The pandemic has brought in 360-degree change in the way we consume food. Being healthier has become our motto. Choosing functional ingredients is the latest trend among fitness freaks as they function exactly as per each person’s requirement.
In 1994, the National Academy of Sciences’ Food and Nutrition Board defined functional foods as any modified food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains.
Nutritionist and certified diabetes educator Madhavi Karmokar Sharma, founder, Informed Health, quoted this to describe the new trend. “These are those ingredients that have disease-preventing, energy-boosting and health-promoting advantages. The elements that will be added to the end product are expected to be an extract from a natural source of the active ingredient,” says Madhavi.
Functional foods are not very different from ‘super food’. Nuts, seeds, fruits, ingredients like apple cider vinegar and honey – all come under functional foods. Madhavi lists factors for the demand in functional foods. “First are the ever-rising medical issues such as obesity, type-2 diabetes and digestive disorders. Second, there is an increasing nutritional and health awareness among people. Both factors favour the rise to provide fortified, convenient-to-use and wholesome foods and drinks rich in nutritional content. The rising urbanisation and income levels among the youth is also propelling the demand for the food industry to incorporate functional ingredients in their foods and drinks.”
Chef Ritesh Tulsian, chef and managing partner, Authenticano Hospitality Pvt. Ltd., says functional foods or ingredients are products providing basic nutrition along with additional benefits like increasing one’s immunity, energy boost and so on. “Since the Covid outbreak, people have realised the importance of health more than ever before. A healthy body is no longer associated with weight loss or muscle gain but having a fit mind and body,” said Tulsian.
The changing times bring in new fads in the food industry but they fade away soon, says chef Vidushi Sharma, co-founder, Truffle & Co. “The pandemic has shaken people up. Spending more time at home has given us time to introspect. Now, people are moving away from diets like Keto and Paleo and consuming functional foods which are dense in nutrition and have multiple benefits,” says Vidushi.
The opinion on the importance of functional foods is unanimous. Aditi Handa, The Sourdough Protagonist, head baker and co-founder of The Baker’s Dozen, an iconic artisan bakery brand, finds a difference between functional food and functional ingredients.
“Functional food provides health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Functional ingredients are a bioactive element that are used to make functional food. As the Indian audience is observing a watchful shift in their consumption pattern, there is a rising demand for the functional food and ingredients that tap the aspects of emotional and physical well-being,” says Handa.
Something as healthy as functional ingredients will have its advantages. Tulsian says, “Each human being has a different lifestyle and body type. These ingredients have a specific role to play and will function exactly as per our requirement.” Handa adds that she finds powerful health benefits in functional food and ingredients.
“From keeping nutrient deficiency at bay to propelling growth and development, the ingredients’ characteristics naturally place them in the category of nutrients, vitamin, mineral, healthy fat and fibre providers. The powerful ingredients help in neutralising harmful compounds and so protect against diseases. Besides food rich in Omega 3 and fibre, it can promote heart health and protect one against common health issues such as diabetes, obesity and more.”
Madhavi finds the ingredients enriched in carotenoids, dietary fibres and flavonoids. “Carotenoids are fat-soluble pigments found in most plants, fruits, flowers, algae and photosynthetic bacteria, and in some non-photosynthetic bacteria, yeasts and moulds,” she says.
These have been shown to fight cancer, cardiovascular diseases and degenerative eye disorders and regulate cholesterol. Dietary fibre of the likes of cellulose, hemicellulose, polyfructoses, galactooligosaccharides, gums, mucilages, pectins, lignin and so on helps improve bowel movement and fight constipation, says the nutritionist.
“Fibre also aids weight management. Flavonoids are polyphenolics plant compounds that have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain antioxidants, which are good for health,” says Madhavi.
Different people, different needs
Tulsian first wants everyone to understand these ingredients considering one’s body type and the way it would aid them in their fitness goals.
It is important to consult a certified nutritionist to use functional ingredients correctly. “Do not follow any random diets suggested by glamorous influencers on social media but consume the ingredients under proper supervision and guidance,” he says.
Handa stresses on checking one’s body type before including functional ingredients in one’s daily meals and diet. “If our body asks for better gut health, we need to opt for products that are gut-friendly like sourdough and fermented food like kefir and kombucha. If we want to prevent nutrient deficiency, we need to consume food power-packed with nutrients like nuts and seeds.”
Going overboard in food habits can be dangerous, warns Vidushi. “Certain functional foods may even have side-effects if consumed more than you require or may even trigger an adverse reaction. Moderation and variation are the keys. It’s a great idea to add some chia seeds to coconut water but limit its intake to once a day,” she says.
Mah Poh Tofu
Silken tofu – 150 gms
Chinese fermented chilli bean paste – 3 tbsp
Chopped carrots – 1
Chopped green beans – 4–5
Oil – 2 tbsp
Chopped ginger – 1 tbsp
Chopped garlic – 2 tbsp
Chopped celery – 1 tbsp
Vegetable stock – 1 cup
Corn starch – 2 tbsp
Salt as per taste
Sugar as per taste
Blanch carrots and beans. Cut tofu into cubes. Heat oil in a wok/ frying pan and sauté ginger, garlic and celery. Add the fermented chilli bean paste and stir fry. Add the blanched veggies and mix them well. Add vegetable stock; bring it to a boil, reduce the heat and then add the tofu. Braise for 5 minutes over low heat and then thicken it with cornstarch slurry. Season it with salt and sugar. Serve with fried or steam rice.
NOTE: The functional ingredients here are the fermented chilli bean paste. Fermented foods help in maintaining the gut and functioning of the intestinal tract more efficiently. This results in a smoother digestive system with increased metabolism and stronger immunity. Taste and flavour-wise, it has the right amount of heat with complex umami.
- Recipe by Ritesh Tulsian, chef and managing partner, Authenticano Hospitality Pvt. Ltd.
Kale and Blueberry Salad
Kale – 150 gms
Blueberries – 25 gms
Shredded carrot – 20 gms
Snow peas – 20 gms
Crushed almonds – 5 gms
For the dressing,
Olive oil – 50 gms
Apple cider vinegar – 15 gms
Dijon mustard – 5 gms
Garlic, crushed – 1 clove
Jaggery – 5 gms
Salt as per taste
Pepper as per taste
Wash kale thoroughly to remove dirt and impurities. Toast almonds in a dry pan. In a salad bowl, arrange the kale, blueberries, carrots and snow peas. In a glass jar, add all the ingredients for the dressing and shake. Drizzle the dressing on the salad and toss well. Top with toasted almonds and serve chilled.
- Recipe by chef Vidushi Sharma, co-founder, Truffle & CO
Mushroom Thyme Toasties with Chilli Cheese Sourdough
Mushroom – 100 gms
Garlic – 6 cloves
Butter – 1 to 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper as per taste
Ricotta – 50 gms
Thyme – Just a sprinkle
Chilli cheese sourdough – 4 slices
Chop mushrooms and garlic. Melt butter in a frying pan and sweat the mushrooms. Add garlic, salt and pepper and sauté until mushrooms turn brown and start to crisp. Toast and butter your chilli cheese sourdough and build your mushroom toastie. Spread ricotta, or heat the toasties on your pan to melt a cheese of your choice. Top with mushrooms and sprinkle with fresh thyme.
- Recipe by Aditi Handa, The Sourdough Protagonist, head baker and co-founder, The Baker’s Dozen