What is dosa batter?
Dosa batter is a fermented batter made from rice and lentils that is used to make dosa, a type of thin pancake from South India. It is made by soaking rice and lentils, usually urad dal, overnight and then grinding them into a fine batter. Fermentation helps give dosa batter its characteristic sour taste and helps the batter become light and frothy.
The main ingredients in dosa batter are:
- Rice – Usually a long grain white or brown rice. The rice provides structure and starch.
- Urad dal – These black lentils provide protein and help with fermentation.
- Fenugreek seeds – Added for their aromatic flavor. They also aid in fermentation.
Other ingredients like chana dal (split chickpeas) or toor dal (split pigeon peas) may also be added. The rice and lentils are soaked together for 4-8 hours and then ground into a smooth batter. Water is added while grinding to reach the right consistency. The batter is then allowed to ferment overnight before being used to make dosa.
What is gluten and where is it found?
Gluten is a group of proteins found in certain grains like wheat, barley, and rye. When flour from these grains is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form elastic strands that give dough its stretchy and sticky texture. This texture allows breads and other baked goods to rise and become chewy.
Some examples of foods that contain gluten include:
- Cakes and cookies
- Soups and sauces thickened with flour
Gluten is found mainly in products made from wheat flour. It is also present in varying amounts in rye, barley, and some oat products. Rice, corn, buckwheat, quinoa, and millet do not contain gluten.
People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate gluten and experience abdominal pain, bloating, and other symptoms when they eat it. For these people, following a strict gluten-free diet is important.
Does dosa batter contain gluten?
No, traditional dosa batter does not contain any gluten. The main ingredients are rice and lentils, neither of which contains gluten.
Rice is naturally gluten-free. The urad dal (black lentils) used in dosa batter are also gluten-free legumes. Since dosa batter does not contain wheat, barley, rye or oats, it does not contain gluten.
Sometimes small amounts of wheat flour or rava (semolina) are added to dosa batter recipes. These ingredients do contain gluten. So dosa batter made with even small quantities of wheat flour or rava would no longer be gluten-free.
But generally, plain dosa batter made with just rice and lentils can be safely consumed by those following a gluten-free diet.
Testing dosa batter for gluten
Since dosa batter does not typically contain gluten, testing it for the presence of gluten is not necessary. However, if wheat flour or rava was added to the batter, or if you want additional confirmation, you can:
- Read the ingredient labels on the package of rice and lentils before making batter to ensure they do not contain any gluten.
- Use a home test kit to test dosa batter for gluten. These kits detect the presence of gluten down to trace amounts.
- Send a sample to a lab for gluten testing if very sensitive.
When eating out, you can ask about the restaurant’s dosa batter ingredients to determine if it is safe on a gluten-free diet. Reputable restaurants will be knowledgeable regarding their dosa batter’s gluten content.
Dosa batter ingredients
Let’s look closer at the main ingredients used to make traditional dosa batter:
Rice is a naturally gluten-free grain. There are many different varieties of rice that can be used in dosa batter.
- White rice – The most commonly used variety. White rice has the husk, bran layer, and germ removed. Examples are long grain basmati or Sonamasuri rice.
- Brown rice – Has only the outermost hull removed. More nutritious but requires longer soaking and fermentation time.
- Parboiled rice – Partially boiled before milling to retain more nutrients. Can be used to make dosa but not as fermentable as white rice.
Any type of rice can be used depending on preference. The important thing is it must be gluten-free rice.
All lentils are naturally gluten-free. Urad dal, black lentils with the hull removed, are most commonly used in dosa batter. But other lentils can be used too.
- Split Urad Dal – Also called minapa pappu or black lentils. The most traditional choice.
- Chana Dal – Split and skinned chickpeas. Adds more protein.
- Moong Dal – Skinless split mung beans. Very soft and fermentable.
- Toor Dal – Split and skinned pigeon peas. Adds nutty flavor.
Using gluten-free varieties of lentils ensures the dosa batter remains gluten-free.
Fenugreek seeds, or methi, added to dosa batter provide a slight bitterness and strong aroma. They also have some digestive benefits and help with the fermentation process.
Make sure to use gluten-free fenugreek seed varieties. Tested varieties like Methi by 24 Mantra Organic are good gluten-free options.
A small amount of oil, like peanut or coconut oil, is sometimes added to the batter. This helps make the dosas crispier. Use gluten-free oil to maintain safety.
The water used to soak and grind the rice and lentils into batter must also be gluten-free. Tap water or filtered water are naturally gluten-free.
Common questions about dosa batter and gluten
Can I use wheat flour or rava in dosa batter?
Wheat flour and rava (semolina) both contain gluten. If you need or want to keep your dosa batter gluten-free, do not add wheat flour or rava to the traditional rice and lentil batter.
Even small amounts of wheat flour or rava can introduce gluten and make the batter unsafe for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Should dosa batter be fermented?
Yes, fermenting the batter is an essential step to making great tasting dosas with the right texture. Fermentation happens by leaving the batter out overnight after grinding the soaked lentils and rice.
This allows naturally occurring bacteria to act on the carbohydrates and proteins. Fermentation produces lactic acid which adds tanginess, increases nutrients, and makes the batter light and frothy.
Fermentation also breaks down proteins in wheat and barley that can cause issues for those with gluten sensitivity. But since dosa batter does not contain wheat or barley, this is not really a concern. The main reason to ferment dosa batter is for taste and texture.
How long can I store dosa batter?
At room temperature, dosa batter can be fermented and kept for up to 2 days. In the refrigerator, properly prepared batter will keep for up to 5 days.
To store for longer, you can freeze the batter in airtight containers. Frozen batter keeps for 2-3 months.
When ready to use, thaw the frozen dosa batter in the refrigerator overnight. Then leave it out for 4-6 hours at room temperature to ferment properly again before making dosas.
Should dosa batter be sour?
A good fermented dosa batter will have a mildly sour taste. The sourness comes from lactic acid produced by bacteria acting on the rice and lentils during fermentation. Too little fermentation, and the batter may lack flavor and the right texture.
If the sour taste is very strong, the batter may be over-fermented. While still safe to eat, dosas made from overly sour batter may not taste as good.
The ideal dosa batter should have a pleasant sourdough type aroma and flavor. Adjust fermentation time as needed to achieve this balance.
Are dosa batter ingredients processed in facilities with wheat?
This is one potential area of concern when buying commercially made dosa batter. Even if the batter only contains rice and lentils, if it is produced in a facility that also processes wheat, there is a small chance of cross-contamination.
Ideally, look for dosa batter that is produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Batter made by companies that specialize in gluten-free foods are less likely to have cross-contamination risks.
You can also make dosa batter at home from certified gluten-free grains and lentils. This avoids any doubt about whether commercial facilities process wheat products.
What about restaurants?
When eating dosas at Indian restaurants, you also need to consider potential cross-contamination from wheat flour used in other dishes.
Some tips for eating dosas safely when dining out:
- Choose restaurants experienced at accommodating gluten-free diets. They will understand the risk of cross-contamination.
- Verify that the restaurant makes dosa batter only with rice and lentils, and no wheat flour.
- Ask if they make and store dosa batter separately from other wheat-based items.
- Request that your dosas be made on a thoroughly cleaned surface and griddle.
- Avoid accompanying items like chutneys or sambar if they contain wheat.
- Check that oil used for frying is also wheat-free.
With proper precautions, eating dosas made from rice and lentil batter at restaurants should be safe. But it is always wise for those with celiac disease or NCGS to verify gluten-free preparation procedures.
Gluten-free dosa batter brands
If you prefer to avoid making your own dosa batter, there are pre-made options produced by gluten-free brands:
- Sukhi’s Gourmet Indian Foods – Gluten-free certified dosa batters made in a dedicated facility.
- Swad Dosa Batter – Uses certified gluten-free rice and urad dal.
- Tags Dosa Batters – Produced in a gluten-free facility and lab tested.
- Anna’s Gluten Free Kitchen – Verified gluten-free ingredients with independent testing.
As long as these batters are made following strict gluten-free protocols, they provide a convenient alternative to homemade batter.
Are there any health benefits to dosa batter?
Dosa batter made from rice and lentils offers a few potential health benefits:
- High protein – Urad dal and other lentils add plant-based protein which aids muscle growth and maintenance.
- Low glycemic – The fermented batter may have a lower glycemic response compared to unfermented rice and lentils.
- More digestible – Natural enzymes formed during fermentation can make batter easier to digest.
- Increase minerals – Soaking and fermenting increases bioavailable iron and calcium.
- Vitamins – Fermented foods provide B-vitamins and vitamin K.
- Probiotics – The live bacteria can benefit digestive and immune health like yogurt.
Research on dosa batter specifically is limited. But studies show fermented grains and legumes have enhanced nutrition compared to unfermented forms. So dosa batter may offer some advantages thanks to the fermentation process. However, more research is still needed on actual nutritional differences.
In summary, traditionally prepared dosa batter contains no gluten and can be safely eaten on a gluten-free diet. Plain dosa batter includes just rice, lentils, fenugreek seeds, oil, and water – all gluten-free ingredients. Batter made at home is guaranteed gluten-free, while commercially prepared versions should be verified to be made in a gluten-free facility with gluten-free ingredients to avoid cross-contamination. With the right precautions, those avoiding gluten can still enjoy the popular dosa. While dosa batter is naturally gluten-free, it may also come with some digestion-aiding probiotic benefits from fermentation.