Traditional foods reflect the culture and values of a community.

They act as vehicles of our culture and possess health benefits. Knowledge about traditional food entails the culture, history, dietary patterns and how these have been shaped through time. However, information about traditional food is missing from the current national food composition databases.

Methods of preparing such foods have been passed down through the generations without any documentation.

Traditional food provide food security, apart from preserving the cultural values. Such foods can be used at times of crises, during food shortages or seasonal shortfalls, thereby, enhancing the livelihood of the community. Traditional food can also act as a link between society and sustainable food systems. The cereal- and legumes-based traditional foods are a good source of carbohydrate and protein.

Moreover, legume-based fermented foods are rich in amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

For instance, kinema, which is indigenous to the Limbu community, has high amounts of linoleic acid, which is good for the heart. The food is enriched with riboflavin and niacin vitamins due to microbial fermentation of beans. Similar is the case with masyaura, made from legumes, which contains high amounts of soluble proteins and vitamin B complex, and help in the digestibility of starch.

Despite the benefits and easy availability, many traditional foods are on the verge of extinction and are less popular with the younger generation. We can promote traditional food through food literacy programmes.

Food literacy is needed to improve knowledge about what to eat for better health and how to access nutritious food.

Food literacy can be promoted among children and the youth through informal community-based knowledge and formal curriculum-based knowledge.

Substantial work must be carried out to document the reported beneficial health effects of traditional foods. Moreover, we need to determine the micro and macro nutrient components of traditional foods and elucidate their role in the traditional dietary pattern. The promotion of traditional and indigenous foods can help in solving the problem of malnutrition in a developing country like Nepal.

To promote traditional and indigenous foods, we need to upgrade our policies and strategies.

A system of documenting traditional knowledge and practices is needed. Policymakers must be engaged in promoting indigenous foods, while integrating food biodiversity in the government policies and programmes. There is a need to support those indigenous people who depend on production of indigenous foods.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 5 2021, of The Himalayan Times.