Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Adventures in Curdistan

I finally laid my hands on Nestle's Probiotic dahi. You know, the one with 100 crore friendly bacteria which will help my digestion.

Noble cause, but I'm afraid you can only digest what you swallow and I could take no more than 3 spoons of the stuff. It looked strange. It tasted strange. Ordinary dahi will do just fine, thank you.

Whatever Nestle might believe, I don't think we are ready for biologically enhanced curds... yet. Heck, we aren't even fully ready to embrace bazaar ka dahi!

I mean for centuries now, we Indians have been dutifully culturing our curds. No doubt we noticed the tetrapacked variety in foreign supermarkets and enjoyed them. But that's yogurt.

Dahi is different. Dahi is roz ka khana and that's something you take for granted. It's the stuff you expect, by constitutional right, in your humble kitchen. Must you really pay for it?

Well, yes, say the companies. And commerce creeps in to every crevice of the Average Indian Home. The market for bazaar ka dahi is estimated to be 40-50,000 tonnes. Which sounds like a lot but is still a tiny, tiny drop in the ocean of dahi we consume on a daily basis. But of course, with time, that will change.

Proposition 1: Convenience over careful planning
Thought dahi jamaana was easy? It's a fine art! Kam samay rakho, dheela reh jaata hai. Zyaada samay rakho, khatta ho jaata hai. The stuff our moms did without us ever knowing - I tell you!

Proposition 2: What's the price?
This is where the slip up lies. I wouldn't mind picking up dahi every two days, along with my loaf of bread. But at Rs 15 for 400 gms most bazaar ke dahi are priced on the high side. An entire litre of cow milk costs Rs 19-20, so in effect you are paying a 100% premium for your baahar wala dahi.

And while price may not matter to yuppie couples and singles who are simply grateful that such a convenience exists, your average housewife will slot bazaar ka dahi into the 'rainy day category'. Something to buy only during emergencies.

But the even bigger block is this: the bazaar ka dahi does not 'taste the same'. At times, it's good. But often it's not. The consistency, the texture, the smell, the taste - it is just not uniform. Of course, it's the same story with ghar ka dahi. But hey, when you pay for it, and it's slightly sour or a little bit watery - heaven help. Humko nahin chalega!

And that, ultimately, is the problem with this probiotic thingy. The dahi we sampled was a bit 'loose'. And whether imagined or otherwise, it tasted 'different'.

As much as we all care about health, I think most consumers believe dahi is healthy in any case... So why bother to go probiotic? Unless you have a specific problem such as lactose intolerance.

Meanwhile, companies plod on. Trying to convert us to a commercially produced 'just like home experience'. Here's another other example:

Krd Rys : pre packed South Indian style curd rice or thayir sadam. This is the world's first 'branded curd rice offering' from Hatsun Agro. Currently available in Tamil Nadu.

Methinks the average curd rice eater is a bit of a finicky eater so it's gonna be an uphill journey. Unless the taste and freshness exceeds expectations...

Might do better as a 'snack offering' in the ignorant-about-the-real-taste north Indian market!

P.S. Just realised I'm writing about dahi just on the day when there are dahi handis being broken all over Mumbai. Divine coincidence :)


  1. C'mon Rashmi... dahi??? what happened to all the fun things u used to write about? has your target audience changed to housewives now? what next? a JAM basmati rice survey?

  2. OMG!! Mom has to go thru so much before jammuing dahi... what about the other food, sabjis that she makes.. Will never be able to cook, anything other than maggi noodles and egg omellete...

  3. Interesting stuff, got the underlying

  4. I guess a small portion of the market buys the dahi but it's enough of a niche to be profitable? I think the best dahi is from the local dairies - don't know how they get it so thick.

  5. Even fruit flavoured yoggurts failed in India.

  6. hmmm...just wait ,in a short time kids will be saying that tetra packed dahi tastes better ,just like that bit you mentioned about kiddo's finding junk labelled as McDonald to be tastier junk.

  7. Hey Rashmi,
    Nice write up.
    It is amazing how we humans go from HomeMade to store bought, just because the commercially made ones claim to be better than the one made at home.
    I live in the US and most of things we eat here in day to day life has been either genetically modified or processed.
    There seems to be trend starting up here to go back to basics as in use products in their natural form. I read an article in NYTimes which details how processed food is injurious to health and it recommended not buying anything your Grandma didnt recognize as food :)
    I see that in India we are just starting to go the "processed" way. I think we will go all the way then again come back to basics, it is a vicious cycle.
    Apart from this, I still dont understand why anyone needs to buy a simple thing as dahi from a store.... aaah...

  8. Okay, I don't know what's happening out here. I mean, this blog has been one of the best I have been following for about an year or so. I just can't figure out how come so many folks have taken to flaming it, and that too so very regularly?

  9. Sounds like another ill advised idea that someone came up with because he/she did not make their quota for new ideas. But I guess time will tell because circumstances can drive you to accept things you never would otherwise accept. I remember as a kid growing up in India, even dahi from any other house would taste funny. I could only eat dahi made by my mom at my home. Fast forward 20 years and here I am, in the US, regulary consuming store made Dannon yogurt with acidiophillus (or some such culture). Now, I actually swear by Dannon.

  10. Dahi has been a part of an Indian staple diet for as long as the entire Indian history (remember Lord Krishna). The reason's for the emergence of porcessed Dahi due to the climate in the the West ( North America, Europe) It is very difficult to "jamofy dahi). Also, keeping the flag of innovation high, the Dahi companies have to come out with new products to sustain competition, therefore fruit dahi, pro biotic dahi..etc come into being. Lastly, Most people inthe west do not know how to nor have the time to curdele milk but love curds..so therefore the market for dahi.
    In the indian context, as the economy booms, new product are needed to sustain the fantastic growth rates of the companies, so why not borrow some ideas and products from the west ( that includes life style, food and behaviour). So as people in india rapidly adopt western lifestyle, these products make excellent market sense. It may be a good idea to eat processed dahi considering the high level of milk adulteration that is rampant in our cities. That dahi we make at home may be more contaminated than the more expensive processed dahi. So here one takes a call: Do I give more priority to health or wealth.
    What Aarti has written is correct and quite insightful. So summing up, lifestyle and profits shall determine whether processed food survives , because at the end of the day as Robin Sharma says and I quote (not verbatim)"to inculcate a habit, [the habit] should be repeated continuously for 21 days ". So if you eat processed dahi or krd rys for 21 days, mum may be replaced in the kitchen !(god forbid)

  11. simple packaged dahi will do only for singles like me living and managing alone ... any day i would prefer mom's wonderful dahi which is effortlessly converted -of course by mom- into raita or dahi chatni (not many may have heard of it)

    i guess it is time they start selling exotic raitas and flavored yoghurt .. may be mixed with pineapples, oranges ... yum !!

    this way even housewives may try it some day and if the pricing is good may form a habit ...

    untill then good luck to nestle !

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