Jozomby

Grain on Roshar

7 posts in this topic

So my shower thoughts this morning ended up on Roshar, specifically the grains on Roshar.  Forgive me if this is something that's already been discussed, but I had some interesting (to me, at least) thoughts about what we've been told.  Now the good news is that there are no huge issues here.  There are a couple things that don't add up to me, but there are ways for Brandon to resolve all these - it was just interesting to think about and wonder if he considered this when world building.  I mentioned this to my wife, and she thought you all might appreciate this.  So here goes:

To start, we're told that lavis corresponds roughly to Earth corn, and tallew to Earth rice.

Quote

Deana Whitney

I'm working on a food article about Roshar, so a few questions. Lavis equals corn?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, ish. That would be a nice *indistinguishable*

...

YouTube Livestream 1 (Jan. 11, 2020)

https://wob.coppermind.net/events/409/#e13805

Unfortunately I couldn't find a wob for tallew, but here's the coppermind article that mentions it being similar to rice: https://coppermind.net/wiki/Tallew#cite_note-The_Way_of_Kings-37-chapter-1

Now the first problem we run into is that neither corn nor rice contain gluten. For the most part, Brandon has stuck to foods that don't require gluten.  He mentions boiling tallew, using lavis for flatbreads (think tortillas), etc.  And this mostly works, except for nixtamalization.

If you're not familiar with it, nixtamalization is the process where corn is cooked in lime (the mineral, not the fruit) to change it into something that you can actually use for flatbreads.  Ground corn on its own (cornmeal) doesn't hold together very well.  In order to use a corn-like grain on the scale we're talking about in Roshar, and for things like chouta, you're going to need to nixtamalize it.  For a bit I thought that the lime would be an issue, but then I figured that they mine enough stone on Roshar that it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to assume they've mined limestone and figured out how to extract the lime.  (Of course, that assumes that limestone, a sedimentary rock formed in ancient seabeds, would be present on the Roshar continent, even though we've been led to assume that this continent was created more or less as it currently exists, without ever having been on the sea floor.  But I'm making some assumptions there, and I'm not a geologist, so I'm going to ignore that.)  Alternately, since rockbud shells burn, and I believe there's soap on Roshar, I'm going to assume that they have access to rockbud-ash lye, and they could also use this for the nixtamalization process.  I don't think they would use wood-ash.  Wood is too valuable.  Once they've got the nixtamalized corn, then they need to grind it.  And this is a wet grind, producing an already-hydrated dough, perfect for flatbreads.  Not super portable, though, so there would need to be mills in the warcamps (and everywhere else too, obviously.  Just maybe should be more noticeable in the warcamps), as well as areas where the grain was nixtamalized (assuming you can't soulcast pre-nixtamalized pre-ground lavis.  I honestly have no idea if this is possible.)

So that's quite a bit of text to say that yes, flatbreads are possible with Rosharan resources, but they require a few processes that we haven't seen on-screen and that tbh Brandon may not have considered.

So on to the issue that I referenced before - gluten.  Now, I'm just going to get this out of the way and admit that Brandon can fix this by saying "actually, tallew contains gluten" or "every gluten-containing bread you've seen onscreen is made with wheat exported from Shinovar" or some such.  But for our purposes, given that pancakes were everywhere in Yeddaw, I'm going to assume that they're making them with lavis or tallew.  If that's the case, I don't have any good explanations for this.  Given that these are not described as flatbreads, I initially thought it was safe to assume that they're fluffy.  Which would mean some sort of gluten structure.  Or additives.  It's possible that they're using xanthan gum or the like, though this seems like a stretch to me.  Still, it seems like the likely solution to this is either "tallew contains gluten" or "they're using whatever that Thaylen buckwheat stuff is, or another grain I haven't told you about, since they're out West."  (Or, see below, another solution could be "these aren't pancakes, they're just flatbread.")

Last one, then.  How are they getting these pancakes to rise?  Now, this one is a little less of an issue, since he's actually addressed it:

Quote

Questioner

Thaylen and Shin bread are the only ones that have white gluten flour?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. I mean, the others are flatbreads. What we're not gonna see is rising. They're gonna have yeast in those, that's the big thing they're seeing, is the yeast.

...

DragonCon 2019 (Aug. 29, 2019)


https://wob.coppermind.net/events/394/#e12998

This leads me to believe that either he forgot about the pancakes when he gave this wob, and they're doing yeasted pancakes (which sounds weird to me, but could work.  idk, I've never tried) or more likely they're really just another form of flatbread, and they're not fluffy.  Which ruins my image of Lift running around the city stealing piping hot fluffy bread disks a little, but I can live with it.  (I will note that it's highly unlikely that these are the quickbread pancakes we're familiar with, which use bicarbonate of soda, which in our world wasn't used in cooking until the mid to late 19th century.  Given differences in progression of technology, it's possible they would have this, but I would be surprised if it was an ingredient commonly available to the masses.)

So there you have it.  Nothing earth shattering, (or plains shattering?  eh?  eh?) but just my morning muses.  I don't think anything's "broken" here, per se.  Brandon has addressed the gluten and rising bits mostly satisfactorily, but I think there's still a bit missing around the nixtamalization.  And just to reiterate, all of this could be easily solved by Brandon just saying "oh, yeah, things are different on Roshar."  Anyways, I think it's just a fun little corner of the world building that hasn't been completely fleshed out, and would require a couple logical jumps to get working.

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I think the Highstorm cycle should replicate enough of the geological processes, and crem & Roshar's rich marine life provide the requisite chemical elements to create limestone.

Indian cuisine has several examples of gluten free breads. For the Lift sequence I imagined some prepared during Sankranti

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I did not know I needed to hear this today.  But I did.

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Is it possible that lavis grain comes pre-nixtamalized, that the lavis polyps infuse the relevant minerals into the grain while it's growing? I have no idea what nixtamalization does, so that may not be feasible, but it would fit with the way other Rosharan life naturally incorporates minerals.

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9 hours ago, Honorless said:

I think the Highstorm cycle should replicate enough of the geological processes, and crem & Roshar's rich marine life provide the requisite chemical elements to create limestone.

Indian cuisine has several examples of gluten free breads. For the Lift sequence I imagined some prepared during Sankranti

That's a good point about the highstorms - my understanding is that on Earth the reason limestone is from ancient seabeds is because that's where the shells and such are.  On Roshar, we've got plenty of cremlings, corals, etc. all on land, all being covered in layers of crem fairly rapidly, so yeah, I imagine that would facilitate the formation of limestone.

Also, after I posted this I remembered a yeasted batter-based flatbread that I ran across a while back.  There's an Ethiopian flatbread called Injera that's made with teff flour (a gluten free grain) and uses wild yeast to rise.  It's definitely a flatbread - it's more "spongy" than "fluffy" but it's closer to a pancake than, say, a tortilla would be.  But it just means that a yeasted batter is definitely possible.

1 hour ago, ReaderAt2046 said:

Is it possible that lavis grain comes pre-nixtamalized, that the lavis polyps infuse the relevant minerals into the grain while it's growing? I have no idea what nixtamalization does, so that may not be feasible, but it would fit with the way other Rosharan life naturally incorporates minerals.

I honestly don't know - I'm not familiar with the chemical processes either.  A quick read over the Wikipedia article for nixtamalization makes me think this would be weird at the very least - it sounds like the process dissolves at least parts of the cell walls, and replaces/mixes around nutrients in the grain that would have been used to let a plant grow from the seed.  I'm conjecturing here, but I suspect that a pre-nixtamalized grain wouldn't be able to germinate.  Then again, this is Roshar, where things are weird.

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54 minutes ago, Jozomby said:

Also, after I posted this I remembered a yeasted batter-based flatbread that I ran across a while back.  There's an Ethiopian flatbread called Injera that's made with teff flour (a gluten free grain) and uses wild yeast to rise.  It's definitely a flatbread - it's more "spongy" than "fluffy" but it's closer to a pancake than, say, a tortilla would be.  But it just means that a yeasted batter is definitely possible.

Is that how Injera is made?  Spongy is definitely the word to describe it.

 

To the pancakes thing, have a look at the "pancakes" that are served alongside Mu-shu pork in chinese restaurants.  that is more along the lines of what I was imagining during Edgedancer.  those, while made with flour, are much closer to a tortilla than to what I would generally term a pancake.

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This has been a really neat read, thanks @Jozomby !

3 hours ago, Dunkum said:

To the pancakes thing, have a look at the "pancakes" that are served alongside Mu-shu pork in chinese restaurants.  that is more along the lines of what I was imagining during Edgedancer.  those, while made with flour, are much closer to a tortilla than to what I would generally term a pancake.

Brandon might have been thinking along similar lines to this. He mentions that one reason he picked pancakes for Lift was because most cultures have something similar, even if they're not sweet and fluffy like what an American reader is probably going to immediately think of when they hear the term.

One of the unseen pancakes Brandon mentions sounds like something you might get in Japanese okonomiyaki. For the unfamiliar, it's a dish that's somewhere between a pancake and a pizza, can have pretty much any toppings you desire (the name literally means 'cook what you like') and can be made gluten-free with things like rice flour. If tallew is a rice analogue, I could imagine at least the "terrible, awful, seafood" pancake being something similar to okonomiyaki using seafood for the protein. And I'd be one of those people who (unlike Brandon) would love it. :D

Edited by Weltall
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