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Taming The Yam

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Mega-sized yam in the center

Mega-sized yam in the center

The waft of yam roast  (Senaikizhangu and Karunaikizhangu in Tamil) afloat in the air would kindle anybody’s appetite. Crisp yam roast goes as a good accompaniment with all three courses of the South Indian meal (Sāmbhar, Rasam and Curd rice). Its tendency to retain its form longer and not become mushy quickly, makes it suitable to be one among the many vegetables used for Avial or Vegetable Stew. But, the yam dish which is most endearing to everybody is undoubtedly the roast.

The procedure to prepare the roast is elementary. Just clean the dirt on the peel by showing it under a stream of running water, slice off the rough peel, wash again to get rid of the remnants of dirt and cut into slices; coat the slices with a  masala mix of turmeric, chili powder, ginger garlic paste, pepper powder, fennel seed powder, corn flour, salt and shallow fry them. Err… have you already sensed the bungling in the procedure? The critical pretreatment step of yam, which should have been flanked by cutting into slices and coating with the masala, is missing! This could be an unpardonable blunder. Treat yam just like any other vegetable, you would end up with an itchy tongue – Gosh! Of all parts, a tongue that is itchy – can’t even scratch. Sometimes it is an annoying itchy feeling and sometimes it is a pricking sensation, which is worse. Had been through this agonizing ordeal once, when a cook in all her ignorance prepared a colocasia curry (Sepangkizhangu in Tamil – another veggie that produces a similar after effect) without subjecting it to pretreatment. Guess I spent atleast an hour, gargling my mouth, eating spoons of sugar, to do away with that rankling sensation in the tongue. I do not want even my worst enemy to go through such a tormenting situation.

If you have observed your mom or granny prepare this tuber, you would have noticed how meticulously they go about taming the yam. After cutting the yam into slices, they soak them into a bowl of dilute tamarind extract or buttermilk and keep them aside for atleast half an hour. Then, they rinse the slices in water and continue with the rest of the preparation steps. What they attempt to do here is neutralize the fine calcium oxalate crystals (raphides) in the tuber that stab the sensitive tissues of the tongue, with an acid solution. Follow in their footsteps and don’t ever forget the neutralizing part. You could also half-cook the slices in boiling water with turmeric and salt, discard the water and proceed.

But, what to do, if somebody has skipped the taming step by mistake? Alleviate the itchiness or prickliness with these tips:

  1. Rub ice gently on the tongue;
  2. Slurp a tablespoon of honey;
  3. Eat ice-cream – a plain one without any topping;
  4. Gargle with buttermilk at regular intervals till the irritating sensation subsides; follow it up with an iced buttermilk drink to soothe the affected tongue;
  5. Worried about the itchiness of skin (contact dermatitis), some suffer on direct contact with the raw vegetable? Wear gloves or apply coconut oil on hands before handling the raw vegetable.

Wish I had known these remedies, a few years ago.  In case the itchiness persists despite following the tips, please do not ignore. Consult a doctor, right away.


7 responses »

  1. That was very interesting and informative.My granny used to cook(pr cook) pidi karunaikizhangu with guava or custard apple leaves….makes me wonder how these leaves neutralised the oxalate crystals

    • So, we have a new tip now. I am sure not many would know this … thanks for the input.
      May be the oxalate forms complexes with substances in the leaves? or may be it is the heat of pressure cooking that does the trick … not certain though :).

  2. My mom just went through this experience.. so far we havent been ‘taming’ the yam .. maybe there wasnt enough calcium oxalate then..

  3. Yes…even I have seen people cook yam without any pretreatment. As you say, the after effects depend on the amount of calcium oxalate present in it. But to be on the safer side, always tame the yam.

  4. I have been suffering from yam, colocasia allergy since childhood…. in kerala, the famous dish Aviyal in it yam is added every time when it is prepared for any function like wedding… and i always get a itchy tongue and throat … the remedy is to eat any curry prepared with tamarind or cocum (Garcinia Cambogia) and i find it instantly effective with cocum; with in 10 sec everything is gone. another remedy is to have lemon pickle but mango pickle is not effective… it is traditional passed down to us that “in the month of Cancer yam and colocasia wont bite you” and in that month in whole kerala the Colocasia leaf curry is a special for lunch.

  5. Thanks Biju, for your valuable tips to counter itchy tongue and throat caused by yam.

  6. I came across your blog today when I got an itchy tongue after eating the yam which was prepared without taming it.. No one else in the family experienced itchy tongue except me.. It was so irritating but thanks to your home remedies, it got relieved within few minutes.. I had honey and rubbed ice on the tongue and it was all good… Thanku so much..


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