The Art Of Traditional Indian Bread-Making

The Indian Subcontinent is an agricultural haven. Its fertile soil enables the population to thrive on a diverse range of carbohydrate sources, whereas in other countries, they may be far more homogeneous. Wheat flour-derived flatbreads such as rotis, puris, and parathas are among the most popular. Many people in certain parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka prefer to eat rotis made from millets like Jowar. Because of Goa's long colonial history, western-style leavened breads are the norm. There are always hawkers selling fresh, warm loaves of Poee bread from local bakeries. The world of Indian breads is vast, encompassing the use of a wide range of grains, leavening techniques, flavour profiles, additives, and much more.

The Persian influence can be seen in sheermal rotis, which are popular in Mughal descendant cultures throughout Uttar Pradesh and even parts of Maharashtra. It is a saffron-flavored milk bread that is thought to have been brought to India by Persian invaders. The use of saffron and milk in the dough is a Persian bread-making tradition that has been adopted into Indian cuisine.

Similarly, Mughal influences can be found in tandoori rotis, naans, kulchas, and other dishes. Tandoor ovens were introduced to India by the Mughals, who were of Central Asian origin, and they quickly became a staple in Indian breadmaking. The tandoor oven's high heat and clay walls produce a distinct texture and flavor that is characteristic of tandoori roti and other breads cooked in this manner.

Taking a step back, the use of refined flour and ovens in general can be attributed to the influence of various Islamic communities that settled in India over the centuries. Even today, many bakeries in North India serving traditional baked goods like Bakarkhani, cakes, and puff pastries are owned by Muslims. Even the ubiquitous pao in Maharashtra is still made in predominantly Muslim-owned bakeries. The bread itself was developed by Portuguese settlers along the Konkan coast, and their efforts resulted in a different final product in the form of poees in Goa, which are slightly larger and made with wholewheat bread, and pavs, which are smaller, enriched breads made with refined flour that are a staple across Maharashtra, forming the basis for the ever-popular Vada Pav and Pav Bhaji.

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Dhapate: A Maharashtrian Staple Bread

The majority of leavened bread consumed in India today is the result of a heavily industrialized process that is far removed from how our forebears made bread, simply with water, salt, and optionally, yeast. The process is heavily influenced by the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP), which allows for the production of a low-cost, mass-produced final product with a long shelf life. When asked what kind of bread they've eaten the most, most Indians will recall bread made in this process. CBP breads incorporate several additives, such as bread improvers, stabilizers, preservatives, and so on, to achieve a consistent product in order to better utilize lower protein content wheat varieties, which are commonly found in warmer climates. These breads are more difficult to digest due to their shorter fermentation times, lack of digestive fiber, and bread improvers that give the product a more sticky texture.

Though leavened breads, such as basic supermarket sandwich bread, are staples in many Indian households, particularly in urban areas, non-leavened breads are arguably the most widely consumed and have significant cultural significance. From handing out Puran Poli at festivals to eating fresh-from-the-tandoor naans at a wedding, Each state has its own version of the common roti, as well as its own preferred accompaniments. When it comes to most staple unleavened breads consumed across the subcontinent, especially in urban areas, wheat flour in both refined and semi-refined forms, i.e. "atta," is the grain of choice. People living in more remote, rural areas may prefer to consume millets such as barley, sorghum, or bajra, also known as pearl millet, due to their lower cost, ease of cultivation, and cultural tradition in those areas.

It is safe to say that bread powers India. Most Indians consider unleavened breads to be staples of their diets, though leavened breads are also common in many regions. There has been a resurgence of artisanal breads in recent years, particularly post-pandemic, such as naturally fermented sourdoughs, baguettes, and many others. The emphasis has been on quality ingredients and techniques, as well as local sourcing. Even large-scale retail platforms now offer at least a few artisanal bread options that are distinct from their industrially produced counterparts.