From roadside vendors to hotels, this nutritious beverage and porridge made of local millets is a common sight in Tamil Nadu during summers
Come summer, you will find koozh everywhere in Tamil Nadu. The beverage prepared from locally available millets is as versatile as it is popular.
It is available as a drink or a porridge; hot or cold; at home or on the streets; with or without fermentation; made from a single millet variety or from a mix of them. There are also dozens of savoury and tangy accompaniments to choose from, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian.
The fermented beverage is so ingrained in the popular culture that koozh drinking challenges are common on social media platforms. Although just a glass or bowl of koozh is enough to fill one’s stomach, young and old online enthusiasts guzzle as much as 8 litres in just a few minutes.
In Tamil Nadu towns, it is one of the cheapest foods available, making it a staple for informal workers, travellers, labourers, truck drivers and domestic workers.
Koozh preparation is a small-scale industry in the state. Vendors make it in large batches at home and simply dilute it with water and buttermilk before serving with accompaniments, such as onions, coriander, mango chutney, lime, chilli, turkey berry, fried guar beans, fried papad, fish, crab, eggs and chicken, to name a few.
The drink has transcended the class barrier and is also sold in niche restaurants selling healthy foods and in high-end hotels. However, what you can get for Rs 10 on the road might be R500 at a restaurant.
Nonetheless, as the fermentation process takes a day, finding a ready source when you crave koozh is welcome. Regular consumers swear that the product sold in the market is much tastier than the one that they make at home.
However, the use of contaminated water in koozh by vendors is a cause for concern. In 2010, advocacy group MS Swaminathan Research Foundation recommended to the state government that the sellers be provided with clean water and trained in best practices on food handling.
Unfermented koozh is served in the temples of goddesses Meenakshi and Sakthi during Aadi (Aashadha), the fourth month of the Tamil calendar that occurs from mid-July to mid-August. This month is deemed auspicious to conduct religious activities but inauspicious for new ventures such as weddings or buying property. The sweet porridge, prepared with millet flour, black gram, green gram and jaggery, is first offered to the goddesses and then distributed as prasadam.
While ragi (finger millet or Eleusine coracana) is the most common millet used for koozh, bajra / kambu (pearl millet or Pennisetum glaucum) is equally popular. These millets grow easily in warm and dry regions such as the drought-prone south Indian states and are available at low prices. This makes koozh both popular and affordable.
Kambu koozh is slightly more expensive than ragi. The former is mentioned in Sangam literature, the earliest writings in Tamil, as a healthy traditional breakfast or lunch. Some people also consume koozh with the belief that it helps reduce the ill-effects of alcohol.
Millets have seen a rise in popularity in recent years. They are rich in fiber, high in iron, calcium, vitamin B-complex and other essential nutrients. As a result, they are considered perfect to control diabetes, one of India’s most prevalent non-communicable diseases. As a prebiotic, they are good for the stomach.
Fermented millets are more nutritious, as beneficial microbes such as Lactobacillus fermentum, Weissella paramesenteroides and yeasts break down the starch into sugars and amino acids. Fermentation also reduces the inhibitors of the enzymes trypsin and amylase and make the final product easier to digest, suggests a study published in the journal Probiotics and Antimicrobial Proteins in October 2010.
The final pH of koozh ranges from 4.3 to 4.9, resulting in a tangy drink with an increased shelf life, as indicated in an article in the 2020 book Ethnic Fermented Foods and Beverages of India: Science History and Culture. Koozh is sometimes prepared through double fermentation, especially in colder climates.
In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, there is a similar beverage to koozh, called ambali, which is prepared from ragi flour. Salome Yesudas, a food and nutrition expert in Telangana who works with indigenous communities, shares her recipe for the fermented drink with Down To Earth. For this, the water from cooked rice, called ganji, is fermented overnight and used to cook ragi flour. It is as mouth-watering and nutritious as koozh.
RECIPESKAMBU KOOZH/ PORRIDGE
Soak the coarsely ground bajra in two cups of water for two to three hours. In a thick bottom pan, heat two more cups of water. Slowly add the soaked bajra and salt and cook till the grain is soft. Add more water if needed. Cool the cooked bajra and then add water to get a porridge-like consistency. Cover the pan and keep it overnight. In the morning, mix well and add buttermilk. Add the onion, chilli and mango and mix again, and the koozh is ready to eat.
RAGI AMBALI/ BEVERAGE
Mix the ragi flour well with a small quantity of day-old ganji. Ensure that there are no lumps. In a thick bottom pan, heat more ganji and slowly add the ragi mix to it. Add salt and cook well till it is thick. Cool it and add more ganji if needed. Enjoy it with your favourite accompaniment.
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