A brief history of Snacking

People love to snack. But has anyone wondered why humans have a habit of snacking? The closest analogy we can draw from the animal world is the chewing of the cud by animals like cows, camels et al. Some studies have suggested that the top 5 reasons (let’s call these the “5Rs of Snacking”) for snacking in humans are stress, boredom, celebration, sadness and procrastination. These states of mind are responsible for the consumption of calories that the body does not need.

Right from kindergarten we are taught about balanced diets. My son who is in LKG has already been taught the importance of a balanced diet, that includes requisite proportions of carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, minerals and vitamins. As adults we tend to forget these basic lessons and fill our tummies with all sort of food, citing one of the 5 Rs of Snacking (refer para 1).

Snacks can be broadly classified into two categories as per the taste palette viz. sweet and savoury. The products can also be categorized on the basis of their origin viz Western and Traditional. In the wake of the economic reforms since ’91, the market has been flooded with branded products from all over the world. As kids we never heard of a product called a Donut (a sweet snack); today however it is a birthday party or tea time staple. In Hindi there is a saying that roughly translates into English as “In India the water changes with every mile one travels; the language changes with every four”. We can probably add snacking products to this adage. The variety of traditional snacks in India is simply mindboggling. Snacks can either be freshly prepared like Samosas (All Purpose flour cones filled with a spiced mashed potato filling and deep fried) or Bhajia (gram flour fritters); or ready to eat (RTE) like Sev (spiced deep fried noodles made of gram flour), chips or wafers of potato.

A generation ago people did not have ready access to RTE snacking products. Most of the households used to make RTE snacks and store them in their larders for a few weeks. It was a communal activity participated in by the womenfolk. All that changed with the advent of mass manufacturing in the food processing space.Since these were home made, they had relatively low shelf life and manual labor restricted the production capacity. New processing techniques gave these items a longer shelf life and modern manufacturing enabled economies of scale. Even so the availability of the branded RTE snacks was restricted to big cities.However, in the last 20 years or so,as the economy boomed and last mile connectivity got better, the RTE snacking products proliferated into the Indian hinterland. The business innovation of the 5 Rs pack has made these products accessible to even kids. The ubiquitous garlands of shiny packs hanging on storefronts is a common sight even in the remotest parts of the country today.

The RTE snacks– savory (unsavoury??) or sweet, are packed with empty calories (calories from maida, potatoes etc devoid of any nutritional benefits) that are harmful for the body beyond measure. The media used for frying these products introduce “transfats”, that is short for trans-unsaturated fatty acids. The partially hydrogenated vegetable oils which are the mainstay of most processed foods, introduce these transfats. In India we know them as “Dalda” or “Vanaspati Ghee”.Margarine used in most baked products is another example. Excessive consumption of foods fried in transfat, has been linked to cardiovascular ailments, obesity, inflammation et al. Ergo, the Trifecta of the obesity epidemic - cheap and easyavailability of delivery mechanisms of Transfats and Empty Calories namely, chips/wafers/sev/donuts/biscuits. Together with taste enhancers like mono-sodium glutamate or Ajino Moto, the Trifecta morphs into a witch’s cauldron brewing a poisonous concoction of (un)savoury relishes. Children are addicted to these (un)savoury foods and doting parents (including us ☹) are loathe to deprive them of their demands. Office workers incessantly munch on these (un)savoury products to beat work related stress. Little do they realize the malware they are embedding in their systems.

Obesity in India has reached epidemic proportions. A study published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, cites a survey conducted in select citied of India that says 6.8% of the population in India might be obese. I do not ascribe the whole blame for this to snacking habits. Indian food habits in general are unhealthy. However the up-trend in consumption of (un)savoury snacks is a major contributor to this scourge.

This begs the question, is all snacking unhealthy? Of course not. One can replace the (un)savouries with fresh salads, cucumber, carrots etc. I know!! Yucky right? But do not lose hope, here are a plethora of crunchy munchies that satiate your appetite for the savoury. Tree nuts (like almonds, cashew nuts, pistachios); dried seeds (like pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, flax seeds etc); roasted peanuts; pulses (like Bengal gram, Cabuli Chana, green mung) either roasted or boiled et al. Options are many; availability is the main problem. These are not readily available in the market in the RTE form. Enthusiasts make small batches at home for themselves and their families. I envisage a day when these healthy snacking options are as easily and as cheaply available in the market, as the (un)savoury cousins.

Hope you all enjoyed reading this inaugural edition of the CoatUncoat (CU) blog. I have tried to keep this short, concise and informative. If you enjoyed reading this show us some love on Facebook, Twitter and Insta. The linksare available in the footer of this website. Soon we will be introducing some characters that you will all love.

CU all soon!!

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