Alternative names Idly
Course Breakfast
Place of origin South India
Serving temperature Hot with a condiment such as sambar or chutney
Main ingredients Black lentils (de-husked), rice
Variations Button idli, tatte idli, sanna, sambar idli, rava idli
16x16px Cookbook:Idli  16x16px Idli

Idli /ɪdl/ is a traditional breakfast in Indian households. Idli is a savoury cake that is popular throughout India and neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka. The cakes are usually two to three inches in diameter and are made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils (de-husked) and rice. The fermentation process breaks down the starches so that they are more readily metabolized by the body.

A variant of Idli known as sanna is very popular amongst the Goans and other Konkani people. Another variant known as Enduri Pitha is very popular in Odisha.


File:Sambar Idli - Mini idlis floating in sambar as served in Tamil nadu.JPG
Sambar Idli - Mini idlis floating in sambar as served in Tamil Nadu

A precursor of the modern idli is mentioned in several ancient Indian works. A 920 CE Kannada language work by Shivakotiacharya mentions "iddalige", prepared only from an urad dal (black lentil) batter. Chavundaraya II, the author of the earliest available Kannada encyclopaedia, Lokopakara (c. 1025 CE), describes the preparation of this food by soaking urad dal (black gram) in buttermilk, ground to a fine paste, and mixed with the clear water of curd and spices.[1] The Western Chalukya king and scholar Someshwara III, reigning in the area now called Karnataka, included an idli recipe in his encyclopedia, Manasollasa (1130 CE). This Sanskrit-language work describes the food as iddarika.[2] The food prepared using this recipe is now called uddina idli in Karnataka.

The recipe mentioned in these ancient Indian works leaves out three key aspects of the modern idli recipe: the use of rice (not just urad dal), the long fermentation of the mix, and the steaming for fluffiness. The references to the modern recipe appear in the Indian works only after 1250 CE. The food historian K. T. Achaya speculates that the modern idli recipe might have originated in present-day Indonesia, which has a long tradition of fermented food. According to him, the cooks employed by the Hindu kings of the Indianised kingdoms might have invented the steamed idli there, and brought the recipe back to India during 800-1200 CE.[3][4]

The Gujarati work Varanaka Samuchaya (1520 CE) mentions idli as idari, and also mentions its local adaption idada (a non-fermented version of dhokla).[5] The earliest extant Tamil work to mention idli (as itali) is Maccapuranam, dated to the 17th century.[6][7]


File:Grinding stone.jpg
A grinding stone for making paste of the black lentils and rice.
File:Sa idli stand.jpg
Idli batter is poured into the round indentations of the idli pans (pictured) and placed into a pressure cooker.

To make idli, two parts uncooked rice to one part split black lentil (urad dal, vigna mungo) are soaked separately for at least four hours. Optionally spices such as fenugreek seeds can be added at the time of soaking for additional flavor. Once done soaking, the lentils ground to a fine paste and rice coarsely grinned separately then combined. Next, the mixture is left to ferment overnight during which its volume will more than double. After fermentation some of the batter may be kept as a starter culture for the next batch.

The finished idli batter is put into greased moulds of an idli tray or "tree" for steaming. The perforated molds allow the idlis to be cooked evenly. The tree holds the trays above the level of boiling water in a pot, and the pot is covered until the idlis are done (about 10–25 minutes, depending on size). A more traditional method is to use leaves instead of molds.[8]


File:Idli with Sambar.jpg
Idli is commonly served with gravy-like sambar.

Since plain idlis are mild in taste, a condiment is essential. Idlis are often served with sambar but this varies greatly by region and personal taste. Idlis are also frequently served with chutnies (coconut based) or kaara chutney (onion based). The dry spice mixture podi is convenient while traveling.

Contemporary idlis and variations

With the emigration of south Indians and Sri Lankans throughout the region and world, many variations on idli have been created in addition to the almost countless local variations. Hard-to-get ingredients and differing cooking customs have required changes in both ingredients and methods.

File:Rave Idli.JPG
Rava idli (wheat idli) is a specialty of Karnataka
Parboiled rice can reduce the soaking time considerably. Store-bought ground rice or cream of rice may also be used.[9] Similarly, semolina or cream of wheat may be used for preparing rava idli (wheat idli).[10] Yogurt may be added to provide the sour flavor for unfermented batters. Prepackaged mixes allow for almost instant idlis.[11]

In addition to or instead of fenugreek other spices may be used such as such as mustard seeds, chile peppers, cumin, coriander, ginger, etc.[12] Sugar may be added to make them sweet instead of savory. Idli may also be stuffed with a filling of potato, beans, carrot and masala.[13] Leftover idlis can be cut-up and sautéed for a dish called idli upma.[14]

Rather than a stovetop steamer, microwave[15] and automatic electric[16] idli steamers are available with convenient non-stick coating. Batter preparation using a manual rocking rock grinder can be replaced by electric grinders[17] or blenders (mixies).


See also


  1. ^ Farnworth (2003), p. 11.
  2. ^ K. T. Achaya (1994), p. 90.
  3. ^ K.T. Achaya (1 November 2003). The Story of Our Food. Universities Press. pp. 80–. ISBN 978-81-7371-293-7. 
  4. ^ D. Balasubramanian (2004-10-21). "Changes in the Indian menu over the ages". The Hindu. 
  5. ^ Achyut Yagnik; Suchitra Seth (24 August 2005). Shaping Of Modern Gujarat. Penguin Books Limited. p. 24. ISBN 978-81-8475-185-7. 
  6. ^ Vikram Doctor (2007-04-28). "Idli saga: A study into the origin of the South Indian dish". 2014-08-25. 
  7. ^ K.T. Achaya (5 March 2009). The Illustrated Foods of India. OUP India. ISBN 978-0-19-569844-2. 
  8. ^ "Idlis in jackfruit leaves(Hittu/khotte/khotte kadubu)". Aayi's Recipes. 2006. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "Idli using Cream of Rice". Edibly Asian. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Geeta, Seth. "Rava Idli : (Cream of wheat or sooji idli)". North India Cooking. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  11. ^ "instant idli mix". Tarla Dalal. Sanjay & Co. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  12. ^ Rachana, Gorikapudi (2012). "Fenugreek Leaves Idli". SPICY CURRIES. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  13. ^ "Stuffed Idli". Spicy Tasty. 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  14. ^ "Idli Upma Recipe-Recipe with Leftover idlis". Padhu's Kitchen. 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "AMG Microwave Idli Maker/Idly Cooke". Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  16. ^ "Cooking Quick, Tasty Traditional Indian Cuisine". Panasonic News Portlal. Panasonic. 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  17. ^ "Premier Wonder Table Top Wet Grinder". Amazon. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 


  • K. T. Achaya (May 12, 1994). Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-563448-8. 
  • Devi, Yamuna (1987). Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, Dutton. ISBN 0-525-24564-2.
  • Farnworth, Edward R. (2003). Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-1372-1. 
  • Jaffrey, Madhur (1988). A Taste of India, Atheneum. ISBN 0-689-70726-6.
  • Rau, Santha Rama (1969). The Cooking of India, Time-Life Books.