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Food science

Transferring a simple technology for reducing the dietary bulk of weaning gruels by an amylase-rich food from laboratory to urban slum

Tara Gopaldas, Suneeta Deshpande, Urvi Vaishnav, Neha Shah, Pallavi Mehta, Sashi Tuteja, Shubada Kanani, and Kashmira Lalani



This paper describes the transfer of a simple technology for the reduction of the dietary bulk of weaning gruels toy an amylase-rich food (ARF). Since the germination of pulses and the preparation of wheat gruel were culturally familiar, 188 slum mothers mastered these skills easily from graduate trainers. More than 90% of the mothers and their infants or toddlers liked the low-bulk consistency of the gruel with ARF and continued to use a gift packet of ARF powder as long it lasted. However, in a follow-up survey three months later, only 28% of them were making ARF regularly, although 83% continued to make the gruel regularly. Most of the mothers (89%) indicated they would buy ready-to-use ARF powder at prices of Rs 0.5 to Rs 2; so there appears to be good potential for the commercial manufacture of ARF.



Our previous publications and those of other investigators have described the ease of preparation of germinated cereal flours, or amylase-rich foods (ARFs), and the versatility and consistent performance of small quantities of practically any germinated cereal flour in remarkably reducing the viscosity of hot cereal-based gruels [1-12]. However, unless the ARF technology is transferred from the laboratory to the field, the basic purpose in producing ARFs for poor communities will not be served.

The present study was planned with four specific objectives: (1) to adapt the technology to the conditions prevailing in slum homes; (2) to transfer the ARF technology from master trainers to graduate students, and from the graduate students to slum mothers; (3) to evaluate the success of the technology transfer in terms of the mothers' attendance at training sessions, knowledge gained, retention of knowledge, and willingness to use the ARF and gruel technologies on a regular basis; and (4) to evaluate problems, if any, faced by the mothers in adopting the ARF and gruel technologies and to incorporate their suggestions to the extent possible.


Materials and methods

Adaptation of the technology to conditions in slum homes

ARF technology

Most of the homes involved in the study did not have a kitchen as such, and cooking was done in a corner of the one-room house. A Primus kerosine stove was commonly used. The few basic food commodities were stored in closed tins that were set on the floor. All the homes had access to safe tap water. The stainless steel or aluminium utensils that were routinely used were adequate for use in making ARF. Some of the poorest homes had cheap thick clay skillets on which chapatis (unleavened bread) were baked. There was hardly any space to sun-dry the germinated grain. (In any case, during the monsoons there is usually no place to dry anything.) The mothers used old pieces of muslin sari cloth to wrap the grain for further germination, or they just covered a small vessel containing the grain with a larger vessel.

Several variations to adapt the technology for making ARF to these conditions were tested in the laboratory: using muslin cloth for germination, using metal vessels with lids for germination, and using a clay skillet instead of a temperature-controlled oven or a metal skillet for toasting the germinated grain. We found the clay skillets excellent for uniform heat transfer and far superior to metal ones for toasting the grain. Controlled toasting of small batches of grain was nearly as good as sun- or oven-drying. The toasting was done on Primus stoves. Doneness was judged by the grains' breaking easily when crushed under a pestle or bitten. Other than these adaptations, the steps used to prepare wheat ARF for this study were exactly as described previously [1-7].

TABLE 1. Ingredients of the weaning gruel used in the transfer of ARF technology

  Laboratory measure Field measure
Water 250 ml 2 katorisa
Wheat flour 55g 1 katori
Jaggery 40-50 g < 1 katorib
Oil 10g 2 spoons
ARF 6g 1 spoon

a. A katori is a small traditional bowl.
b. The amount of jaggery varied between 3/4 katori and 1 katori according to the taste of the individual mother. The energy density of the gruel was 1.60-1.63 kcal/ml, depending on the amount of jaggery used.

Gruel making

Fortunately, not much adaptation was required in the method for making gruel, because the technology already developed was based on the traditional recipe. One major adaptation was to convert weight measures to volumetric measures and calibrate these against household cups and bowls (table 1). However, during training, the graduate trainers and mother trainees were given a set of cheap plastic measuring cups and teaspoons.

To prepare the gruel, the flour was first roasted lightly in the oil till a fine aroma emanated. The jaggery was grated fine and dissolved in half the hot water, and this was added to the flour. The ARF was added next, and the mixture was stirred briskly for a few minutes to allow the ARF to act and to prevent the formation of lumps. The rest of the water was then added, and the gruel was brought slowly to a boil over a low flame.

The thinning power of the adapted wheat ARF in the adapted sweet gruel was tested in the laboratory. The amylase activity of the ARF toasted on a clay skillet was 1,183 maltose units per gram, which was lower than that of the 50C oven-dried or the sun-dried product (2,960 units and 2,260 units per gram respectively), but the effectiveness of all three versions in reducing the viscosity of a 20 g%% wheat-flour gruel was identical. This finding is of practical importance, as it means that either sun-drying or skillet-drying can be used for making ARF at the household level.

Experimental design

The training regiment

Four master trainers trained 44 graduate students in a 14-day classroom programme to enable them in turn to train slum mothers in making wheat ARF and using it in preparing a sweet weaning gruel of wheat flour for their children. The programme included all the adaptations of the technology for use in the slum homes.

Each graduate student received a kit consisting of the food commodities needed for making ARF and gruel three times, a clay skillet, a set of plastic volumetric cups and teaspoons, a piece of clean muslin cloth, and visual charts or booklets depicting the steps for making ARF and gruel, as more than two thirds of the mothers were illiterate. The graduate students were trained by ensuring that they made the ARF and gruel themselves several times, and by having them familiarize themselves with their assigned mothers and their homes before they began teaching them. The students were also trained in the methods of data collection needed for the pre- and post-training evaluations.

The sample of mothers, comprising 188 non-working women having at least one infant or toddler 6-24 months old, was drawn from three typical slums of the city of Baroda. Each graduate trainer was assigned four or five mothers, and trained the women in their homes.

Initial survey, post-training evaluation, and follow-up

A questionnaire used before the training began covered socio-economic and environmental aspects of the sample homes, existing practices in preparing weaning foods, and the mothers' knowledge and practices regarding germination.

The post-training evaluation focused on the trainees' ability to prepare the ARF and the gruel. It included questions on the mothers' acceptance of and willingness to follow the technology, any problems faced, likes and dislikes, and whether they would purchase ARF if it were commercially available and, if so, at what price.

Three months after the training, surprise visits were paid to 20% of the mothers, randomly selected, to find out whether they had continued to make ARF and the gruel, and, if not, why not.


Findings and diacussion

Initial survey

Socio-economic profile

The families of the mother-respondents were mostly nuclear (90%) and of small size (3-5 members). Over two-thirds of mothers were illiterate or had only up to a third-standard education. The income of most of the families ranged from about Rs 400 to Rs 500 a month, or Rs 75-100 per capita.

Existing practices in feeding weaning foods

Most of the mothers (84% ) prepared no special weaning food for their infants or toddlers; over one-third regularly fed them some sort of gruel. About half modified food for the children by mashing cooked rice or soaking bits of unleavened bread in water, milk, or tea, by thinning a porridge or gruel, or by taking out portions of the adult diet before adding spices. The preferred method of cooking all food was by boiling. In half the families, all members drank a gruel as a quick morning snack. The amount of this gruel fed to the infants or toddlers was usually a quarter to half a katori (30-60 ml). Cereals and/or pulses were the most common supplementary foods given to the children but were rarely offered before they were six months old.

Pre-training knowledge of germination

More than 70% of the respondents were quite familiar with the technique of germination; more than half germinated green gram (Phaseolus aureus Roxb.) once a week or more. Half of these fed the germinated cooked pulse to their youngsters in small quantities. Germination of cereal grains was unknown.

The usual procedure was to soak the whole pulse seeds in double their volume of clean drinking water for 12 hours and then to wrap them in clean pieces of cotton sari cloth and store them in a stainless steel vessel that was kept covered in a dark place for proper germination. The cloth was moistened from time to time. Germination took about 6 to 12 hours. This method is almost identical to our laboratory method for germinating cereal grains, except that cereal grains require a longer germination time. One problem faced in the germination of pulses was that of children or stray animals eating it up.

The training and its results

Participation and poet-training knowledge

Eighty-seven per cent of the mothers participated in the first two training periods of six days each; participation fell to 58% in the last period. Most of the mothers felt that just one period of six days would have been enough.

At the end of the training a majority of the mothers were able to give correct responses about the various steps in preparing ARF and the gruel (table 2).

Attitudes towards ARF

The mothers' responses concerning their attitudes towards ARF at the end of the training were almost universally positive, except in the case of the question "Will you prepare ARF regularly?" (table 3). A number of the women were not sure; 26% said that they might not have the time to prepare ARF on a regular basis. However, the great majority were willing to buy ready-made ARF at a price ranging from Rs 0.5 to Rs 2 for a 100-g packet. It is highly likely that small 5-g packets for a one-time gruel thinning would find a good market in urban areas. Further social market research is required in this area.

TABLE 2. Mothers' knowledge about the preparation of wheat ARF and weaning gruel at completion of training

Step and significant components Correct responses (%)a
Production of ARF
Cleaning grain, volume of water used, soaking time 83
Spreading grain, covering during germination, moistening cloth. germination time 80
Method 94
Cleaning place where grain is to be dried 45
Use of clay skillet 97
Sufficient toasting 97
Devegetation (removal of sprouts) before milling 97
Preparation of gruel
Quantity of flour 70b
Quantities of water, oil, jaggery 90
Addition of ARF when gruel is warm 96
Quantity of ARF 96
Constant stirring of gruel to avoid lumpiness 99

a. N=188.
b. Generally more flour was used. as the mothers were not careful in measuring the correct quantity as instructed

Knowledge of selected mothers after three months

The mothers who were visited again three months after the training were by and large proficient in preparing both ARF and gruel. There were some minor slip-ups among a few with respect to the volume of water used in steeping, and some short-cuts were taken by a few in germination time. (It will be recalled that pulses are germinated for only 12 hours, whereas wheat requires 48 hours.) No mistakes were made in gruel preparation. In fact, the mothers much preferred to make the gruel rather than the ARF on a regular basis. Although ARF was to be prepared in very small amounts (100 g whole cereal grain just once in 20 or 30 days), only 28% of mothers did so regularly.

The major negative considerations cited by the mothers were the labour (19%) and time (29%) required to make even a small amount of ARF. Almost no one mentioned the price as a constraint. On further questioning, the two problems that the mothers saw in making ARF were that the germination time for wheat was too long and the amount of germinated grain (100 g) was too small to be milled by a commercial mill. They did not like to go to the bother of organizing themselves so that a group could take larger lots to be milled collectively. By way of contrast, 83% of the mothers continued to make the gruel, which required much more time and more ingredients (wheat flour, oil, jaggery).

TABLE 3. Mothers' attitudes towards ARF

  Responses %
Yes No
Did you like the taste of the ARF gruel? 96 4
Did your child like the taste of the gruel? 93 7
Will you prepare ARF regularly? 69 5
Would you buy ready-made ARF? 89 11

a. N=188.
b. 26% responded "not sure".

At the end of the training, each mother had received a box of ten 10-g packets of ARF as a gift. They did see the value of the thinned gruel and had eked out the ARF given to them for as long as they could. They were intelligent enough to note that each 10-g packet would last for three or more gruel thinnings, but, after that was gone, they were not motivated to make more ARF on their own.

On the whole, the transfer of the technology of preparing ARF and the low-bulk, energy-dense (1.63 kcal/ml) gruel from the laboratory to the slum mothers is considered to have been smooth.



The transfer of the ARF technology from the laboratory to the urban slum was highly successful, with almost all the mothers being able to grasp and execute all the steps of making ARF and gruel with ease. Possibly adapting each step of the technology transfer to the prevailing conditions in the slum homes facilitated the process. The subsequent retention of knowledge of the technology was also very high, as the germination of pulses is a familiar and age-old practice in Indian homes. The weaning gruel was also a well-accepted, traditional recipe.

When it came to regular practice, however, only 28% of the women made ARF on a regular basis, although 83% were making the gruel regularly. The length of the germination time and the inconvenience of milling small quantities of germinated grain were the two major obstacles to the regular preparation of ARF.

Most of the mothers said that they would be willing to buy ARF at a price of Rs 0.5 to Rs 2 per 100 g. There would appear to be good potential for producing ARF commercially and making it available at a low or subsidized cost for weaning-age children of low-income families.



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