Its co-occurrence with harvest time may not be a coincidence. During this time, grains and cereals are worshipped in the form of grass and eating them is avoided. The usual range of cereals such as rice, wheat and millets are replaced by alternative cereals such as buckwheat, chestnut, sago, amaranth and a special variety of rice, known as samak rice (Barnyard millet).
Amaranth, chestnuts and samak are, in fact, not true cereals. Rather they are seeds of fruits. These are also referred to as pseudo cereals as they do not grow in grass like wheat and rice.
A research published in 2010 on pseudo cereals such as buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth found that they not only had a higher percentage of protein than wheat but also a better quality. In particular, Lysine, the limiting amino acid in wheat and rice, can be found in high amounts in all pseudo cereals except Samaj rice. Psuedo cereals are also better sources of vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium and fibre, among others.
One of the spin-offs of using alternative grains is the nutritional advantage of the inclusion of several traditional and rarely-used grains. Interestingly, most of the pseudo cereals are gluten free and lend well to easy digestion.
Also known as rajgiri, it is high in proteins, dietary fibre, iron, magnesium, zinc, calcium and B-vitamins. Its corn-like aroma and woody flavour makes it suitable for breakfast cereals and porridge-like dishes.
Amaranth can also be ground into flour, which, in turn can be used to make breads, chapattis or parathas. The flour is usually ground along with its hull, which helps retain most of its nutrients.
Commonly known as kuttu, buckwheat is high in good quality protein, magnesium, vitamin B6, dietary fibre, iron, niacin (vitamin B3), thiamine (vitamin B1) and zinc. During the navratras, buckwheat flour is usually rolled into chapattis, poories or pakoras. Owing to its nutty flavour, it makes a delicious hot cereal. It can also be added to salads, stuffing, soups, stews and casseroles. It can be ground to make a grey-brown flour which has a distinct, bitter and earthy flavour. There are two varieties of buckwheat light and dark coloured. The dark variety is traditionally used during fasts to make special Indian roti. The Russian blinis and French galettes use the lighter versions. The seeds, when roasted are called kasha. They can be coarsely ground into grits or groats.
Commonly known as Singhara in India, it is a highly nutritive fruit, which is a good source of carbohydrates, calcium, phosphate, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, sodium and potassium. The benefits of water chestnut flour can be enjoyed in the form of chapattis or pancakes.
Sago (pearl sago, sabudana)
Sago is predominantly carbohydrate with very little protein, vitamins, minerals and fat. It comprises small balls of starch prepared from the inner trunk of various types of palm trees. Sago resembles tapioca but the starch balls are smaller. Sago may be bought as it is or ground into flour. Owing to its thickening properties, it may be used to thicken soups, sauces, stews, puddings, snack food, savoury or sweet porridge or desserts like kheer. Sago starch is also baked in breads, pancakes or biscuits.
Also called barnyard millet, it is a seed and not a grain. It is high on calcium, potassium, phosphorus and amino acids except lysine. It is usually eaten with hull, which retains majority of its nutrients. Samaj rice can used to make kheer, khichdi, idli or dhokla.