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Canadians offer cheaper substitutes for costly Indian lentils

Chennai, June 7 (IANS) With prices of pulses skyrocketing in India, China’s Saskatchewan province is offering a much cheaper version of the humble ‘dal’, which also promises not to compromise hugely on the taste and texture of some time-tested recipes.

So the next time you have dosas, idlis, vada, dhokla, laddu, pongal, mysorepak or any other traditional Indian delicacy, don’t be surprised if the basic ingredient is imported from Canada.

‘We have tested the Canadian lentils, small and big, and the lentil flour in various traditional foods, including ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat items,’ said Prof. G. Pushpa of the Coimbatore-based Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

‘In many cases, the lentil flour can be substituted for bengal, green, red or black gram. Also, while making some dishes one can add a portion of the lentil flour and that can reduce the overall cost,’ Pushpa, who specialises in post harvest technology, told IANS.

‘The Canadian lentils cost around Rs.50 per kg, while pulses cost more. These lentils also get cooked faster in a pressure cooker.’ The tur dal, one of the most common pulses used in the state and the main ingredient for sambar, costs Rs.100 per kg.

The university’s finding is part of a $110,000 research project it undertook in 2008 for a Canadian association called the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) for developing green lentil-based food products and transfer the technology to the food industry.

‘The progress of the project is satisfactory,’ said Murray Purcell, SPG chairman who is here as part of a trade delegation from Saskatchewan, led by Minister for Advanced Education Employment and Labour and Immigration Rob Noriss.

‘We arrived at the proportion of the lentil or its flour to be used for more than 30 dishes. We did sample tasting across the state. We also did other tests like consumer acceptability tests,’ Pushpa said.

According to her, the next stage of the project was to train food processors in using the lentil or its flour in preparing the dishes, even as SPG is looking at another big order from the Tamil Nadu government for its produce.

The Tamil Nadu government has been importing these lentils from Canada for its public distribution system for quite some time. Last year, the Saskatchewan province exported $500 million worth of peas, lentils and chickpeas to India, said Norris.

‘Our province accounts for more than 30 percent of global pea and lentil exports,’ Minister Norris said. Saskatchewan, Canadian officials added, also accounts for nearly 99 percent of the country’s lentil and chickpea crops and 77 percent of its pea crop.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be reached at v.Jagannathan@ians.in and biz@ians.in)

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