While popcorn is one of the most celebrated snacks in today’s world, there are also other grains that can be popped. Anyone who has visited the temples of Kerala has seen the offerings of popped rice, also known as parched rice or laja in Sanskṛt.
What is Laja?
भृष्टानां शालीनां तण्डुलाः - लाजाः ।
(Ayurveda Rasayanam commentary on Astängahrdaya 1-6 / 36)
Laja is the product of rice obtained by roasting undried and unhusked rice paddy. This wisdom has been preserved since the 12th century CE, in a commentary by Hemadri, upon the 2nd century CE classic medical text, Astängahrdaya. Master clinician-scientist Hemadri tells us it is safe to eat parched rice.
Qualities of laja
लाजास्तृट्छर्घतीसारमेहमेदः कफच्छिदः ।।
कासपित्तोपशमना दीपना लघवो हिमाः ।
(Ashtanga Hṛdayam Sutra-Sthanam, chapter 6 sloka 36)
Laja is beneficial in trsna (thirst), chardi (vomiting), atisara (diarrhea), prameha (diabetic spectrum of disease ), medas (fat including adipose tissue), kapha, kāsa (cough), and pitta. It is dipana (lighting the digestive fires, carminative), laghu (easy to digest) and sheeta (cooling to the body) .
Laja is made from rice cereal which is inherently guru (heavy to digest) in its wet and unhusked raw form, unlike processed rice. Yet laja is laghu. The principles of food processing, known as samskara, transform this guru dravya (substance) into a laghu (easy to digest) dravya using heat. In the case of laja, roasting is the samskara that reduces the water content and makes the rice more easily readied for transformation by the human gut.
Culinary Recipes with Laja
Laja can be chewed as a snack by mixing it with a handful of raw coconut gratings and jaggery.
Laja can also be powdered after drying in the sun for about 15-20 minutes, then adding coconut, sugar, and ghee, mixing and eating immediately. This powdered laja is a specific snack made in the time of Ashtami Rohini, also known as Krishna Janmashtami in the North India. It occurs when the moon is in its stellar constellation sector known as Rohini. It occurs on the eighth night of Krishna Paksha in Bhadrapada Masa, which is the 8th night of the darkening (krishna) or waning moon, in the ancient month of Bhadrapaada in August-September. During this time when the weather is hot in the northern hemisphere, a food that is both easy to digest and which lowers pitta is highly medicinal.
Preparation of Laja Manda
Laja can also be made into a porridge called laja manda. Manda is a porridge. It is commonly used as a part of therapeutic diet guidelines when a person is sick with vomiting or diarrhea, because it is easy to digest and lowers the inflammation qualities of pitta in the irritated gut.
Laja manda is prepared by adding laja to water in the ratio of 1:14 and cooking on a low flame until the laja is fully cooked. This normally takes about 5-7 minutes. The super dilute liquid made through this process is known as laja manda.
(Caraka Samhita Sutra Sthana, chapter 27, sloka 254)
Transliteration: tr̥ṣṇātīsāraśamanō dhātusāmyakaraḥ śivaḥ|
lājamaṇḍō'gnijananō dāhamūrcchānivāraṇaḥ ||254||
(Ca.Sū., Chapter 27, Annapanavidhi Adhyaya)
Translation: The thin gruel of roasted (rice) paddy flour removes fatigue particularly in people ailing with weakened voice. The gruel water of roasted (rice) paddy flour alleviates thirst and diarrhea, maintains normalcy of tissue elements, is generally considered beneficial to health and even auspicious, stimulates agni and is effective in treating burning sensation as well as fainting.
The very dilute liquid made from paddy correctly is said to alleviate thirst and diarrhea, maintain normalcy of tissue elements and promote digestion. It is effective in treating diseases with predominant symptoms of burning sensation and fainting. Since it is predominantly aap mahabhuta (water element), it also replenishes the fluids in the body.
The unique combination of gunas in laja makes it extremely useful. When the digestion is weak in the heat of summer, or in cases of vomiting and diarrhea, pouring water onto fire will douse the fire to critical levels. Without digestive fire, we perish. This is why drinking too much water at once decreases our digestive fire. But in situations where fluids in the body are depleted, and the digestion is weak, laja manda serves as the perfect complement of gunas, as cooked water processed in laja becomes easy to digest. This dilute rice gruel steadily increases the digestive fire, and simultaneously replenishes the body fluids.
Laja manda can also be further processed by cooking with pippali (long pepper) and śunti (ginger), as these made any food even easier to digest. They light the digestive fires, clean the channels of the gut but also around the body where the food nutrients are trying to reach.
Studies show the advantages of cereal-based ORS (oral rehydration supplementation or salts) in replenishing electrolyte loss in diarrhoea. One study comparing the efficacy of cereal-based ORS and conventional glucose-based ORS concludes –
“In clinical trials of children and adults with high-output diarrhea, such as in cases of cholera, the use of cereal-based oral rehydration solutions (ORS) compared with glucose-based ORS produced significant (20% to 53%) reductions in stool volumes. In one study the duration of diarrhea was shortened by 30%. In noncholera diarrhea in children, cereal-based ORS was as effective as glucose-based ORS.” 1
Laja manda is also a cereal-based solution as a meal for young children and malnourished or convalescing patients. Its action likely works on similar grounds.
Laja can be made into delicious snacks and can also be used therapeutically, thus becoming a must-have ingredient in the kitchen. While we enjoy experimenting with new and exotic dishes, it is also important to hold on to traditional recipes handed-down unbroken, because they are curated with intelligence and experience. In today's world, people often know only unhusked and polished white rice and brown rice, yet the use of paddy is still revered in traditional Bharatiya families and ayurvedic hospitals.
- Khin-Maung U, Greenough WB III Cereal-based Oral Rehydration Therapy. I. Clinical studies. 1991. The Journal of Pediatrics, 118(4 Pt 2), S72–S79.