The process employed in some of key foods in the Pontian diet and cuisine, including pre-baked pasta, butter and yoghurts, have unique benefits says Aristotle University of Thessaloniki academic Professor Thomas Savvidis, who is also the author of “The Pontian Diet, the Mastic of Chios and Homer’s Vine”.
In his recent review article entitled “The Basic Principles of Pontian Diet” Professor Savvidis found that Pontian practices in lactic acidic fermentation of dairy products “among them, cheese (tyrin), yoghurt (oxygala) and butter milk (tan)” helped with the better absorption of proteins and calcium from milk, as well as introducing beneficial Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) into the human digestion system.
The Pontus region is characterised by richer vegetation and more rain than in Greece that in turn supported the breeding of cattle and placed a greater reliance on their dairy products for protein.
“Large animals (oxen or cows) are rarely used as meat … it is much more profitable to consume the product from them (dairy) after lactic acid fermentation. Male (cattle) were used as energy producers in agricultural work. Meat plays an auxiliary role and come from mainly smaller animals, such as lambs, poultry and fish,” wrote Prof Savvidis in the article appearing in the “Annals of Nutrition & Food Science”.
READ MORE: Pontian diet, an online presentation gives background into Pontian food culture
“The mechanical processes of digestion are facilitated (by the introduction of LAB); the food is better assimilated and does not stagnate in the digestive system, which would give the opportunity for pathological conditions. Additionally, LAB gives flavour to fermented dairy items and works as preservative agent.”
He said that the Lactobacillus strain in the LAB of the Pontian diet showed numerous benefits in terms of better immunity for the body, helping reduce high blood pressure and facilitating the absorption of calcium into the body and it also showed anti-cancer properties.
One of the most popular dairy products of the region remained traditional butter which was the main source of animal fat due to its “aromatic characteristics and nutritive value.” The discovery of butter has long been attributed to the Ancient Greek colonies of the Pontus region.
Yoghurt from raw cow’s milk had traditionally was churned vigorously in a special wooden barrel to produce butter with cold water added during the process.
The butter was frequently used in meals or spread over bread. It also served to introduce beneficial probiotic bacteria into the digestive system.
The professor also studied the use of wheat products in the Pontian diet. Wheat was the main source of vegetable protein and carbohydrates in the diet which was eaten mainly in the form of bread and a unique variety of home-made pasta.
The Pontian practice of pre-baking the pasta dough (Yiokhades) after it has been shaped had added benefits of increasing the shelf life of the food. The process prevented the growth of fungi on the stored pasta in the wet climate of the Pontus.
It also had the added benefit of needing less cooking time than commercial pasta.
Using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Prof Savvidis found that starch granules in the pre-baked pasta were slightly swollen, and their shape was closely associated with proteins.
Commercial pasta, on the other hand, showed “a flat surface with hardly visible starch granules associated with protein film.”
In short, the pre-baked pasta allowed for the rapid absorption of water within the body and a feeling of satiety. It also allowed for quicker, easier digestion thus avoiding irritation in the stomach walls and heartburn. At the same time, more nutrients are absorbed by eating pre-baked Pontian pasta.
The distinctive taste of the Pontian pre-baked pasta also meant that there was no need for adding additional sauces and could be consumed as a snack during the day.
The movement of the pre-baked pasta in the intestine had the added benefit of “clearing the intestinal tract of pathogens”, wrote Prof Savvidis.
“The acidic dairy products in the Pontian diet are harmoniously combined with cereal products, which are known to be the cornerstone of Western civilization. Among cereal products, home-made pasta is an interesting source of vegetable proteins and slow-release carbohydrates. Thus, it is important to educate the new generations about the vital role of lactic acidic fermentation dairy products and the hygiene properties of pre-baked pasta. Moreover, this combination also completes peoples expectations,” Prof Savvidis concluded in his paper.
Yiokadhes preparation (Pre-baked pasta) recipe.
While many Pontian foods are available commercially in Greece it is not so easy to find them in Melbourne.
The preparation for Yiokades (the pre-baked) pasta in Professor Thomas Savvidis research paper is relatively simple to make but will need practice to perfect. All you need is flour, water and salt. The problem is getting exact measurements.
For a good batch: you will need three glasses of water (about 900ml), two teaspoons of salt and in the region of 800g to 1kg of flour.
Mix ingredients and knead them until they form a big, elastic ball of dough,
Spread the ball out and kneed again of a flat surface sprinkled with dough.
Then roll into a long roll about 40cms long and about 10cms in diameter. Cut down the middle and cut the two lengths of dough into smaller pieces about 8 to 10cms long. Shape each roll of dough each into a ball and set aside.
Take one ball and use the roller to roll it out on a flour-sprinkled surface to the size of a large pizza base that is a few millimetres thin. Lift the rolled out piece of Yiokadhes dough by rolling it loosely on the rolling pin thus ensuring the piece does not tear.
You need a Satz, a traditional cooking utensivl that looks like a large, upside down wok that you place to heat over a gas flame (or more traditionally over a wood fire). When the flames have heated the Satz, unravel the Yiokadhes dough over the concave shape of the hot Satz.
The heat quickly forces little bubbles on the cooking Yokhades dough. Quickly flip it over and let the other side cook. The surface may even darken but must not be allowed to go hard.
Lift the cooked Yokadha and roll it into a thickness of about 3cms wide, Cut 3cm wide cross sections of the roll.
Place each cut roll in a baking tray to further dry in a slow oven or on piece of gauze to dry in the air. Pack in a bag to store to use as needed.