Homemade Idli Batter~Tips for soft Idlis

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Every morning I woke up to the smell of steaming Idlis made fresh in Amma`s kitchen with her signature chutneys. I for some reason never liked Idli, maybe because it was made almost every day. I found interest in them only when I started making for my daughter. Idli is the most hygienic food in the entire universe according to Appa. He never gets bored of eating them I guess.
The white soft beauties are part of the traditional breakfast in most South Indian homes even today and my home is no exception.

Most of the requests on Cilantro is not about a difficult or elaborate recipe but rather simple day to day cooking recipes. I have requests on how to make soft Idlis, crispy Vadais, homemade powders and few more. I will be posting recipes and tips useful for beginners and I request the experienced to advice me if I have missed anything or if you do it in a different way. Today`s post is about how to make Idli batter at home. I use the same to make Dosais too.

Most stores today sell Idli batter and there are readymade Idlis and frozen ones too. I advice to opt for the homemade since with half a days time homemade batter in large quantity can be made saving money and its fresh. In my experience the store bought batter never produces soft idlis.
Ingredients:5:1 ratio of Idli Rice and Ullutham Parruppu/Urid Dhal
Please click on the image for a larger image.

Wash 5 cups of Idli rice for three times and soak for about 4 hours. I soaked mine at 9 am. I use 5 cups here but Amma uses 4 cups. The Dhal produces more quantity here(USA) when compared to what Amma gets in India.
After two hours of soaking rice, wash the Ullutham Parruppu/Urid Dhal twice and soak for about an hour ie at 11 am. When soaked wash the wet grinder and drain the water. 
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Now add 1 cup water and then add the soaked dhal. Grind for an hour until fluffy and adding 1/2 cup water now and then when you notice the grinder struggling to move freely.
I use a Ultra Wet grinder and I have noticed that it takes a longer time to grind when compared to the one that Amma has. Therefore adjust the time depending on your grinder.
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The batter has to be soft, light and fluffy. Transfer to a large vessel good enough to hold both the rice and paruppu/dhal batter.
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Now add 2 cups water and add the soaked rice ie around 12 noon. Grind this to a fine coarse consistency adding water if required. This takes about an hour. Before switching of the grinder add about 5 teaspoons of salt. Now transfer to the vessel that has the paruppu batter.
Mix well with you hands( Amma always says that there is something in the hands that makes the batter rise~its the good bacteria). Therefore give it a nice mix and transfer to two or three containers and pour the mixed batter to half the level of the container giving it room to rise. The batter is ready at around 1 pm
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I transfer them in two to three containers so that Idlis can be made each time the container has a fresh batch. Once the batter is used for Idlis, I use them for making Dosais.
Put the containers in the oven and switch on the light at around 10 pm. 

If you do not a light in your oven then pre heat the oven just to warm it up and switch off 9please be very careful in switching off otherwise you will have a baked batter). Now place the containers.

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The batter will rise the next morning. This is for people living in colder climates. In India the batter will rise in about 4 to 5 hours when kept over a countertop depending on the heat. 
Now combine well to make Idlis.
Keep in refrigerator for further use. Idlis turn out soft on the day the batter is fresh and ready to use.  
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To Make Idlis: Put the cloth in the Idli steamer and add some water and bring it a boil( this ensures the cloth is clean and sterilized -I use the cloth on the plate to make Idlis. Now remove the cloth and spread it on the plate and pour the batter into the moulds. If using the Idli Stand~grease very little oil in all the moulds on the plate and pour the batter in the moulds. Arrange the plates and steam.
Put the plate over the boiling water( do not put the plate before the water boils).
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Close the lid and let it cook for about 5 to 7 minutes.
Wet a fork and insert into the Idli. The Idli is cooked if the fork comes out clean.
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Remove the plate from the steamer and invert over a plate. Remove the idli plate and sprinkle some water over the cooked idlis. Slowly separate the cloth from the Idlis. Soft fluffy Idlis are ready to serve. Serve with Chutney or Sambhar.
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More Tips can be found here. I have not tried using eno salt, yeast, cooked rice or poha (aval). Some of my friends suggest using them but I am sure the above method will work since I have been making for years now.

Amma uses fenugreek back in India. It helps in fermentation and also helps in raising the Dhal quantity. What I have noticed here in the USA is that the dhal qauntity itself is more when ground therefore I have not been using fenugreek. 
I add the sprouted fenugreek powder while making Dosai. 

Mr. Gopal a regular follower of CILANTRO collected information from various sources about idly batter and the science behind it, tested them to make sure it is not a myth and he calls it IDLY SCIENCE.Please read below for more insight and the science behind the Idli batter and its fermentation.

The Yeast: The fermentation is caused by air-born wild yeast. Urad and Fenugreek seeds draw the wild yeast from air. Do NOT over-wash Urad Dal or Fenugreek seeds, as it will wash away the collected wild yeast.
The Water: The Chlorine in the water can destroy the wild yeast. Use spring water, boiled or filtered tap water to avoid Chlorine.
The Salt: In United States common table salt is iodized. The iodine can destroy the wild yeast. Use non-iodized salt such as 'Kosher salt'.
Retarding Agents: The fermentation can be retarded by Yogurt, Baking yeast, Baking soda or Baking powder. Only after fermentation is complete , you may add Yogurt or baking agents as needed.
The best ambient temperature for incubation is 86º F to 90º F. If the temperature is below 86º F, it will take longer to achieve acceptable level of fermentation. If the temperature is higher than 90º F, the batter may become sour. Acceptable level of fermentation is when the batter has reached 250% in volume (Two and a half time the original volume).
Rice Grain:
There are two types of starch in rice; Amylose and Amylopectin. Long grain rice has 22 percent Amylose and 78 Amylopectin, while medium/short grain rice has 18 percent Amylose and 82 percent Amylopectin. Note corn starch is 100% Amylose. You need over 80%  Amylopectin to make Idli soft and plump. Use short to medium grain size rice. If you don't have access to Idli rice, you may use Arborio Rice (or any other Italian rice suitable to make Risotto) or even Mochi Rice (Japan) or sweet/ waxy American Rice.
Rice flour should not be used as it will render poor texture. However, Cream-Of-Rice can be used.
Urad Dal: You can always use whole Urad with the black skin. The only problem is cosmetics due to black fragments left after it is ground. Decorticated whole Urad is preferred. Decortications process involves introducing moisture to remove the skin. The split Urad has a problem. The pulse is split mechanically that generates heat and destroys much of the wild yeast. To compensate for this, you may add Fenugreek seeds to aid in fermentation.
You can use Urad Dal flour but some of the wild yeast could be destroyed by heat during milling process. To compensate for this, you may add Fenugreek seeds to aid in fermentation.

Why do we use Fenugreek Seeds? Fenugreek seeds draw the same type of wild yeast as the Urad Dal. This just adds to draw more yeast. In traditional method, the seeds are put in the Rice pan so that both the pans (Urad Dal, as well as the Rice) will draw wild yeast.
Can I artificially introduce "Wild Yeast"?
You can harvest wild yeast from fresh fruits that have not been cleaned commercially. You will notice a white powdery substance stuck on the apples,  plums or red grapes. This is wild yeast. You can wash the fruits in spring water. Now the spring water has the yeast. Use this water to make batter. You can also try tamed yeast to make wine-vinegar. 


  1. very nice post. I also make the same way as you.
    But this time after coming to the US again, Iam unsuccessful in getting good idli's.The texture of the Idli is good and soft but I keep getting that raw urad dhal smell even after keeping it out for more than 12 hours..May be its the dhal or this place..any thoughts on that :)

    1. I have not had this problem, maybe its the dhal. Let me know if you happen to change the brand.
      Try add some fenugreek to the dhal while soaking.

    2. Interesting post. I have the same problem of raw urad dal smell even in vadais. What brand urad dal do you use?


    3. BG,
      I use the Swad brand. If Swad is not available, try Ravi or Laxmi if available in your area.

    4. Thank u...I have been getting Deep or HB. My kid has stopped liking idli or dosa...:-( we have recently relocated. will check out the store here...have been craving for home-made idlis for such a long time..your pics are tempting....yummmmm.....


  2. Wow nice post...idlis looks soo soft

  3. I too agree with u that home made idlis r the best and I too believe in soaking rice and dal and grinding and making soft idlis.
    indu srinivasan

  4. very helpful post


  5. Soft idlis looks fabulous,useful post for many of us.

  6. I hadn't heard or seen the cloth method.
    Why do you use it?
    And do you know how I can make idli if I don't have steamer insert and idli stand?
    I only have pressure cooker at home, that's all!
    Thanks :)

    1. Nisha,
      This how it was made before the Idli stand arrived. The plate will have holes for the steam to pass thru and hence the cloth was used over it. The idli turns out great when using this method and the texture and looks are traditional.
      When you don`t have a steamer, apply some oil to small cups and pour batter into the cups and steam in pressure cooker.

    2. Ah, I see. Thanks for the info, and for the quick reply!
      Great idea, do you think I can stack the steel bowls on top of another in pressure cooker & steam so that I can make more idlis at once? ... or the bowl shouldn't be covered with another, the way idli stand has spacing & isn't covered?

    3. I am not sure, the steam should be let out so stacking them to me is not a good idea. I have not tried but I have heard people doing it. If you were to close the cups then I recommend using a plate with some holes to let the steam out. Or you could steam in a cooker vessel that usually comes with the cooker and cut them to pieces. Let me know.
      I have seen idli plates sold at most Indian stores and you could look for one in your area and there are few that could be microwaved.

  7. Perfectly explained! Sure going to benefit many! :) Happy new year and pongal :)

  8. Yes...idlis are the healthiest food on earth acc to my dad too!!! Thx for this useful post ;)
    Prathima Rao
    Prats Corner

  9. What is idli rice? Can the batter be ground in a blender?

    1. Anonymous,
      Idli rice is a different variety of rice and it is sold in most Indian stores. Its is little short and not as white as sona masuri rice.
      More about Idli rice @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idli.
      I have used the food processor to grind the Dhal and rice can be ground in a blender. The food processor will help aerate the batter while the blender will not.
      I have also ground the dhal in a blender and used the whisk to aerate the dhal. Hope this helps. Let me know.

  10. Cilantro, nice and very helpful blog !! I see a Elgi table top in your pics, I have one too, a factory manufactured 110 volts and love it :)

    Here is another tip to use when the batter does not raise (ferment) properly.

    Soak little bit of fenugreek (methi) seeds, Do not wash or discard the water and add it to the rice when grinding. There are three added benefits to this.

    1. Health benefits of methi and its seeds are well known
    2. Adds a light brownish yellow color, especially when making dosas.
    3. The most important one, the fermentation is caused by air-born wild yeast. Urad and Fenugreek seeds draw the wild yeast from air. So do not over-wash Urad Dal or Fenugreek seeds, as it will wash away the collected wild yeast.

    And I've always noticed the batter ferments better when mixing the batter with hands.

    Happy cooking !!

    Gopal (GK)

    1. Gopal,
      Thank you for taking time and giving your valuable tips. I was not aware of the wild yeast and I am going to add it to the tips in the post. I have an Ultra and not an Elgi.
      I was soaking Fenugreek while grinding and what I noticed was it makes the quantity of the dhal more and the idlis turn out flat and hence I stopped using them. I do agree that it is very good health wise. What I do is I use the sprouted fenugreek powder while making Dosai.

    2. I'm not sure but I guess if the fenugreek is old then it may not help the idlis to sponge up or we tend to wash the fenugreek or discard the water and hence the wild yeast is also discarded.

      And ELGI (LG Industries) is the name of company in Coimbatore than makes the Ultra table top, sorry about the confusion.

      I bumped into this site last week while searching for ambur style briyani recipe, You have so many wonderful tips, pics, cooking steps and most of them are authentic. Amazing work !!

      Happy cooking !!


    3. Gopal,
      Thank you for your feedback on my work and it means a lot to me. Sorry about the confusion. There are so many brands now available and I assumed it was another brand.

  11. I was looking for some different kind of recipe for idlis when I came across your blog. you have done a very helpful post on soft Idlis. My mother used to put cloth on the idli griddle plates but I always brush it with oil. I guess my mom and you both are right because I see that your idlis comes off very easily from the cloth. Thanks. I am a north Indian but my love for Southern food developed when I was young living in South India.

  12. Hi,

    I used to make good idles but last 2 times have been a struggle. I realized after reading your blog that it cud be the addition of methi. I have to now increase my rice proportion from 1:4 to 1:5
    Thanks for the useful info


  13. can i make idli in an appa maker?pl reply.

    1. I have not made it in an Appa maker but I think you can if you are able to pour it into the moulds and steam it. Let me know if that works.

  14. Hey Cilantro,
    Your web site is really good & awesome recipes, I have tried many of your Non veg dishes & it was success.I love cooking & baking, its my passion. I live in Canada. Well I would like to put my tips on the softer idlis which my mum has been following for the past 30yrs & am following the same. your procedure & explanation for a softer idlis is too good. My tip is after washing urad dhal, try to soak it in the top shelf of the fridge. As soaked grind it by adding really cold water, this cold water helps the batter to grind more fluffy & makes idli softer. It is always good to add left over white rice to the idli rice while grinding. Anyways try this.



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  16. Hi thanks for the tips, I have a question - does the fermented batter smell a little yogurish? I noticed this although my idlis did turn soft and spongy

    1. Anonymous,
      I am glad your idlis turned soft. Yes, the batter will have a little bit of sour/fermented smell to it but not much. It will get stronger if kept out/fermented for a long time.

  17. Hi, you have very beautifully explained the entire process. Thanks for it. I had a small doubt - will the proportion of urad dal : rice remain the same when i grind the batter in Mixie as well?
    As of now i tried 1:3 and 1:4 ratios but never had any success in getting the batter properly fermented

  18. Hi I live in Japan. Though we get idly rice it's not of good quality and the price is very high. We get 5 kg idly rice for Rs 2000. So I thought to give a try with the mochi rice. Could you please suggest me the ratio in using Mochi rice


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