Overnight Fermentation: How The Technique Plays A Crucial Role
Image Credit: Idli made from Fermented Rice Batter | Freepik

Overnight fermentation is a widely used practice in the cuisines of all around the world. Fermentation plays a crucial role in deriving the characteristic flavour, texture and nutritional properties of many recipes. Overnight fermentation rules out the need for additional yeast or bacterial culture to kickstart the fermentation. Instead, keeping the mixture overnight cultivates natural yeasts and bacteria present in the ingredients or environment, initiating biochemical processes that transform the mixture.

There are many reasons why overnight fermentation plays an important role in many dishes across India. Firstly, it enhances the digestibility of certain foods, particularly grains and legumes, by breaking down complex carbohydrates and proteins. In addition to helping with digestion, this also increases the bioavailability of nutrients, which helps in proper nutrient absorption. Also, fermentation enhances the existing flavours, makes them saturated and creates the depth and complexity that Indian food is known for. For this reason,  fermented foods like yoghurt, pickles, and dosa batter have long been valued in Indian culture for their probiotic properties, which promote gut health and overall well-being.

After reading so many good reasons for inducing fermented foods in your diet, let's explore which recipes require overnight fermentation and their basic process.

1) Rice Batter

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Fermentation practice is widely used in South Indian cuisine to make fermented rice batter for recipes like idli, dosa, paniyaram, uttapam and more. In the agricultural history of South Indian states, rice is a widely cultivated grain, and so it's frequently used in many ways to make several delicacies. Before you discover South Indian cooking, it's surprising how one grain can change so much just by fermenting it overnight.

2) Yoghurt 

Yoghurt is a host of probiotics that enhance the gut microbiome and promote healthy digestion. Fermented yoghurt is widely used in many iconic Indian beverages like lassi and chaas, as fermentation breaks down the lactose in curd into simpler sugars, making it easier to digest, especially for those who are lactose intolerant. Additionally, through overnight fermentation, it is easier to achieve the desired consistency without the need for dilution to make sure the flavours don't get mild.

3) Jalebi Batter

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Jalebi, the most adored dessert in India, also requires overnight fermentation to achieve its characteristic sweetness with hints of sourness. Jalebi batter consists of all-purpose flour, yoghurt, water, and sugar. After mixing up all the ingredients, the smooth batter is rested overnight to develop a good bacterial culture that enhances its tanginess, forms air pockets in the batter to make it light and airy, and also adds to the crispiness of jalebis.

4) Gram Flour Batter

After eating the fluffy and nutty dhoklas and khandvi, it is natural to praise the creator for getting these savoury dishes into existence. As intricate as it seems, dhokla batter doesn't require any rocket science to achieve its delightful fluffiness. In fact, it is achieved with the simple overnight fermentation process. Dhokla batter contains besan, rice flour, yoghurt, water and spices for flavour. The ingredients are mixed together and left for fermentation overnight to develop the bacterial culture and make the batter airy and light. The natural enzymes in yoghurt do all the job, and the result is the best dhoklas you've ever tasted.

5) Lentil Batter

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The use of fermentation in South Indian Cuisines is so immense that the list cannot be complete without mentioning yet another recipe. This time, the batter features a lentil base, and the same fermentation process brings all the magic. Medu vada, a popular breakfast recipe from South India, is made with a batter consisting primarily of urad dal (black gram lentils) along with spices like cumin seeds, black pepper, and curry leaves. After soaking and grinding the lentils to a smooth paste, the batter is left to ferment overnight. Just like all the other recipes, fermentation enhances the flavour, improves digestibility and makes the vadas fluffy and light.

By now, it can be concluded that fermentation changes the entire flavour profile of many Indian dishes. Therefore, if you are planning a South Indian brunch or want to try making restaurant-style jalebi at home, don't forget to ferment the batter overnight!