Various Methods of Ayurvedic Food Processing – Ahara Samskara

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
There are many methods of processing the food or methods in which the foods are processed. They are explained under the topic karana in Ayurvedic treatises. Karana is one of the 8 conditions mentioned for intake of ahara i.e. Ahara Vidhi Vishesha Aayatanaani

Karana

What is Karana? Why foods should be processed?
Karana includes the methods of processing the foods or changing their form and consistency or transforming the foods into different forms so as to make them compatible and good enough for consumption.

Many times the foods cannot be consumed directly, as such. As a result the inherent characters (qualities of the food which are inborn) of the food substances and or their form should be changed (transformed) so as to make the foods suitable for intake. In order to change the characters or form of foods, they need to be transformed or processed into a different form, i.e. they should be converted into usable forms using various methods (karana). This would make the consumption and digestion of food substances easier.

Thus, Karana can be defined as – ‘processing of the food substances so as to bring about the transformation of their inherent qualities and characters making them good enough for consumption’.

This transformation of food is called as ‘Samskara or Abhisamskara’. Samskara means ‘Gunantara aadhaana’ i.e. to bring about change in characters and qualities of the food substances.

The below mentioned methods are used for processing the foods –

  • Toya sannikarsha – contact with water, cleansing and treating with water
  • Agni sannikarsha – contact with heat, application of heat, heat processing (heating, boiling, cooking the food on fire)
  • Shoucha – cleaning, washing, rinsing
  • Manthana – churning, grinding
  • Desha – place, region of food (the food properties can be changed or preserved by changing its place), the nature of food also will change according to geography
  • Kala – Time period, season etc too will bring in the changes in the food substances
  • Vasana – Adding the flavoring agents or preservatives or sweet smelling agents
  • Bhavana – impregnation, leaving the food or medicines dipped in certain liquids, titration
  • Kala prakarsha – passage of time, change of season
  • Bhajana – containers or vessels in which the foods are stored, storage and preservation of food

Examples of food processing

Examples of methods of food processing and resultant change in qualities of foods

Suchi, Agni, Toya Sannikarsha

Effect of Shuchi (cleansing), Agni Sannikarsha (contact with fire, cooking) and Toya Sannikarsha (cleansing or treatment with water) on Ahara
Shuchi (cleancing), Toya-Agni Sannikarsha (contact with water and fire) when applied to rice will change the qualities of rice. Shuchi helps in cleansing the rice of its impurities; the same purpose is solved further by toya sannikarsha (treating the rice with water). The same water is also used for boiling or processing the rice (cooking) along with agni snnikarsha (providing heat of fire for cooking the rice mixed with water). All these methods of processing will change the qualities of the rice and make it lighter. The basic quality of gurutva (heaviness) of the rice is lost when it is processed with water and fire and the rice gains lightness. When the processed rice becomes light it becomes easy for it to get digested once it is consumed. Thus shuchi, toya and agni sannikarsha transforms the raw and heavy rice to processed and light form and makes it easy to consume and digest.

Similarly agni samyoga or contact with fire (heat processing) helps in enhancing the laghutva (lightness) of Rakta shali (red rice). The red rice by nature is light but agni samskara or cooking with the help of fire or heat helps in enhancing the lightness of rakta shali and makes it more compatible to consume and easier to digest.

Manthana

Effect of Manthana (churning) on food substances
Manthana or churning of foods also induces good qualities in the food substances. Let us take the example of curds to understand this. Curd basically has the quality of aggravating the shotha (oedema, inflammation). But the same curd on being subjected to manthana or churning process will lose this property of aggravating the shotha. It is also important to note that the curds on churning will develop contrasting quality and will become a good remedy for shotha i.e. the curds on churning develop shothagna property i.e. the churned curds will relieve the edema or alleviate edema (inflammation). This transformation from the shotakrut to shothagna quality in curds is brought about by manthana (churning). The churned curds relieve edema in spite of the fat content in it remaining intact after churning.

Desha

Effect of Desha (land, region) on ahara
The land or region in which the food is grown, is cultivated, is stored has a lot of impact in changing the quality of the food and making them conducive for consumption and health.

Example, Mamsatva (the fleshy quality) is common in all the Mamsas (meats) but the quality of Jangala Mamsa (meat of animals living in desert regions), Anupa Mamsa (meat of animals living in marshy areas) etc will differ from one another. Their impact on health is also different. This transformation and change in quality of food substances is essentially brought about by the impact of the desha i.e. land or region. Jangala pradesha is predominant in Vata quality being windy and dry in nature.

The meat of animals and birds living in the Jangala desha will increase Vata and may not be ideal food for those having vata constitution or those suffering from the diseases caused due to vata vitiation. On the contrary they are good remedies when consumed by people in whom there is Kapha constitution and those suffering from diseases caused by kapha vitiation.

Kala

Effect of Kala (time period) on Ahara
Time period too has an impact on the ahara and brings about transformation (changes) of qualities of the food substances.

Example, Shali or rice is basically guru or heavy in nature when it is fresh. But the same rice becomes laghu (light) after 1 year. This happens due to the effect of time or passage of time. This shows that the kala brings about change in quality of food substances and medicinal herbs.

Similarly unripe fruits will be sour in taste but as the fruits ripe with passage of time (kala), they develop change in taste and become sweet in taste. Likewise there is change in texture and color of the fruit and also in their qualities with passage of time.

Similarly different qualities and essential transformation is brought about in the meat of animals and birds, at different stages and ages of life i.e. at childhood, adolescence, adulthood etc in a same individual, as an effect of maturity and passage of time.

Bhavana

Effect of Bhavana or titration on Ahara
Dipping the food substances or medicines in some other liquid (water, medicinal decoctions, milk, curds, buttermilk, fermented medicinal alcohols etc) and leaving them to stand for certain time will bring about changes in the qualities of the food and medicines.

Visha or poison which has the ability of taking away the life will lose this property to a certain extent after having given bhavana with Gomutra (dipped in cow’s urine) for 3 days or more.

Food grains, dal, vegetables etc when dipped in water or warm water or salt water for certain duration will lose extra potassium, certain toxins etc and will become more conducive and safe to consume.

Kala Prakarsha

Effect of Kala Prakarsha or Passage of time on Ahara
Kala prakarsha or passage of time also has its effect on ahara. This shall not be confused with the effect of kala on food. In Kala Prakarsha it is the passage of time which enhances the quality of a food or medicine, with passage of time, rather than bringing about total transformation of qualities as is seen in the effect of kala.

Example – When Asava, Arishta (fermented liquid medicinal drinks) etc are subjected to Sandhana (closed fermentation, the containers sealed and stored in earth or amidst the heap of grain) and left in place for few months, days or years, their medicinal quality will be enhanced by many folds. This is brought about by Kala Prakarsha or passage of time.

Bhajana

Effect of Bhajana i.e. vessel or storage container on Ahara
Keeping or storing the food ingredients in vessels or containers made up of different materials, metals and substances have different effects on the food substances and also bring about transformation in quality of food substances.

Ghee kept or stored for 10 days in a Kamsya patra (bronze bowl or vessel) becomes visha (poison).
Triphala Kalka or paste of three fruits (Haritaki i.e. Terminalia chebula, Bibhitaki i.e. Terminalia bellirica and Amalaki i.e. Emblica officinalis) coated in an iron vessel when consumed will produce an effect of Rasayana (immune modulator, rejuvenation, anti-ageing).

Vasana

Effect of Vasana or additives on Ahara
Addition of additives changes the quality of foods. Sweet smelling agents like utpala (variety of lotus) when added to water transforms its qualities and brings about flavor and fragrance. Similar fragrance producing herbs and powders are added which enhance the flavor of food and also enrich their taste, they also enhance the quality of food.

The verse explaining Karana ends as Bhajana adibhihi. The word aadi i.e. etc includes other unmentioned factors effecting the change in property of medicines like Gharshana (rubbing or grinding), Abhimantra (reciting holy and sacred hymns), Dhanya rashi (keeping the food substances or the container consisting of food substances kept in or amidst the heap of grains) etc should be considered.

Also, the basic qualities of the herbs are destroyed by destruction of the herb itself.
By processing i.e. frying the rice, it is transformed into laaja or parched or puffed rice. In this context there is a change of the substance itself, and hence there is also a change in qualities of the substance.
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Note from Bhojana Kutuhalam

Sometimes the property of a food may vary based on the method of its processing, e.g old rice that is boiled is light but the same if flattened is rendered heavy.

Similarly by mixing the food substances a new property may develop i.e ghee is heavy to digest,when mixed with a plantain the final product obtained is easily digestible.

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