and also indigestion. The knotted cloth with dry ginger can be soaked directly in the boiling raw rice, hence the name knotty porridge. While it enhances appetite it can also cure flatulence.
For those who are having low appetite, a kind of anorexia, can have the porridge made of horse gram. It can be combined with rice and be consumed regularly to gain bodily strength. One of the songs of Siddha medicine says that one can gain strength to an extent of even crushing sesame seeds to extract oil. It is also called as Kaana kanji. There is another variety of it, which is made, after threshing out the seed coat, the horse gram is mixed with a small amount of pepper and coriander. It is very good for those who suffer from wheezing and phlegm. Our ancestors prescribed many varieties of porridge according to the seasonal changes but this porridge is recommended during winter and summer seasons.
Punarpagam (Twice distilled porridge)
This is called ‘Punarpagam’ as the porridge is distilled twice. This made by adding water to the already boiled rice and boiled for the second time. This stands as a proof to the traditional knowledge system followed by our ancestors in relation to the physics of heat transfer and hydro-techniques. Based on hydro science this porridge is prepared towards curing heat related illness and at the same time providing nutriments for well being.
Porridge items made of solidified rice gruel, boiled gruel while preparing rice and distilled gruel have the capacity to cool down physiological heat. It is better to consume these types of porridges during summer along with tender coconut and other natural drinks.
Other than using raw and boiled rice for porridge millets such as Thinai (foxtail), Varagu (kodo millet), and Samai (little millet) have also been in use in the preparation of porridge. If we can revive their use it can bring in more health benefits.
Porridge as supplementary medicine
It is a tribal practice to recommend rice gruel as one of the diets along with herbal treatments against snake bite. Therefore porridge can also serve as supplementary medicine for treating certain ailments.
On the whole, it can serve as a medicine, as a supplement to a specific treatment, as a snack, as a time-pass, as a diet and also as a nutritive food item. It is one of the traditional food items that have been consumed by our ancestors but they are losing their importance and values in modern times due to the invasion of various types of beverages, like tea, coffee, cool drinks. Drinking porridge is not to be ashamed of but the pride of our tradition!
(This article written in Tamil by Dr. V. Vikram Kumar MD(S) has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)