Why Your Kitchen Needs Stone Grinders

The other day while grocery shopping, I came across a packet of atta claiming to have been stone-ground. Great! I thought. We originally ground our grains on stone grinders and then began using mechanized metal grinders to speed up the process and then went back to stone grinders because it was healthier and tastier – only at a much higher cost this time around! Isn’t it that way always?

Grinding slowly between two stones is the best way to retain its minerals and oils and extract the flavours of the substance ground, which is why it tastes so good. All the readymade pastes are no patch on the hand-ground masalas – between two stones if you please!

Ancient millstone with wheat grains.

Remember the versatile sil-batta? Oh, you haven’t seen it? It consists of a flat piece of stone and a smaller cylindrical/triangluar one, the latter used to crush/grind masalas, by rolling it over the larger stone. It is perhaps one of the kitchen ‘appliances’ that has remained unchanged from prehistoric times.

I remember reading about a study on causes of the increasing incidence of breast cancer among urban women. One point that grabbed my attention was that grinding on a sil-batta with its back and forth motion of the arms has the potential to prevent breast cancer. I am not sure that this was substantiated by further studies, but the fact remains that it is an excellent toner of the muscles of the upper arm and chest.

And then there was the chakki, which was used to grind grains. Consisting of two circular pieces of stone, with a hole in the centre and a handle on one side of the top stone, it was so versatile that it did not just grind grains and break whole lentils into halves without de-husking but also effectively de-husked grains. You fed the grains into the hole and turned the top stone that ground the grains. You might have heard the term ‘jail mein chakki peesna’. Here is a song from the old movie Bandini where the female prisoner is doing just that!

In our home we had a chakki, as also a sil-batta and a wet grinding stone – a hand operated one. While the sil-batta is used across the country, the wet grinder was essentially a south Indian thing so it travelled with us to wherever father got transferred. There is a large stone with a depression in the centre with a smaller stone tapered at the top used to grind wet materials like rice and dal for idlis and dosas. Grinding in one of these is a fine art: one turned the smaller stone with the left hand while pushing the material being ground with the right, sprinkling water a little at a time – all simultaneously – without smashing one’s fingers! The mechanical wet grinder uses two stones that turn much like the blades of a mixer-grinder to produce the effect of stone grinding.

Ancient grain hand grinding millstones

There was another contraption which had a long and heavy wooden pole. It was used to pound grains in a heavy wooden bin, much like a giant-sized pestle and mortar. The best thing about these stone grinders and pounders was that the women sang and made suitable noises as they did the hard work. And here is another song to show you how it works!

Don’t miss the sounds the women are making!

None of these implements are practical in today’s tiny kitchens and rushed-for-time householders, but one can still use a sil-batta to crush ginger or garlic or grind small quantities of masalas and chutneys.

So how about stop using the rowing machine at the gym and trying out one of these to tone up some muscles and in the bargain get to eat some healthy and tasty stuff?

The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard! 

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