Idli, Rajma Among Indian Dishes Harming Biodiversity, Says Study

Idli, rajma and chana masala may be your go-to comfort foods but they’re harming the environment more than you know! A new study identified Indian staples like idli, chana masala, rajma, and chicken jalfrezi among those causing substantial damage to biodiversity.

The study led by Luis Roman Carrasco from the National University of Singapore analysed the impact of 151 popular dishes from around the world that were among the top 25 in terms of gross domestic product. The team assigned biodiversity footprint scores to each dish based on the likely impact of ingredients on the wildlife in the croplands used for cultivation.

They found that besides beef which is well-known for having a high ecological impact, several legume-based dishes also had a high biodiversity footprint. A Spanish roast lamb dish named lechazo has been assigned the highest biodiversity footprint, followed by four meat preparations from Brazil. Idli, which is a South Indian rice cake made with black gram (or urad dal) and rice is on number six, followed by rajma which is ranked seven.

“The large impacts of legumes and rice in India was a surprise, but when you think about it, it makes sense,” Luis Roman Carrasco, associate professor of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore who led the study, told The Telegraph.

Out of the other two Indian dishes on the list, chana masala (ranked 22) is perhaps the most popular number, consumed across the country, but particularly in northern India. It’s a chickpea curry made with a blend of spices, while jalfrezi (ranked 19) is a dish that originated in British India and is a stir-fried curry made in a pepper sauce.

In the recent past, several studies have identified the negative environmental impacts of non-vegetarian food based on livestock rearing. The large biodiversity footprints of rice and legumes can be largely explained by land conversion for agriculture. India is a top producer of legumes and it also harbours varied forms of diversity, with an estimated seven to eight per cent of species. Legumes and rice are cultivated across many areas that have been extremely rich of biodiversity.

French fries, baguettes, pureed tomato sauce and popcorn are among other dishes with the lowest biodiversity footprints, as per the study. Aloo paratha was ranked 96, dosa 103, and the bonda was ranked 109. Carraasco pointed out that the heavy vegetarian population in India is good for conservation.

“If Indians were to shift to more meat consumption and production the impact on biodiversity would be much higher,” he said. “This study is a reminder that the pressures on biodiversity in India are very high.”