As delectable as pork momos are, inadequately cooked meat filling could be the reason you catch tapeworm infection of the brain, warn Indian scientists, who have taken science to kitchens by suggesting simple steps to improve the quality of northeast India’s traditional and much-loved product.
Momos — steamed or fried folded dough pressed around fillings of meat, condiments and vegetables — are ubiquitous in northeastern states and among the top pig-out foods in Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Uttarakhand.
“Whether they are served at local roadside stalls, dining places or high-end restaurants, they are one of the most famous delicacies for the public.
“But if the pork meat is not properly cooked through, it could heighten risk of occurrence of neuro-cysticercosis caused by pork tapeworm cysts (larvae),” R. Thomas, scientist at the ICAR-National Research Centre on Pig, Guwahati, Assam, told
Thomas said while Indian Council of Medical Research data suggests the incidence of neurocysticercosis had alarmingly shot up in the recent past, no uniformity exists in the manner in which pork momos are cooked across the region. In developing countries, neurocysticercosis is the most common parasitic disease of the nervous system and is the main cause of acquired epilepsy.
“Many of the momos are homemade and recipes have been carried down through generations. But the mushrooming of fast food stalls along roadsides with no or minimal cooking facilities are attributed to the spike in neurocysticercosis,” he said.
So to rustle up a standard processing technique, a one-of-a-kind study was carried out by Thomas and colleagues S. Naskar, N. H. Mohan and D.K. Sarma across 100 fast food outlets (mostly un-authorised ones) in both rural and urban localities of Assam’s Kamrup district.
“In rural areas, we found the cooking was okay. Ideally, you should hold the temperature of the meat at 70 degrees centigrade for some time to ensure the cysts are inactivated. Also, the meat should be cooked before stuffing but in the fast food joints we observed, the meat stuffing is cooked together with the dough cover.
“While the dough is cooked in a few minutes, the meat remains undercooked,” explained Thomas.
The study published in January in the Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge notes: “In 68 percent of the outlets, the core temperature of the meat pieces present in the momos was below 60 degrees centigrade even after cooking.”
Based on the analysis, the researchers recommend two standardised techniques perfected at the institute’s pork processing unit.
“The first process proposes cutting the meat into small pieces and pressure cooking it for 25 to 30 minutes. The other method suggests mincing the meat and shallow pan frying it (keema) for 10 to 12 minutes. In both the cases, the core meat temperature reached above 70 degrees centigrade which is recommended for destroying the causative agent, the cyst,” added Thomas.
While the trick to hygienic momos lie in temperature control, the scientists also hope food stall owners and consumers become more aware about food safety standards.