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Most of the traditional Indian varieties of vegetables and grain are dead and no longer available in the markets. Nutrition in vegetables and grain has also declined.

There are hundreds of traditional varieties of various types of grain. But even a well-educated person today, in any Indian city, can only name rice, wheat, jowar, bajra and ragi. They have not even heard of the other types of grain.

Even if we talk of only one grain, as recently as 100 years ago, there were more than 20 thousand varieties of Jowar (sorghum). Very few are available now. And there were over fifty thousand varieties of rice! Only about 10 to 20 types of rice are now available in the markets –

It is the same case with vegetables. The number of varieties of any vegetable (for example cabbage) has reduced from the hundreds that existed to only 3-6 types now.

Even more surprising is the considerable reduction in the number and types of green leafy vegetables we eat. There are thousands of edible leafy plants in India, and most are very nutritious. How many have you ever heard of or eaten? I am sure you can’t name or recognise more than 5 or at most 10.

The varieties have shrunk because of selective breeding for high yield, for uniform looks and also because of consumer choice. People moved away from coarse grain to fine grain. They moved away from vegetables that were in various shapes and sizes to stuff that looks uniform and so, “better”. 

People also moved away from some highly nutritious foods because they were traditionally considered the poor mans food. They moved to “finer” stuff, that was very expensive before the green revolution but is the cheapest today.

It is highly encouraging that some people are now trying to bring back the lost varieties and actually making a good business of it. Here is a recent article from the economic times –

There is also lower nutrition in food today because of impoverished top soils kept alive with chemical fertiliser. I have written about this earlier –

I am hoping for a significant return of traditional foods into our markets and our plates, grown on soils nurtured back to health with organic fertiliser.

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