How papadums (papads) work and are made

Indian food is known for all its accompaniments on the plate. Whether it’s a chutney, a pickle or some type of bread, most meals aren’t just made of one dish. For bread, there are a lot of different options. Besides the common chapati, slightly fancier naan or buttery paratha, a crispy papadum is just one of the many options. They are very thin and crispy, so more cracker than bread like and can be made of all sorts of meals (generally not from wheat though!).

Most of us will buy ready-to-cook papadums in a supermarket. all you have to do is cook them. However, you only truly understand a papadums once you’ve made one from scratch. Which is why we’ll discuss the process from beginning to end, to really understand how they work (and get so crispy!).

What are papadums

Papadums are a thin crispy bread, more cracker like and can be made from all sorts of flours. The main ingredient is often some sort of a legume such as lentils or chickpeas. You can also make them from potato, rice or tapioca. They all have in common that the flour is mixed with some water (but not too much), plenty of spices (mostly commonly cumin and chili) and some salt. The resulting dough or batter is then rolled out thinly and dried. As such, you can store them for months on end. Therefore, they are a great way to have some quick to prepare food on hand!

Papadum terminology

India is a huge country, with a lot of different cuisines and languages and as a result, even though papadums show up in most areas, in slightly different ways, they can be called differently. Depending on the region, people might also call them pappadam, appalam or papad.

For simplicity, we’ll stick with the name papadums.

unbaked papadums
Store bought papadums

How to make papadum dough

Papadums, or papads, can be made with a variety of flours. Overall, there seem to be two distinct ways of making the dough:

  1. Knead the flour with some water into a quite stiff, inflexible dough ; leave it to hydrate until you roll it into thin papadums – this method is used for legume flours such as lentils or chickpeas
  2. Cook the flour (with some water) until it thickens up, this dough is quite sticky and soft compared to that of method 1 – you will find this method being used for flours from rice, potato and tapioca

So why are there two methods? This has to do with the behaviour of the different types of flours and the fact that you need a strong enough dough to hold the very thin papadum together. Some flours need to be cooked on forehand to ‘activate’ the starch. Without cooking the flour, the starch will not be able to help keep the dough together. This is the case for the potato and rice. Flours from legumes on the other hand hand don’t need this activation. They can already form a sturdy dough without any other step needed.

Rolling it super thin

The most important part of the papadums is to roll them out very thinly. The only way to do that though is if you’ve got a dough that is sturdy enough to be rolled out so thinly. If ever you need to roll out a dough so thinly, it is almost always better to rest the dough. By resting it, the flours can properly hydrate with the water and stabilize. (Note, papads generally don’t contain wheat flour, so there’s no relaxing of gluten!)

chickpea papadum dough in process
Chickpea papadum dough in the process of being rolled out

Drying the papads

Some papads (such as the chickpea ones at the bottom), can be prepared right after you’ve rolled them out. However, more common is to leave them to dry out. By drying the papads you extend the shelf life of them by weeks or months. As we’ve discussed before, drying out foods and thus lowering the water activity, prevents the growth of spoilage micro organisms. As a result, you can make dozens of papads in one day, leave them to dry and have enough papads to eat for some time to come!

When you’re drying the papads it’s important that they dry quick enough but not too quickly. You shouldn’t dry them in a hot oven, since it will start cooking some of the papads already. Better is to dry them in a slightly warm oven if your house is cool or just leave them in an airy spot in the sun (protected from insects). This way, the moisture can slowly leave the papad, likely curling up. If you want to keep them perfectly flat you’ll need a system to keep them flat during drying, while allowing the moisture to escape.

Cooking the papadums

The dried papad doughs are crispy, they break up but they’re not yet really crispy. They won’t shatter when you bite into them. To make the characteristic final super crispy papads you need to cook them. There are several ways to do so, the three most common one being: frying in oil, baking on top of a stove fire or, in the microwave!

Deep frying

You can fry papadums by dropping them in hot oil (at least 160C, preferably 180C) and just leave them in there for a few seconds. When you drop them in, you will see it sink down, a lot of air bubbles forming and then see the papadums rising back to the top. It literally takes seconds to fry them.

The final crisped out papadums has a lot of small little bubbles, is super crunchy and full of flavour. If you’ve added spices to the papadums earlier on, frying them in oil will develop some of these flavours as well.

So what happens during frying? The hot oil is a lot warmer than the boiling point of water. As a result, water evaporates as soon as it contacts the hot oil. Since a papadums is so thin, the remaining moisture in the papadums evaporates almost as soon as hits the oil. Once that burst of moisture has evaporated, the papadums will start to brown slightly, indicating that it’s time to take it out, or risk burning. Papadums will burn really easily if you don’t pay attention since they are so thin and since there’s so little moisture to evaporate!

Over an open stove flame

If you’re an experience papadum maker, you can probably fry them about a stove flame. However, this is quite a tricky method. The heat from the flame will soften the dough, which is necessary for the moisture inside to evaporate and expand. However, that also menas the papadum might bend, before it has time to crisp up. Cooking papadums above an open flame requires very good control of the heat of the flame, how high above the flame you hold it and how well you’re able to judge cooking. That said, the slight char on the papadum does give it a unique flavour.

Microwaving papads

There is another way to prepare papads without any oil or fire: cooking them in the microwave. Just place them, covered with some kitchen towl, in the microwave for about 1 minute (depends on your microwave) and it will crisp up.

A microwave works very different than a hot pot of oil. It doesn’t necessarily make the papadums very hot. Instead, a microwave is great at moving water molecules and heating them up quickly. As a result, the microwave quickly heats up that little bit of moisture in the papadums. The moisture evaporates and expands, forming those air bubbles. The heat will help make the dough flexible enough for those bubbles to be formed.

The reason it works so well is again the thinness of the papadums. Since it is so thin, it is very easy for the microwave waves to heat all the water, it doesn’t have to penetrate deep into any texture.

You might notice that some parts of the papadum don’t crisp up. This is because the microwave literally has waves going through the machine which intersect and cross over. As a result, there will always be hot and cold spots in a microwave. A well designed microwave will have less issues, as will one with a rotating plate. If you do see this though, just slightly reposition the papadum and turn on for a few more seconds. The movement will help it move out of a hot/cold spot.

How come a microwave is able to crisp up a papadum?

You might have learned that you should not put crispy foods in the microwave. It will cause your crispiness to disappear and instead turn softer and more soggy. Whereas this is definitely true for a whole lot of foods such as pizza or samosas, it is not the case for papadums. So why is this the case?

Well, those other food contain a lot of moisture. The only part that does not contain as much moisture is the crispy crust. By microwaving the food though, the moisture from the inside (e.g. your soft samosa filling) will move to the outside. As a result, your crust contains more moisture and is less crispy.

Papadums on the other hand barely contain any moisture at all. The moisture can’t really move from one place to the other. Since it’s so thin, the only place it can go to is away from the papadum!

Yield: 10

Papadums (besan/chickpea)

Papadums (besan/chickpea)

Homemade papadums, from scratch made from either chickea flour (besan) or potatoes. It's a bit more work than store bought papadums (of course), but worth the effort! The contain more flavour and you can adjust the spices whichever way you want!

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 minute
Additional Time: 1 days
Total Time: 1 days 31 minutes

Ingredients

  • 110g chickpea flour (besan)
  • 40g all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 70g water (you might need adjust +/- 10g)

Instructions

Making the dough

  1. Blend all the dry ingredients into a bowl to ensure spices and salt are distributed well.
  2. Add about half of the water to the dry mixture and knead it through.
  3. Continue adding water until you have a very firm, sturdy dough that doesn't crumble apart too easily and can be shaped into a ball. You do not want it to become sticky.
  4. Once you've got a firm dough, cover it with a bowl or plastic wrap and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes. This gives the moisture chance to distribute evenly within the dough and makes it easier to knead.
  5. Knead the dough by hand and roll it into a log. Using a knive or dough scraper, cut the log (see photo) into smaller pieces.
  6. Roll the dough with a rolling pin until it is very thin, less than 1 mm. Thinness is very important here! A thinner papadum will be crispier and more fragile. If the dough sticks too much, use a little bit of all purpose flour to dust the rolling pin and work surface.

Drying

  1. Place the rolled out dough onto a baking tray (or similar surface). Try not to cover the dough slabs with one another, it will prevent them from drying out well.
  2. Leave to dry in a warm area. Placing them in direct sunlight or a breezy area will help them dry out. While drying they will curl up. The drying time depends a lot on your climate. It can be done in a matter of hours or take more than a day.

Frying*

  1. Pre-heat a shallow layer of oil (you'll need about 1cm (1/4 inch )in height only) until it's 180C. If you don't have a thermometer, pre-fry a piece of dried dough. It should start bubbling and crisping up in a matter of minutes.
  2. Once the oil is to temperature, add a dried papadum. It will start bubbling away almost immediately. Once it floats to the surface and has some air bubbles (will happen within 10 seconds) flip it over, leave for a few more seconds and then take out. Leave to cool down on a paper towl. It's best to just fry one at a time.

Eating

  1. Time to eat them! They work great with chutneys, mint sauce, yogurt, and lots more.
  2. The fried papadums don't keep well. Only fry those you plan on eating right away. The unfried/dried version can be stored for months on end if stored in a dry cool space.

Notes

*In the post we describe a few other ways to cook/fry the papdums: above an open flame or in the microwave. Those methods also work for these papadums!

Sources

Bhavna’s kitchen, Papad or papadum art, 2017, link

Kachi’s kitchen, Is it a pappadam or an appalam?, 2011, link

Mayeeka, How to make aloo papad and aloo sev, 2012, link

Mayeeka, Easy rice papad recipe, 2019, link

Niska Madhulika, Besan papad, link

1 comment

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  • I do put’m in the magnetron (microwave) & have been constantly amazed by how that works – getting crispy instead of the expected soggy – so am very happy now to know just why that is so. Thanks!

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