When I wrote about ‘Ginnu’ (colostrum) in my previous blog, a colleague of mine from Kerala showed distaste for the ginnu & also said that they don’t eat it because of hygienic reason…they considered it unhygienic!! It touched a chord in me, because when I was growing up, we were encouraged to eat it as much as possible. In those days almost all the households in Kodagu had their own herd of cattle. Since I have a sweet tooth, I would eat till there is no space left in my tummy & would joke that if I put my finger through my throat, I could touch it!! My mother said it was very good for health & every drop of it was worth more than its weight in gold!! Also, I firmly believe that God almighty is both the cause & effect of everything, & that everything created by God has a purpose. Just because we don’t know does not mean that things don’t have a purpose!! So to substantiate myself, I asked around, and surprisingly none of my other Keralite friends knew about it either.
In the bargain I managed to ask people from different states & religions and hear their responses. Generally the quick response from those who are used to eating Ginnu: “oh I love ginnu” or “it’s my favourite”. Almost all (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra & Pakistan) seem to prepare*** it the same way. When I spoke to a sweet old lady from the Lingaygat community (from North Karnataka) about ginnu, she smiled and said: oh I love it & mentioned an age old proverb: “Honna kottaru ginna sigodilla”… which means even if you give gold you can’t get ginnu. She also added that the orthodox from her community especially from the Karvar (Mangalore) side & the Brahmins will not eat ginnu & instead, they pour the colostrum under trees (due to madi.. something like suddam in Malayalam.. sorry I have no idea what is the English word). My elder daughter, born & raised outside India, finds the colostrum not up to her taste (feels the same way about country eggs too). So if she finds me eating (happens once in a blue moon), she ends up arguing with me because I over eat & sugar is bad! So overall it’s a mixed perception, either according to an individual’s palate or passed on in the culture.
So what is colostrum? Colostrum is the slightly yellowish coloured pre-milk fluid produced from the mammary glands of female mammals during the first 2 to 3 days after birth before true milk appears. Most often, this fluid is taken in the first twelve hours of a newborn’s life. It is a rich mixture of natural source of antibodies (immunoglobulins* designed to fight disease-causing agents like bacteria & viruses) & essential nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, & minerals for a young one to grow & develop. It confers immune protection to the newborn from infections. In simple words, it is produced naturally in the new mothers’ breasts to help the helpless young ones to kick-start their lives & surely a perfect testimony for the sophistication of the Creator himself.
Colostrum seems to be the natural weapon that equips & prepares the young ones in the wild to stand up & face the world against all the odds in every terrain. It is mind blowing to imagine how potent it must be in order to offer such multitude of benefits & sustain a new born. Next time you see a new born Wildebeest (gnus) calf following the mother (herd) in the long arduous journey, or a Polar Bear cub following the mother on the ice or a Camel calf on the desert, close your eyes for a minute & learn to appreciate the glorious creations of God almighty.
Neonatal care varies from communities to communities for both the new baby & the mother; the baby will breast-feed only on the 2nd or 3rd day. Although breast-feeding in India is traditional, colostrum rejection is also equally traditional. Colostrum is produced by every female mammal since the dawn of creation yet not much is known about it. If some communities were particular in giving the colostrum to babies, most shun it. Many give boiled & cooled water to babies or give a raisin tied in a mull cloth to suck till the milk appears. Some say that the babies are very alert at this stage & eye contact with the mother is needed for lactation, while others believe that the babies do not understand anything!! New mothers are often encouraged to feed the babies & insist that the child to be brought to the mother & be placed on her bosom.. others say that the mother needs to rest…
Colostrum is relatively new as a nutritional supplement and gained grounds only after the resurgence of breastfeeding in the Seventies. The powdered supplement known as Pedimune is administered to boost the immunity & is mostly produced from the cows. This is known as the Bovine (related to animals) colostrum..guess there are no human donors!!
Lately colostrum has caught up with the mass as highly nutritious (for both infants & adults) & a must for the immunity of a child. With the modern ideology kicking over, many mothers are willing to give colostrum to their offspring. After all, anything pricey should be good right? This also makes me wonder how many really know what colostrum is? Do they really know the true value of colostrum or are blindly administering it because their pediatrician or friends told them it’s good for their child? Or simply the old medicines look good in a new package?
Since the bovine colostrum is tailored to the needs of calves in particular, it is hard to say how much it (the antibodies) can help humans**. However, colostrum also contains substances that might offer general benefits, such as growth factors (which stimulates the growth & development of cells in the digestive tract & perhaps elsewhere) & transfer factor (which may have general immune-activating properties). Then again, humans have been drinking milk through the millennium & our systems are adapted to it. Similarly the cow’s colostrum might vibe well with human system.
Colostrum is even becoming popular with athletes. It has been used as a dietary supplement to treat diarrhea, infections, colitis, & to improve athletic performance. Studies say that it possesses anti-inflammatory & chemo-preventive properties. Regular consumption is said to play a protective role for infantile gastrointestinal immunity due to its direct effect of promoting & developing infantile gut-associated lymphoid tissues which are responsible mainly for pronouncing infantile gut immunity. It is also being considered for prophylactic treatment of recurrent upper respiratory tract infection (URTIs).
I am glad that my colleague squirmed… so that I could write this & encourage the young mothers to feed colostrum to their new born… including my future grand children!! Until now I was under the impression that in India, Keralites are the pioneers of using the natural resources & slowly I realized that there are no masters of anything in this world!! I wish & hope one day maybe scientists will decode the amazing full value of colostrum & in the mean time all the New Mothers will make sure to feed their newborns. There is so much to learn from the experiences & knowledge from our fore-parents
*Immunoglobulins, also known as antibodies, are glycoprotein molecules produced by plasma cells (white blood cells). They act as a critical part of the immune response by specifically recognizing & binding to particular antigens, such as bacteria or viruses & aiding in their destruction.
**I read that efforts have been made to create a special form of infection-fighting colostrum (agent) called hyper-immune colostrum by inoculating cows with bacteria & viruses that affect humans. The cow in turn makes antibodies to these bacteria and virus, & secretes those antibodies into its colostrum. How effective it is, well we have to wait & see… I am always apprehensive of hybrid products!! Also, commercializing this makes one wonder how much will the new born calves get to drink what is rightfully theirs…
***Ginnu (Colostrum pudding) is the easiest pudding to prepare. Mix 1 cup colostrum, 3/4 cup (or as per taste) powdered jaggery or sugar in the vessel. Stir until the powder dissolves completely. Strain through the strainer to remove if there are any impurities. In the steaming vessel pour (preferably in a plate) the colostrum & steam for 20 minutes. Once it is steamed it sets like pudding. Let it cool completely. After steaming it oozes out very little water which is absolutely normal. You can collect & drink the water. When it is completely cooled, cut it to neat squares. Refrigerate & enjoy. Sprinkling a pinch of cardamom powder or nutmeg powder or saffron is absolutely optional but personally recommended. Mostly every one prefers it plain. Water-buffalo colostrum is very thick so the pudding turns very hard. In that case you can add 1/8th of a cup normal milk to make is soft.