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Above all other Indian meals, kitchari is considered beneficial for spiritual growth, intestinal repair, and rejuvenation. It’s an Ayurvedic detox food, but in my house, as in many around the world, it’s consumed regularly as a staple throughout the year.
Kitchari, pronounced kich-ah-ree and sometimes spelled khichadi or khichdi, has long been used to nourish babies, the elderly, and the sick, along with healthy adults during special times of detox, cleansing, and spiritual practice.
A simple, porridge-like blend of beans and rice, kitchari is often referred to as the Indian comfort food. But, contrary to Western idea of comfort food, kitchari has many nourishing and cleansing benefits.
Join me as I investigate the subtle magic of kitchari, its profound benefits, and a simple recipe.
The term kitchari is used to describe any mixture of rice and beans. Traditional cleansing kitchari consists of split yellow mung beans, long-grain white or basmati rice, and a blend of Indian spices. Let’s take a look at the constituents on their own before we dive into how to blend them.
Why White Rice?
The first question you might ask is: Why white rice? During a cleanse, metabolism slows and digestive strength weakens, so foods must be very easy to digest.
White rice is used for kitchari because the husk has been milled off. While brown rice may be used (and will actually supply more fiber and nutrients), the husk makes it much harder to digest. During cleansing, a time of already compromised digestion, the husk can irritate the intestinal wall and cause digestive gas or abdominal pain.
Remember, kitchari is still used today in India as baby food—a food that is super easy to digest. Under normal circumstances, the husk of rice and other protective antinutrients on grains and legumes are healthy and support robust gut immunity, but, during a cleanse, the gut is in repair mode, so we make it as easy as possible.
Traditionally, farmers brought rice to the miller to dehusk based on their needs. If someone was sick, elderly, or there was a baby in the house, all of the husk would come off, making white rice for ease of digestion. Brown rice was used only if digestive strength was optimal or when funds were short, as it was expensive to have rice prepared and dehusked.
Long-grain white rice was typically used because it was believed to be more nutritious than short-grain. Even without the husk, it was considered more blood sugar stable. Now, studies have shown long-grain white rice is a low glycemic index food, lower than short-grain and other forms of rice.1
Why Split Yellow Mung Beans?
To be called kitchari, rice has to be cooked with a legume. Traditionally, that legume is split yellow mung dahl beans.
Split yellow mung beans also have their husk removed. When split, the husk, very hard to digest and gas-producing, naturally falls off. This process renders them much easier to cook, digest, and assimilate.
Imagine how long it would have taken to prepare a bowl of kitchari in the traditional way when you had to dehusk the rice and split the mung dahl by hand. The benefits must have warranted this painstaking process.
Mung Bean Science
Perhaps the most exciting research on mung beans suggests two of its major flavonoids, vitexin and isovitexin, are able to turn off one of the body’s major anti-aging switches, called HMGB1 (high mobility group box 1), which triggers release of toxic degenerative cytokines.10,11
In a study on rodents, these mung bean flavonoids block up to 82% of HMGB1 protein activation, a protein closely related to many serious health concerns.10,11
The Anti-Gas Bean
In another study, mung beans were found to be free of any “flatulence factors,” suggesting it may be the only bean that does not produce gas.2,9 This is one reason this bean has been used for babies and convalescence.
According to Ayurveda, it is the only bean classified as anti-vata or anti-gas. This means that, unlike every other type of beans or lentils, they will not produce intestinal gas. It is no surprise that Ayurveda chose this bean as the “cleansing bean” over all others.
It is estimated that seven out of 10 Americans are deficient in magnesium. In one large study of more than 58,000 people, those with the lowest magnesium intake had a 51% increased risk of dying from heart-related issues. Mung beans are a great source of magnesium.3,11
As a naturally low glycemic index food, mung beans, as part of a healthy diet, have been shown to support healthy glucose, insulin, and fat levels in the blood.6
In animal studies, mung beans were also shown to block production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which wreak havoc on the body when blood sugar levels spike.6
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Kitchari: Perfect Protein
The combination of rice and beans has been a staple around the world for 10,000 years, and for good reason. You’ve probably heard the term complete protein, but let’s take a minute to really understand what it means.
There are 20 amino acids that combine to make the protein we need. The body can synthesize 10 on its own. The other 10, called essential amino acids, the body does not make, meaning we must get them from food. Animal proteins are complete, containing all 10 essential amino acids. While plant foods are also complete, the amount of certain amino acids in plants is more abundant when plants food like rice and beans are combined. 5
Rice, like most grains, is low in the amino acid lysine. As a result, if you live on grains alone, you may slowly become lysine deficient. Legumes and lentils, on the other hand, have lots of lysine, but are generally low in methionine, tryptophan, and cystine. Fortunately, grains are high in these.
So the marriage of rice and beans, as found in kitchari, provides the 10 essential amino acids, making robust complete proteins for cultures around the world for thousands of years. For plant-based cultures, this is often what allows their diet to be sustainable.
Kitchari for Cleansing
During a cleanse, it’s essential to have adequate protein to keep blood sugar stable and burn fat.
One of the most common reasons folks have trouble cleansing is unstable blood sugar made worse by the detox process. During a fast, for example, you are asked to drink only water or juice. For many, this type of austere fasting can be a strain and deplete blood sugar reserves. Then folks get really hungry, irritable, and end up with a low blood sugar headache or crash.
While the goal of a fast is to shift the body into fat metabolism and detox fat cells, this will not happen if the body is under stress and strain.
Here’s the basic equation:
- Stress = Fat storing
- No Stress = Fat burning
If you attempt to detox heavy metals, preservatives, chemicals, pesticides, and environmental toxins from fat cells with a cleanse, make sure you aren’t straining, or the amount of fat burned will be minimal.
Kitchari provides nourishment in the form of all the amino acids needed to keep blood sugars stable. Otherwise, ironically, the body may react to the cleanse as a fat-storing emergency!
The goal of any cleanse should be to convince the body and the cells that life is not an emergency and it’s okay to burn stored fat and release toxins. During a kitchari cleanse, you eat this complete protein three times per day, so there is no starvation response whatsoever.
In fact, I always say that during our Colorado Cleanse and Short Home Cleanse, if you’re straining or hungry, you aren’t getting optimal benefits. The more comfortable you are, the more fat you’ll burn.
Check out all the LifeSpa cleanses here.
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Kitchari to Reset the Gut Wall
In India, kitchari is often the first food for babies, not only because it’s so easy to digest, but also because it heals and soothes the intestinal wall.
With 95% of serotonin produced in the gut, it’s clear we process stress through the intestinal wall. Chronic stress will irritate the intestinal wall and compromise digestion, the ability to detoxify through the gut, and cope with further stress. During a kitchari cleanse, the digestive system can heal.
While we offer three dietary options in our kitchari cleanses: the mono-, duo-, and poly-diets. Eating just kitchari as a monodiet delivers a significant amount of fiber used by gut microbes to create gut-healthy butyric acid.7-9 Kitchari allows much of the digestive process to rest, while providing nutrition to heal the gut and nourish the body.
The duo-diet combines kitchari and vegetables to provide a broader spectrum of nutrients for the cleanser not quite ready to eat the mono-diet (or kitchari only). The poly-diet is a combination of kitchari (or any combination of grains and legumes), along with vegetables and fruit. This is the best plan to start the cleanse with unless you are a seasoned cleanser. You can work your way down to the duo- and monodiets during the cleanse if you are feeling comfortable.
Spiritual Practice + Deep Inner Calm
Fat metabolism facilitates deep calm, making it the natural state for spiritual inquiry and practice. For this reason, kitchari was fed to monks and ascetics to help create a sense of stillness in which to gain greater access to old toxic emotional and behavioral patterns. This is also why kitchari is the food of choice of panchakarma, Ayurveda’s deepest detox retreat.
This recipe makes enough kitchari for three or four meals. You can play with the mixture of spices. Many people prefer this recipe with spices doubled or even tripled.
*Note: During a cleanse, we recommend kitchari be made with less or no ghee. Because ghee is a fat, it will slow the shift into fat metabolism. The less ghee you use, the deeper the cleanse. Outside of cleansing, as part of a regular diet, it is important to use ghee.
- 1 cup split yellow mung dahl beans*
- ¼ – ½ cup white basmati or long-grain rice
- 1 Tbsp fresh ginger root
- 1 tsp each: black mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric powder
- ½ tsp each: coriander powder, fennel, fenugreek seeds
- 3 cloves
- 3 bay leaves
- 7-10 cups water
- ½ tsp salt (rock salt is best)
- 1 small handful chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Can add steamed vegetables or lean meat when not cleansing, or for extra blood sugar support during cleanses
- NOTE: If not cleansing, add 2 tsp ghee during step 2 of the cooking process.
*Split yellow mung dahl beans are available at Asian or Indian grocery stores or on our online store. Different spellings include mung or just dahl. Note: you do not want whole mung beans (which are green) or yellow split peas.
*LifeSpa also carries Organic Kitchari packets with long-grain white rice, split yellow mung beans, and Ayurvedic spices for a quick and easy meal.
- Wash split yellow mung beans and rice together until water runs clear.
- Optional: In preheated large pot, dry roast ginger and spices (except bay leaves) on medium heat for a few minutes to enhance flavor.
- Add dahl and rice and stir, coating rice and beans with spices.
- Add water and bay leaves and bring to boil.
- Boil for 10 minutes.
- Turn heat to low, cover pot, and cook until dahl and rice become soft (about 30-40 minutes).
- Add cilantro just before serving.
- Add salt or Bragg’s to taste.
For weak digestion, gas, or bloating: Before starting to prepare kitchari, first parboil split mung dahl (cover with water and bring to boil), drain, and rinse. Repeat 2-3 times. OR soak beans overnight. Drain and cook as directed.
Kitchari : A New Favorite in Your Kitchen
Make kitchari when you’re sick, sad, cleansing, for a loved one under the weather, when you can’t be bothered to cook, when you come back from a long trip, or when you need to regain your strength, but maybe not for dinner on a first date.
You’ll be surprised how warming and comforting it is, and pretty soon it’ll be the stuff your cravings are made of.