Canned food got you in a pickle? Here’s how you can opt for healthy ready-to-eat meals | fitness | Hindustan Times
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Canned food got you in a pickle? Here’s how you can opt for healthy ready-to-eat meals

The trend of homemade, preservative-free, ready-to-eat meals along with Indian condiments is catching up in various cities.

fitness Updated: Oct 01, 2017 13:58 IST
Abhinav Verma
Preservatives are high in sodium content. In the long run, they can harm our internal organs such as heart, liver and the kidneys.
Preservatives are high in sodium content. In the long run, they can harm our internal organs such as heart, liver and the kidneys.(Istock)

There’s nothing more satiating than relishing a traditional home cooked meal after a tiring day at work. But, thanks to our lifestyle, cooking after work feels like a tiresome chore. And, this is the reason why we are increasingly opting for ready-to-eat processed Indian meals, packaged chutneys and pickles. The appeal of these processed products is simple. You don’t have to cook; they go straight from spoon to mouth. However, we conveniently ignore the fact that these processed foods come laden with preservatives that are extremely unhealthy and ecologically unsustainable. To combat the rise of packaged unsustainable Indian foods, many food enthusiasts are popularising homemade Indian sustainable products, which include pickles, condiments and ready-made meals. “I love cooking traditional South Indian meals. Every time I used an age old recipe, I struggled with getting authentic masalas. The ready-made condiments available in the market lack authentic flavour and aroma. That’s when I decided to make my own masalas. I make gunpowder, sambar powder and tamarind rice mix at home. They became so popular among my friends that they prodded me to launch my own range of masalas. We use traditional recipes to make preservative free, fresh, natural, and healthy products,” says 50-year-old Sudha Raj. She started her venture last year in August, under the name of Zing, along with her 58-year- old sister, Sushila Srinivasan. Sudha says it’s a myth that homemade masalas and condiments have a very short shelf life. The shelf life of these products can go up to one year, depending on the product. Her products start at Rs150.

Preserving our rich culinary tradition

Apart from being healthy, sustainable food products help preserve our rich culinary tradition. “Our recipes have been handed over through generations. I don’t think you can enjoy authentic Indian food if you club processed product to your food. What we make at home is free of chemicals and added colours. Our raw papaya, tomato and garlic relish and pickles such as adrak ka achar and hari mirch ka achar are very popular . The starting price of one jar is Rs100,”says 34-year- old chef Chandrashekar, who has been making homemade preservative-free pickles for 4 years now.

Economic Challenges

Mango chilli jam available at Rummy Kitchen .

Despite various benefits that come with sustainable products, economic challenges are a barrier to making it a preferred choice for consumers as compared to packaged products. “Organic, fresh ingredients are expensive to acquire. Competing with big brands that produce in bulk and sell at low cost, is difficult. Consumers also prefer buying off-the-shelf products. And convenience and pricing become the determining factor,” says 45-year-old Inderpreet Nagpal, who started her food venture Rummy Kitchen, three years ago.

Inderpreet makes organic pickles and jams. Her range includes chicken, surmai, pork, prawns, keema pickles and jams such as mutton chilli jam and bacon jam. The starting price for one jar is Rs200.

Apart from the expensive ingredients, getting a license to market homemade products to grocery stores is also a challenge. “You need to register and get a license to market your product. To get a license to sell, you need to show a turnover of at least Rs12 lakh minimum. This is why our products don’t make it to grocery stores,” says Sudha Raj.

Aloo Goli available at Just 2 Eat.

So, how does one deal with the economic challenge? 42-year-old Manmohan Singh, who started his venture Just 2 Eat, six months ago, believes that one can deal with economic hindrances by mass producing sustainable food items. “We produce packaged Indian food without using preservatives. Through our NGO Singh Educational Welfare Association along with the help of KVIC (Khadi And Village Industries Commission), we impart culinary skills to children above the age of 16 years in rural places. The advantage of this is that we are able to produce mass quantities of sustainable Indian food. These kids acquire the necessary skills to start their own small venture in the near future. Also, it stops rural migration of the children to metropolitan cities,” says Singh. His products start at Rs90 and include ready-to-eat dishes such as Aloo Gobhi, Rajma Chawal, and Chicken Biryani.

Expert opinion on preservatives

Preservatives contains chemicals such as formalin and sodium metaborate. They are high in sodium content. In the long run, they can harm our internal organs such as heart, liver and the kidneys. They also cause high blood pressure and obesity. Packaged products that have a very long shell life are risky, as they contain too many preservatives. Preservatives can make us feel lethargic and irritated. - Dr Mohsin Wali, cardiologist and former honorary physician to the President