The Art of Making Idli

Posted: December 25, 2010 in Culinary, Life, The dishes, US
Tags: , , ,

It was sometime 2,3 weeks back where my IDLI didn’t come as expected..  (Think about any oath taking scene from a tamil cinema  😀 and read the following line), At that moment I decided to find the science behind Idli.  I was searching the Internet and spent almost half a day (wasting) researching . The idea of this post gave birth then, but due to sheer laziness and wasting time in playing Poker in facebook,  this post is published now… 😀

Requirement: A Soft and spongy IDLI

Scope: The scope of this post covers preparing Idli in hot and humid places like India and cool places like Denver, Colorado

TestLocation: Denver, Colorado, US.

Expected Output: Soft idli

Actual Output: ?!#$@%!@#$!   (Writing the post before I could taste my idli 😀 😀 )  and the actual output will not be updated here.. 😀 😀

Ingredients: Rice and Urad dal…. (3:1 ratio) just 2….. yes just 2 but picking the right variety matters and there are a quite a few factors which we have to keep in mind while preparing the batter.

The Science: The fermentation of the batter is the thing that matters.. if it ferments well, then the Idli is expected to be good. The fermentation is caused by yeast. The functionality of the urad dal is to draw the yeast from air; so does the  Fenugreek seeds.  That is Y, a small amout of Fenu is added to the urad dal (or/and) rice. In addition, it improves the flavour and texture of the batter. Excess amount of Fenu will lead to a bitter taste.

Rice: The rice is classified into 3 types:  Long, Medium and Short Grain rice.

They all contain 2 types of starches: Amylose and Amylopectin. Amylopectin is said to be the reason behind the softness in Idli. The more the amylopectin is, more softer the idli would be. Out of the 3 types of rices, short grain rices has more Amylopectin. If you take a handful of the so called  idli rice and the normal rice which you use for the meal; the first one would be shorter and plumpy; the second one would be longer and thin.  Idli should go with any variety of short grain rice. For the people outside India, If you are not getting the Idli rice, the Arborio rice from the Italian origin is said (by someone) to be suitable for making Idli. The rice are measured by a method  called Swelling Number. As the amylopectin increases, the SN increased.It’s upto you to try different varieties of them.

Varieties of Rice: ; ;

When I was doing my research on Idli, I came across a beautiful video which is shared below:

Do we have any such thing in TN??  Feeling  proud of the Punjabi’s … Unfortunate to have quite a few Punjabi friends.

Back to the story………..

Water: Chlorine in water would destroy the yeast and the fermentation might not occur as expected. Chlorine filtered or spring water is suggested while preparing the batter.

Salt: Iodine also destroys yeast, so iodized salt is not suitable. Mix the salt after it has fermented or use kocher salt.

Temperature: It has to be 80-90 deg Fahrenheit to achieve a decent amount of fermentation.  Make sure to you increase your heater. I had also read that we can keep the batter inside the oven (if you are not using the oven).

If all the above conditions are maintained, it is guaranteed that your idli is soft, smooth and tasty.

The following site gives you the above details with more biological terms

Thanks to all of those how viewed this post:

aaappppppy idli making….


  1. J@n@ says:

    Dheivame…idly ku ivalo periya oru blog eluthi athula science terms ellam iluthathu neenga oruthara than iruka mudiyum….mudiyala…

  2. mukerv says:

    ahah ha a.. thanks jana

  3. Venkat says:

    Good Research in Idli, unga veetla ungala thaniya vitathala naraya kandu budikarainga…We will try this idli in this long weekend.

  4. Madhu Ganesh says:

    I applaud this effort and many who are doing the same. Its time we step idli’s game. Fermentation is an extremely interesting process that improves not just taste but the nutritional quality of the food.
    I see this post but a small suggestion would be to specify if you measured the ingredients by volume or weight. If you measured by volume, please switch to weight and if you used weight please use grams for units. The reason being that people measure volume differently, my 1 cup may not be the same as yours. Weight is more accurate and easy to replicate.
    All said, this week I am going to do my on going testing of golden ratio. So far so good with 1:1.618 Basmati rice:water for fluffy(not sticky) rice and water:flour for yeast bread. All measure in grams.

    For Idli, I plan to use 1:1.618 of dehulled whole blackgram:some short grained rice.

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