Daals, pulses or lentils, are a must in Indian cuisine. Prepared on a daily basis in most homes, the varieties of daals are a lot. The word daal is used for split lentils, dhuli daal is used for split and husked/skinned lentils and sabot daal is used for lentils which are whole.
A large number of Indians are vegetarians or cannot afford to eat non-vegetarian food regularly. These different types of daals provide them with primary sources of vegan proteins. So consumption of different types of daals is important for the population.
In many parts of India such as the North, East and South, daals are commonly eaten with rice. It could be Daal Bukhara which is slow-cooked overnight, the rich daal makhaani with white butter afloat, or pachphoron-flavoured masoor daal or spicy sambar.
Proteins are made up of 20 different amino acids, most of which the body can manufacture for itself. But there are nine that can’t. Those nine, called the “essential” amino acids, are distributed unevenly in plant foods. Lentils are high in lysine, an amino acid that is missing in rice while rice and other grains are high in the sulphur-based amino acids missing from lentils. A combination of about 20% lentils to 80% rice has all the necessary acids, making a complete protein.
Apart from the general health benefits of daals, each type of daal has its own set of nutritional values. So it is good to have a mix of all these daals on a regular basis. Some types of daals are healthier when compared to others. For example, black gram daal and moong daal are considered the healthiest among all daals. Others, like masoor daal, have health benefits too but they also have side effects.
Here are some types of daals and their exclusive health benefits.
Green Moong Daal
It is basically a green-coloured daal that is not as common as the split variety. They are available whole, split, with skin on, and removed. The green moong is one of the most flexible pulses available. Not only can you make it into a simple dal, it is used to make snacks and sweets as well. Plus green moong sprouts are a rich source of proteins.
Health Benefits: This type of daal has ample reserves of calcium and very little calories. It is good for the bones. As a source of manganese, potassium, folate, magnesium, copper, zinc, and vitamin B, it is also high in dietary fibre.
Chana daal, Bengal gram daal or Garbanzo beans, comes in two forms: a smaller one with a dark skin which is called kala chana and the larger white ones that are also known as kabuli chana. It is highly nutritious even when roasted or powdered to make besan (chickpea flour or Bengal gram flour).
Gujarati snacks like dhokla or handwa use coarsely crushed chana daal to provide a crunchy texture and to increase the nutritional value. Cooked in different ways, it can be sprouted to add to a salad. Most housewives soak chana daal overnight or at least for a few hours so that it can be cooked faster.
Before soaps and face washes reached India, besan was used to wash the face and keep it clean. Besan has been used for ages in India as a skin cleanser and it is still used by brides-to-be and as an ingredient to treat skin ailments.
Health Benefits: One of the richest vegan source of dietary proteins. It is also rich in trace minerals like copper, manganese etc. Having this daal helps keep diabetes at bay. It has anti-inflammatory qualities, is high on folate, molybdenum, manganese, copper, fibre, protein, iron and zinc.
Masoor daal is one of the most common pulses in the Indian kitchen. The Bengali bori/bodi made with masoor dal is an excellent addition to vegetables and even fish curries. In North India, it is also used to prepare halwa, especially in the winters.
Health Benefits: Very good for people suffering from bile reflux and also improves blood circulation. Good source of protein, essential amino acids, potassium, iron, fibre and vitamin B1. It also helps lower cholesterol and control sugar levels.
Urad daal is usually called black dal when whole, and white when skinned and split. The star ingredient in Dal Makhani, urad is also used to make bondas, papads, medu vada, a version of payasam and even dosas. It has a very earthy taste and is often slimy on the tongue. In Bengal, the white urad is also used to make Biulir Daal, a simple but delicious dish with fennel enhancing the flavour.
Health Benefits: Richest sources of proteins and Vitamin B. Improves digestion, good for control of cholesterol, an energy booster, anti-ageing and improves the cardiovascular system.
Toor/Arhar daal is one of the most popular daals eaten in India. Also called Pigeon Pea, each region has its favourite selection of daal even though most common ones are used pretty much everywhere. Each daal is prepared in a different way. For example, arhar daal is used to make sambar in South India, amti daal in Maharashtra, and Gujarat’s famous khatti meethi daal as well. All three have distinct flavours and cannot be compared in any way.
Health Benefits: This daal has immense amounts of complex dietary fibres that help regularise bowel movements. It also contains iron, folic acid, magnesium, calcium, Vitamin B and potassium.
Lobhia is also known as cowpea or black-eyed pea because of the little black spot on the otherwise white dal. The lobhia is known to have originated from West Africa but is widely cultivated in Asia and the USA. In India, it is prepared similarly like other daal preparations. But in other countries, it is cooked in different ways. The Vietnamese make a dessert called Che Dau Trang where the peas are cooked with coconut milk and sticky rice. Trinidadians prepare a mix of beans and rice.
Health Benefits: This daal has immense amounts of complex dietary fibres. Lobhia is packed with protein and is good if on a weight-loss programme. It also controls fluctuation of cholesterol levels and keeps them lowered.
Matar daal or dried peas recipes are the simplest. Kolkata’s ghugni is one of the most popular street foods and is also made at home as an evening snack. Use the yellow or the green variety.
Health Benefits: An excellent source of cholesterol-lowering fibre. Also help in managing blood-sugar disorders as the high fibre content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. High in protein, it is also a good source of manganese, copper, folate, Vitamin B1 and B5, and potassium.
Red Kidney Beans
Red kidney beans popularly known as rajma are known for their great taste and nutritious benefits. At any North Indian restaurant, “Rajmah” will be listed on top of the “Daal” section in the menu. Cooked in tomato puree or by itself, it is advisable to soak the beans in water overnight.
Health Benefits: Provides proteins, boosts immunity and rich in soluble fibre content which helps in controlling blood sugar levels, hence preventing diabetes. It also helps lower cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease. Containing the vitamin thiamine, important for the cognitive functions of the brain, it helps prevent age-related impairment in mental function (senility) and Alzheimer’s disease.
Soyabean daal is a latecomer but scores high in the long list of daals. Benefits of soya are its high protein content, vitamins, minerals and insoluble fibre. Popular soya-based foods include Miso, a fermented soya bean paste that is used as a flavouring, popular in Asian cuisine; Tempeh, an Indonesian specialty typically made by cooking and de-hulling soya beans and forming a textured, solid cake and; Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made from soya milk by coagulating the soya proteins with calcium or magnesium salts. The whey is discarded and the curds are processed.
Health Benefits: This bean is packed with protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats, providing protective properties for cardiovascular health, cancer, osteoporosis and menopause. It contains high amounts of protein and essential Vitamin D for the well-being of the bones.