Tandoor Bread Unfit for Consumption!


SRINAGAR — People in Kashmir should be a worried lot. It is not only our politics that is stale but also our major staples and consumables. Kashmir Observer’s investigations have revealed that our favored breakfast staple, Kashmiri bread or Kaandur Tsot is not fit for consumption. The reasons pertain to the excessive use of baking soda in the Kaandar tsot.

One obvious observation should alert us to the perils of Kaandar tsot: bread taken out of tandoor in the morning cannot be eaten for lunch as it hardens within an hour. It does not only change  in taste but texture as well. The reason , as already mentioned, is excessive  use of baking soda.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate),  is used by almost all bakers to achieve that fluffy texture which we all love in our bakery products, can prove to be highly dangerous if used in exceedingly high amounts.

As per medical studies, consuming sodium bicarbonate in amounts that exceed the capacity of the kidneys to excrete this bicarbonate may cause metabolic alkalosis which can then lead to various stomach disorders. The increase in stomach related disorders in the valley has been linked to the huge quantities of baking soda which we consume daily through our beloved ‘kaandar tsot’. 

The issue of our staple roti sits atop the saga of food adulteration which has become a trend of late in the  valley. Milk, vegetables, spices and meat have already come under scanner and inspections have even revealed how some well-known brands have been adding dangerous adulterants to our food. In such a situation, it becomes imperative that the amount of baking soda in our bread is regulated so that people of the valley can continue to enjoy their favourite bakery products without any apprehensions.

As per the Drugs and Food Control Organization, the permissible limit of baking soda in commercial baking is 1mg of soda in 1000 mg of flour, which roughly equals to about one teaspoon of baking soda per 10 kg of flour. But unfortunately, most bakers in our valley do not adhere to these guidelines and often use much higher amounts of baking soda. 

According to  Ms. Irfana Ahmad, Commissioner Drug and Food Control Organization, “There is a specified limit of baking soda that the bakers can use while preparing bakery products. Yes have already drafted firm regulations in this regard and every food product- whether packaged or prepared by local bakers themselves- is thoroughly checked. The regulations don’t only apply to the bakers but also to the manufacturers which supply them the baking ingredients. Our team has already inspected various bakers in the city and they have been issued strict orders to adhere to the rules. If they fail to do so, strict action will be taken against them.” 

She also added that “ in order to curb and check this trend,  people must come forward in case they notice anything amiss in food products. This would help the authorities take timely actions against the miscreants.”

Nazir Ahmad, a local businessman, articulating and yearning for the romance of visiting a baker’s shop early morning said: “Visiting a traditional Kashmiri baker (Kaandar) and watching him prepare tsot used to be a favourite activity of the local people. The smell of the freshly baked bread mixed with the smoke from the tandoor would linger on in one’s mind for days. “The taste used to be awesome and the texture so soft and delicate. For the local bakers, baking was a form of worship and they would ensure that they kept their baking shops neat and clean. Also, there was no fear of adulteration so everyone could enjoy the bread without any worries. These days, the bakers add a lot of chemicals and baking soda. This has caused a lot of stomach disorders. Since we have no safer options available, we are forced to consume a bakery product which looks similar to the traditional ones but the taste is nowhere near the original. The authorities must wake up from their slumber and ensure we aren’t being fed poison in the name of food”.

“The fault doesn’t entirely lie with the bakers. Even the ingredients which they use for baking are adulterated. Thus the manufacturers who supply them with these unsafe and impure ingredients must also be put to task. The government should ensure that the bakery shops are neat and clean and that the bakers too take care about their personal hygiene while baking”, another local resident added.

Elaborating upon the menace and pointing out to other structural issues Health Officer Dr. Shamima  added, “We are only concerned with checking the sanitation and hygiene of the place where the bakery is being prepared.  There are certain directions like the nanwai (Baker) must have short nails, short hair and no skin allergies, clean hands, tidy clothes and neat and clean surroundings and utensils. Also, the atta (flour) should be stored in a cool place in an air tight container. If, while inspecting, we find that these rules and directions are not being followed, we initially warn the bakers but if they continue with the same habits, we seal the bakery immediately and impose a fine on the owners. 

Expressing the widespread nature of the problem, Dr. Shamima said,  “In the recent past, we have sealed many local bakery shops which were found flouting the rules. But there are a lot of bakeries which are still violating the norms”. 

Despite known implications and consequences of using high quantities of baking soda in bread, the practice continues unabated. The reasons accrue from the scant attention that society pays to this issue which in turn allows bakers to get away with this malpractice.

Lending poignancy to the consumption of baking soda on a large scale, Ms. Nasreen Paul, a senior dietician at SKIMS said, “Consuming soda based products on a daily basis can not only cause serious stomach problems but can also lead to various ulcers which may at times even prove deadly. Consuming sodium bicarbonate in large amounts daily involves consuming a large amount of sodium, which can elevate blood pressure, aggravate heart disease and lead to swelling of the legs and feet due to fluid retention. The frequent cases where a patient complains of severe pain in lower abdomen or stomach are the reaction to large quantities of gastric acid which are produced due to the intake of huge quantities of baking soda. People need to think about what they are eating and how it is going to affect their health. Government agencies must also tighten the rope for violators who profit by risking public health.” 

Despite the obvious dangers of consuming roti with high quantities of baking soda , the trend continues.Before the problems that are associated with it get magnified and amplified, it is high time that we as a society and government as an institution wakes up to this danger and menace and checks it. Our health and even lives are at stake here.

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