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Flawed flour

Every Indian kitchen has it and every Indian relishes it in one form or another. Besan (gram flour) is used in almost every household sometimes as a batter for deep frying, sometimes in soups and at other times in sweets and snacks. It is to an Indian kitchen what egg is to its western counterpart.

The versatile besan, used round the year, has a fairly long shelf life. Owing to its popularity and need, both its demand and manufacturing are growing. Nor would it be news to you if we say that besan is also the prime ingredient in homemade face packs and is used as a face scrub and toner, mixed with malai (cream) and drops of rose water, or simply with water.

Brands tested

CERS tested 12 branded and two unbranded and loose samples of besan to check the quality. The brands tested were Gaay Chhaap, B.H. Modi, Lakdaji, Janta Bazaar, Chahat, Swastik, Shreshth, Gopal, Madam, Grihasthi, Shakti Bhog and Rajdhani. The loose samples were purchased from Lalita Factory and Jai Ambe Flour Factory, both in Ahmedabad. They represented nationally, regionally or locally popular brands. Ten samples of each brand were considered for testing. All the tests were carried out in duplicate and well within the shelf life of the samples.

What was tested

CERS tested besan against 15 parameters fineness, moisture content, total ash, acid insoluble ash, alcoholic acidity, crude fibre, fungal and insect infestation, rodent hair and excreta, added colouring matter and preservative, khesari dal flour, microscopic appearance, protein, fat, carbohydrate, energy and average net weight.

The fineness of besan affects the quality of the finished products prepared by using besan. It results in the desired sensory/textural properties of the item prepared. Two brands Gopal (98.3 per cent) and Rajdhani (99.1 per cent) did not comply with the Indian Standards (IS) requirement. The IS requires 100 per cent besan to pass through a 500 micron IS sieve.

Freshness is a very critical parameter in determining the quality of a product. The alcoholic acidity of a product increases with the age of a product. The higher the alcoholic acidity, the higher the rancidity of a product.

Gopal showed the maximum alcoholic acidity of 0.20 per cent against the Agmark limit of 0.18 per cent (Grade II). Chahat (0.15 per cent) and Rajdhani (0.13 per cent) also registered more alcoholic acidity than the specified limit.

This indicated that these brands were not fresh. The least percentage of alcoholic acidity was found in B.H. Modi (0.08 per cent) and Gaay Chhaap (0.09 per cent). So one can safely conclude that they were the most fresh among the brands tested.

The Indian Standards specify that besan should have a minimum of 21.0 per cent protein. None of the brands carried the ISI mark as it is voluntary. However, if we check the results against the limits of IS, Gopal and Janta Bazaar failed to pass the minimum requirement of protein as given by the IS. They contained 13 per cent and 18.8 per cent of protein, respectively. This indicated that the products were of substandard quality. Madam (20.3 per cent) and Grihasthi (20.0 per cent) also showed borderline results.

Nutrition

To provide nutritional information to readers, CERS tested the brands for fat and carbohydrate though there are no standards set either in the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act or by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Though besan is not an important source of fat, it still adds to the nutritional aspect of besan. Grihasthi recorded the highest fat content of nine per cent, followed by Madam (eight per cent). Janta Bazaar proved to have the least fat content of five per cent.

After fat comes carbohydrates. Consumption of besan ensures intake of a fair quantity of carbohydrates. Gopal had the highest carbohydrate content (70.2 per cent of the weight) while Chahat had the least (58.1 per cent).

As to adulteration, when subjected to microscopic testing, Gopal did not conform to the characteristic appearance as specified by the IS, thus indicating adulteration.

And the calorific value in the different brands of besan showed great variation. It ranged from 361 kcal/100 gm in Chahat to 391 kcal/100 gm in Grihasthi.

As far as the average net weight was concerned, all the samples met the requirements of the Standards of Weights & Measures (Pack. Comm.) Rules, 1977.

However, many brands weighed less than the labelled weight on the packets. Out of the ten 500 gm packets tested, seven of B.H. Modi, six each of Janta Bazaar, Grihasti and Rajdhani, three of Shreshth, two of Shakti Bhog and one each of Lakdaji and Gopal weighed less than that marked on the label. Out of the five one kilogram packets tested, all the five packets of Swastik and one of Chahat weighed less.

When it comes to labelling details, the parameters considered for providing weightages to labelling are the name of food, ingredients, name and complete address of manufacturer/importer/seller/packer, net weight/volume, batch/lot /code number, vegetarian logo, month and year of manufacturing, month and year of best before date and Agmark/grade/standard.

Areas of action

The PFA Act should include a test to check the fineness and uniformity of besan. The moisture, alcoholic acidity and protein tests should be included in the PFA Act for besan.

For more information write to [email protected]

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