Puffed Rice and the Sacred Fire

Ammini Ramachandran, who knows so much about the food of Kerala in India, compares puffed rice to popcorn.  The techniques are similar.

Reminded me of how in India we used make puffed rice for festivals at home over hot sand. Freshly harvested rice is dried in its husk until completely free of moisture. Then a wide mouthed clay pot half full of sand is heated and when the sand is really hot the un-hulled rice grains are dropped in. With the heat they pop out of their husk and puff up. Before they can burst out of the pot, they are lifted out with a perforated spoon that allows the sand and husk to skip through and neatly separates the puffed rice. Puffed rice looks like small white translucent popcorn. It is light papery and very fragile.

So too is the fact that the puffed grain is invested with significance.

Puffed rice plays a symbolic role in Hindu weddings. The ultimate witness to the union is the sacred fire and one of the main rituals is saptapadi or the seven steps taken by the couple together around the holy fire. As they walk around the fire, the couple pours handfuls of puffed rice into the brightly burning fire as a sacred offering; rice in all its forms is considered holy and is revered.

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4 thoughts on “Puffed Rice and the Sacred Fire

  1. Naomi Duguid

    In Tibet they make puffed barley, in sand, the same way. Of course at altitude it takes more time to get the moisture in the grain hot enough to generate enough steam to pop it.

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Thanks Naomi. Strange, I don’t know of any puffed wheat until the cereal of the same name. But there must be some, mustn’t there?

  2. Thalassa

    I think Ammini has made a slight error. When she describes the wedding rituals, what she has in mind is flattened puffed rice, not regular puffed rice. These are two different ingredients used in completely different ways in India. For instance, the Indian snack bhelpuri is made with puffed rice, but never ever with flattened puffed rice because the texture is not right.

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Thanks Thalassa. Is the flattened version first puffed, then flattened? With a pestle? I’d be curious to know more.


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