Saboodana Khichdi, Vada, Kheer etc. are some favourite recipes in most Indian households, especially during fasts. Never knew how the small, round, white pearl-like food came from. Did some net research, spoke to a few people and then an email from Seemadidi (Sehgal) intrigued my interest even more. What is Saboodana made from? Is it Healthy? Is it suitable for Vegetarians?
Wikipedia says that Saboodana is made from Tapioca. Tapioca is a starch extracted from the root of the plant species Manihot esculenta. This species, native to the Amazon, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela as well as the Caribbean, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, most of the West Indies, is now cultivated worldwide and has many names, including cassava, bitter-cassava, manioc, "mandioca", "aipim", "macaxeira", "manioca", "boba", "tapioca plant" "yuca" (you-ca) (not to be confused with yucca). In India it has different names in different regions such as, "Sagudana" (literally, Sagu drops), "Sabudana"(literally, drops of soap), (not to be confused with Sago, which is also commonly known as "Sabudana" in India) and "Kappa." In Vietnam, it is called bột năng. In Indonesia, it is called singkong. In Philippines, it is called sago.
An urban legend from Kerala claims that the English word tapioca derives from the Malayalam word combination, "thappiyokka". The story claims that a European, while in Kerala, once came across a native crouching on the ground, digging under a rather thin and tall plant. Curious to understand what was going on, the European asked the native what he was doing. To which, the native answered "thappiyokka" which means in the local language Malayalam, "I am searching for ...". The European mistook the native's utterance for the name of the plant and thereby the English name tapioca!
Tapioca is a staple food in some regions and is used worldwide as a thickening agent, mainly in foods. Tapioca is gluten free, and almost completely protein free.
The health benefits of saboodana (sago) are mainly in the carbohydrates it provides. Also known as tapioca pearls, sago is made from the starch extracted from the pith (center) of the sago palm stems. The commercial production of sago is in the shape of small globules or pearls.
Saboodana is full of starch or carbohydrates and is great for a quick boost of energy, and hence often served in India for breaking fasts during religious festivals. Sago gruel is also great when you're sick because it gives you quick energy and is easy to digest. According to Ayurveda, sago and rice have a cooling effect on the system, hence sago gruel is given if you have excess bile (caused by excess body heat).
Saboodana does not contain any minerals or vitamins and has very low amounts of calcium, iron, and fiber. 100 gms of Saboodana contains 351 kcal, 87 gms carbohydrate, 0.2 gm of fat and protein each. It does not have much nutritional value!
Saboodana, as mentioned above is made from Tapioca roots. These tapioca roots are crushed in a tank and stored for many days. It is speculated that starch/ flour is added to the paste, dried and finally made in to small balls of saboodana. Of course the addition of flour and starch and the general unnatural process of making saboodana mean that it is unsuitable for consumption during fasting. Also, with the artificial production of saboodana it is unavoidable that it becomes contaminated by other non-permitted ingredients. The email I received makes me wonder why we should be eating Saboodana at all, especially during fasts, and when it has little nutritional value.