Parothas: a staple food in India

by Waykar Uttam and Martina Mollenhauer
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Parothas
Product requires simple ingredients but complex preparation.
Photo courtesy of Mühlenchemie.
 
Parothas are in a class of their own. From the simplest ingredients, Indian artisan bakers conjure up delicious products that look and taste like a mixture of flatbread, pancakes and puff pastry.

 

Parothas are a regular feature of everyday meals in South and North India and are eaten from early in the morning until late evening.

Although there are different methods of preparation, recipes and alternative spellings of parotha (paratha, parotta, parontay, porotta, parathe) in each of the 29 Indian states, all the variants have one thing in common: the production process is always elaborate and takes a large measure of skill and patience.

One of the main ingredients is wheat flour (atta/maida). Consumers in northern regions prefer the stronger taste of wholemeal (atta) parothas. By far the largest percentage of the atta flour is stone-ground instead of being produced in roller mills. The capacity of these stone mills ranges from a few hundred kilograms to over a hundred tonnes a day.

Another important raw material besides flour is fat — not only as an ingredient of the recipe but as an aid to preparation of the dough. It is the constant moistening of the dough with ghee, butter or oil that leads to the formation of separate layers that do not stick together. The correct dosing of the fat requires instinct, for the aim is to make parothas that are neither too dry nor too heavy, and with tender layers that melt in the mouth.

Besides unfilled parothas, Indian bakeries offer numerous variants and augment the basic recipe, for example with a spicy potato mash (aloo parotha) or with spinach (palak parotha) or peas (green pea parotha). The filling is either kneaded directly into the dough, or the dough is laid around the filling like an envelope.

The secret of the parotha lies in the layering of the dough. Parothas are made from extremely extensible dough that is rolled, worked and folded until thin strips consisting of several layers form. These are then twisted around into a spiral shape. In a final step, the spiral balls are pressed flat, rolled with a rolling pin and then shallow fried.

The equipment used in the process is often basic. The owners of the street stalls sometimes use neither a mechanical mixer nor a rolling pin.

The mark of a perfect parotha is an irregularly browned surface on both sides in which the spiral layers are visible.

Malabar parothas

“Malabar” parothas are typical South India parothas, equally popular, dipped in a cup of tea for breakfast, as an accompaniment to spicy chicken curry, with vegetarian potato korma or to go with peppery lentil dal. Crisp on the outside, pleasantly soft inside — and best of all, fresh and still warm. For Indians, that is the ideal way to eat their traditional bakery product. Countless roadside stalls and restaurants make sure there is an endless around-the-clock supply. Industrial production plays only a minor role in this segment.

This is a typical recipe and preparation method for Malabar parothas (south Indian style):

  • Wheat flour: 1,000 g
  • Salt: 10 g
  • Sugar: 10 g
  • Oil (dough preparation): 150 g
  • Oil (additional requirement during dough preparation and baking, approximately): 350 g
  • Water: 600 g
  • Optional ingredients: sugar, eggs, milk, etc.

 

Procedure for parothas

  1. Mix flour and salt with water.
  2. Knead well to make a smooth dough.
  3. Cover with wet muslin cloth and set aside for 1 hour.
  4. Then take up the dough, add a little more oil and knead well once again (the gluten will develop, and the dough will expand like elastic when you draw it out).
  5. Make 70 gram balls from the dough and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  6. Roll out each ball into a very thin, flat round shape using a rolling pin and rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Stretch the sheeted dough from all sides to form a very thin layer. Cut the sheet into two halves.
  8. Hold the sheet at one end and roll from one end to the other to make a long strip.
  9. Curl the strip spirally toward the center.
  10. Flatten the ball by hand to join all the curves and allow to rest for 5 minutes (in this way the parotha will become a single round shape with several spiral layers in it).
  11. Place the parotha in a hot pan and cook with a little oil until both sides are golden brown.
  12. Apply plenty of oil on both sides during the process.
  13. Pat the parotha to separate the layers.

Fluctuating flour qualities

Because of the elaborate production process, bakeries constantly have to contend with difficulties and unsatisfactory results in the products. In order to meet consumers’ high expectations of parothas each day, it is especially important to ensure suitable flour quality.

One of the main problems is fluctuating flour properties, but these may be compensated for with suitable flour improvers.

Below are the ideal properties for parotha flour:

  • Protein: 10-12 %
  • Dry gluten: 10-11%
  • Ash: 0.48-0.50 %
  • Damaged starch: 8-9%
  • Falling number: 300-400
  • Sedimentation value: 26-30 ml
  • Water absorption: 61-64%
  • Farinograph stability: 6-8 minutes
  • Extensograph resistance: 500-550 BU
  • Extensograph extensibility: 150-180 mm.

 

Of course, it is essential to adhere to each country’s specifications.

In India, these are the strict regulations of the FSSAI (Food Safety Standard Act of India); in neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Nepal, where multi-layered flatbreads are also very popular, other regulations are in force.

Problems, Possible solutions

From the point of view of baking technology, the following agents are most suitable for dealing with the problems occurring in parotha production:

Problem: Dough too tight.

Possible causes: Strong flour with low extensibility; flour with added oxidizing agent or the enzyme glucose oxidase.

Solution: The flour may be corrected by adding a reducing agent, proteolytic enzymes, a gluten improving agent, a combination of all the above, or an emulsifier.

Problem: Slack dough (loose dough).

Possible causes: Flour with excessive starch damage; weak gluten properties.

Solution: Blend flours to achieve optimum starch damage. Add vitamin C or glucose oxidase.

Problem: Parothas dry after baking.

Possible causes: Parothas over-baked; weak flour.

Solution: Use a gluten improving agent; control the baking temperature; add a hydrocolloid such as guar gum.

Problem: Poor separation of parotha layers/insufficient flakiness.

Possible causes: Flour with weak gluten; flour with added oxidizing agent.

Solution: Use flour of suitable quality; add softening agents, protease or hemicellulase.

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