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Energy booster

Rich in calories, the red gram is known for its remedial effects

RED GRAM or the Pigeon Pea probably originated in the sub-tropical regions of Eastern India. It is one of the oldest and also one of the most popular food crops in the world. India is the world's largest producer of this crop, which is the fifth most popular legume worldwide. The roots of the red gram plant shelter rhizobium bacteria that turn atmospheric nitrogen into nitrate soil fertilizer. Farmers love this plant because its soil-enriching effect makes rotation agriculture and mixed farming cheaper by lowering the fertilizer demand of the soil.

Apart from being a valuable food crop, the plant is a host for the lac-producing insect, and the leaves are fodder for silk worms. While Indians consume the red gram mostly as dhal, the plant and the green seeds are common ingredients in soups and salads in Kenya and Tanzania, and the green pods are a common vegetable in Latin America. Like all legumes, the red gram is an energy-dense, protein-rich food.

About 100 gm of the dried split seed contains 335 calories, with nearly 23 gm of lysine-rich vegetable protein. And like most legumes, the red gram is deficient in the amino acids methionine, cysteine and tryptophan, which must be supplied in the diet. Barring the relative deficiency of these aminos, the protein profile resembles that of the king of plant proteins, the soybean. The dhal also contains valuable amounts of the B vitamins — riboflavin, thiamine and niacin, significant amounts of inorganic nutrients like magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and sulphur, and small quantities of iron. In recent years, North India, West Bengal and Gujarat experienced a rash of nervous and skeletal disorders arising from the consumption of contaminated red gram. The condition, lathyrism, affects humans and livestock. The nervous type affects humans, while animals experience skeletal deformities. The human form manifests itself as spastic paralysis of the lower limbs. The culprit is Kesari dhal — especially the toxin, Beta oxalyl amino alanine (B.O.A.A.) present in its seeds. Kesari dhal is a common adulterant in red gram sold in some States. Soaking the pulse in hot water for two hours and then draining off the liquid washes away the water-soluble toxin.

This method also washes out most of the vitamins and inorganic nutrients in the dhal.

The leaves of the plant are an antiseptic, and their use as such is common in folk medicine in India. In Chinese medicine, the roots are a common sedative, cough remedy and de-worming agent. In South America, the leaves are a common remedy for sexually transmitted diseases.


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