Do you often wonder about the small details of idli fermentation process – like should you salt the batter before or after fermentation? Does it even make a difference? Then, you have come to the right place.
So, I conducted an experiment – a sample size of 1. (This is a blog post, not a funded NIH study, after all :)!!)
I made the idli batter using the traditional method. Then I split the batter into 2 parts. Part 1 – I salted the batter. Part 2- I left it unsalted. I fermented them both and studied the results.
After fermentation, this is how they looked…
Ok, I admit…the photos don’t reveal much yet. But, look what happens when you stir the batter…
As you can see, the salted batter has better desired fermented consistency. The unsalted batter also underwent fermentation, but the quality of the batter was much better with the salted version.
I did an informal survey with all my aunts and they all salt the batter before fermentation. Almost all – add the salt in the last few minutes of grinding the rice and then mix with the ground urad dal batter, and then ferment.
Does the science back this? – Yes
One of the prominent microbes that are grown during the idli fermentation process is Leuconostoc mesenteroides. It has been published that L. mesenteroides initiates relatively rapid growth over a wide range of salt concentrations.
In simple words, what this means – is that the addition of salt does NOT inhibit the fermentation process.
On top of that, my photos seem to suggest that the salt actually results in a much more favorable batter consistency. Now this is just a sample size of 1. But, the results seem to concur with what the elders have been saying all along. So my conclusions are:
- Adding Salt does not inhibit the idli fermentation process.
- Adding salt actually results in a better batter quality than an unsalted batter.
I could have listened to my mom and other elders who tell me pretty much the same thing. But, I can never accept status quo without finding the reason behind it. Unfortunately, that’s me in a nutshell!!
Now that I have seen the results with my own eyes, I plan on salting the batter in the future :).
Share your comments and experiences with idli batter below!!
Thats cool. I like to experiment too. Yogurt setting was inconsistent for me just by touch as i felt i let boiled milk cool too long before adding starter even in instapot. Sometimes just forgot. Most places say 110F but i found 130F is fine. So if boiled milk is at 180F it would roughly cool 1F/min and so in about 50min it would be 130F i could add the starter. Works well.
Cool!! I like to think there is a kitchen scientist hidden in all of us!! 🙂
I can’t thank you enough! I forgot to add salt and was worried if Idlis will turn out ok. Just didn’t realise it will still ferment with no salt added, this really helped! Now I’ll wait and see how the Idlis do turn out
You are welcome!! You will be fine, and hope that seeing your fermented batter tomorrow makes you happy!! 🙂
I am glad to hear adding salt prior is not a problem because I hate to disturb the frothy batter on top which I use for idlis.
But I have read that some additives in salt can affect fermentation. So I avoid iodized sea salt, which I generally use for cooking and use non-iodized sea salt instead for fermentation. What has your experience been?
My dad was a stickler for sea salt, when it came to batters. He had a gut feel that it was superior to the flowing kind.
But I have used all kinds of salt, and haven’t noticed much difference. It is a good question, but at this point, unfortunately, I have no useful observations to add. In the future, I will watch closely, and report my findings, if they are of any significance.Thanks!!
I am 100% with your dad on sea salt for batter. 1 pidi for 1 padi was my mother’s teaching. I grind urad and rice separately, add salt after grinding and mix. Use my hands for mixing. Use coarse sea salt, mostly. I learnt cooking from my mother and aunts. The dishes that require fine salt, I use fine sea salt. I have noticed a difference in taste. Hard to describe, enhanced is the word that comes to mind.
Enhanced, it is, then!! Your detailed description already tells me that you have expertise in this area. Thanks for explaining it so well to the viewers. Much appreciated!!
wow!!! great dear!!! congratz..keep it up.
Swetha, cooking for me is a passion, almost an obsession. I see your passion for food and loveI how you experiment and explore. I am slowly documenting my recipes for my children and my ABCD family members who call me for recipes.
Fantastic…I would love to read your blog someday, if you decide to start one. Wish you the best!!
Thank you, Swetha! I learnt old school way, totally andaz se. The challenge is trying to think through my steps and writing down the measurements. If I do eventually decide to post on a blog, I will share the link.
A youtube channel might be more suited for your cook-by-feel approach. You could verbally explain the nuances.
Although setting up a blog and writing down recipes is easy too, once you develop a habit. You will figure out your own path, when you are ready.
I enjoyed your blog, Swetha and I am looking forward to reading more. I added salt to my batter yesterday and felt so happy reading what you wrote, LOL!
I’m a dicey cook. Stuff either turns out great or really awful. The approach that you have taken is the only one that works for me – observe, compare and understand the science behind the process to avoid repeat mistakes.
Keep it up!
Thank you Deepti…Yup, science for me is like the straight arrow that helps me understand a concept more wholly. Looks like we both think of cooking quite similarly – Awesome!!
Thank you Swetha I am curious how fruit salt works with idli batter if you can explain please
Hi Pavi, unfortunately you cannot use fruit salt in this method; because you are going for a longer process of fermentation.
Fruit salts contain baking powder/baking soda ingredients which make it possible for instant rises – like in rava idli. However to get the normal idli batter to rise, you have to wait for 10-12 hours and let the bacteria work and use the actions of the microorganisms to rise the batter.
Thanks to all for all this info! I’m a newbie at making dosa and idli, but I have been making all of my bread since the 70s, including some sourdough, which is better started without the salt. So it’s good to know this about being able to add the salt initially, without delaying the fermentation. I always have some kosher salt that I grind up very fine, so it will dissolve very quickly in certain things – I labeled this “bread and pickling salt”, as these are some of the things I use that salt in. Good to know that the yogurt setting was not too hot – I used the yogurt setting on low, about 90°, but it takes almost twice as long to get the flavor.
Here’s a tip for making some fine flours in the Vitamix, without heating it up very much – freeze the grains first! It’s just slightly warm, starting this way. I was thinking of chilling the soaked urad dal and rice, since it does heat up considerably, but next time, I’ll use the method here, soaking the urad with the extra water , adding my own rice flour.
The tip for freezing the grains and grinding them is quite brilliant!!
In regards to urad dal batter, I find the vita mix grinds the batter well without over heating the mix. In the past, in India, with lower watt blenders the mixer would visibly heat up and some people suggest adding ice to keep the batter cool. I have, however, never faced that problem.
Here is some data that expands the scale of your experiment to size two:
And only after dealing with my own curiosity did I spend the time to search for other results that might either compliment or refute my tentative conclusions. I was delighted to find your post and especially cheered by your encouraging results. My tentative conclusions are supportive:
1. iodized salt does not interfere with idli fermentation
2. salt is better than no salt when fermenting idli
3. kosher salt seems to produce better results than either iodized salt or no salt
This is too cool, Doc Dough!! Thanks for sharing!!
hi Shweta, i love your approach to understanding food, a lot. thank you for these wonderful posts. i’m so grateful.
i have an idli question, i was wondering if you could understand what’s wrong. Since the last few months, my idli batter has been gathering a pinkish – off white mold layer on top. It has happened to me before, but very rarely. But since the last few months it happens every single time. Has it ever happened with your batter? i’ve tried to look at it from many angles and couldn’t figure out where i was going wrong. if you know anything about it, please help. i just want to make good idlis again..
Hi Mansi, I feel the most probable explanation is that the batter is not sitting in the temperatures needed for a steady fermentation.
Lactobacilli needs temperature between 30-40 C. If the temperature is a little cold where you live, it may take time for the lactobacilli colony to multiply enough to make it sour enough to kick out any other microbes.
You may have to artificially raise the temperature slightly by using a heat bulb at its vicinity or wrapping a sweater around the batter, etc.
You can also email me at [email protected]…Send me pictures and what steps you do exactly and I can give you specific feedback to improve.
thanks for your reply shweta. i’ll take pictures next time and email you the entire process. i had also taken pictures when the batter caught mold. i’ll include those as well. thank you so much for offering to help figure out this issue. this means a lot!
I’m happy to find (and share the link to) your blog. Your great article on whether to use salt in idli batter came up in a search to “upgrade” my food.
My health improved dramatically by switching
I have major GI health problems that improved dramatically by switching to a primarily plant-based (vegan) diet. I’m already looking through your recipes. Your blog is a great resource, thanks!
That’s wonderful to hear… thanks Zoe!!
Thanks Swetha! Always love the tips backed up with science.
Thank you Shanthi!!