Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal | Past issues | Volume 2, 1996 | Volume 2, issue 2 | Composition and nutritional value of traditional rural Iranian foods

Composition and nutritional value of traditional rural Iranian foods


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M. Azar and A. Aminpour

ABSTRACT: There are a limited number of studies available on the composition and nutritional value of traditional rural foods in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In this study, an attempt was made to collect information on these foods through a questionnaire by health workers in rural areas of northern, southern, eastern, western and central regions of the country. A total of 24 traditional rural foods and composite dishes were identified. Eshkeneh-daneh and ab-baneh contained high energy and protein contents among plant and mixed (plant and animal) foods, respectively. Their energy density and protein-energy ratio were very high. The calcium content was relatively high in ab-baneh, but the iron content rather low in both. Melon seed in eshkeneh-daneh and local nuts in ab-baneh were the main ingredients in these composite dishes.


The varied climate in the Islamic Republic of Iran makes possible production of a range of food items throughout the country, particularly in rural regions. The ability of people in these regions to feed themselves depends to a large extent on the availability of local foods of both plant and animal origins. In the northern regions there is high potential for producing rice and livestock, as well as fish. The climate in the rest of the country is mainly dry, suitable for the production of cereals (mainly wheat and legumes), with limited livestock and fish production, except the southern parts where a main product is seafood.

Food choice and dietary patterns of families, both in urban and rural areas, depend not only on geographic region, but on socioeconomic and cultural factors, as well as on family size and distribution matters, such as transport and storage, throughout the country [1,2]. To make a better choice, the consumer should have a good knowledge of the nutritional value of individual foods, as well as of meals and dishes locally available. As the nutritional knowledge of the population increases, the food purchasing and distribution patterns of families could be improved [3,4].

There is limited information on the types and nutritional value of local foods and traditional meals in the rural areas of the country [5-7]. Therefore, it is very useful to formulate guidelines to help food planners at the district level and community health workers involved in teaching mothers, children and the community at large about the value of their traditional foods. In order to formulate guidelines, it is essential first to identify the traditional foods and composite dishes in each region, and then to classify them according to nutritive value [8,9]. A traditional local food was defined as "a specific food in a region whose raw materials are locally available and which is not used in other regions". The purpose of this study was to determine the composition and nutritional value of traditional rural Iranian foods.

Materials and methods

Data on recipes of composite dishes were collected using a pretested questionnaire. The interviewers were village community health workers (behvarz) who interviewed mothers under supervision of a nutritionist. The objectives of the project were explained to the community health workers at the beginning.

Eleven provinces in the south, north, east, west and centre of the country were included in the study. The nutritive composition of individual food items and composite dishes were determined using the national food composition tables [7]. In addition, the energy densities and protein-energy ratios of all the composite dishes were calculated.


Table 1 shows the 24 traditional rural composite dishes collected and their ingredients. Most dishes contain ingredients of both a plant and animal origin. Kashk is a dried dairy product popular mainly in rural areas.

The nutritive composition of the traditional food is shown in Tables 2 and 3. The highest protein and fat contents among plant foods were found in eshkeneh-daneh (Table 2). Calcium and iron contents were highest in changal and bonash, the iron content of eshkeneh-daneh also being as high as in changal. The fat content in the plant foods was not high, except for eshkeneh-daneh with over 30% fat. The highest protein content in foods of mixed (plant and animal) origin was in bozghormeh, which contained high protein sources such as meat, pulses and kashk (Table 3). Kal-joush had the highest fat content. Arosheh, mirzaghasemi and kashile had the lowest protein content. The calcium and iron contents of ghalieh-mahie were the highest, due to the high fish content of the food. Ab-baneh and abgousht-pesteh had the highest fibre content (Table 3).

The nutritional value of the foods studied in terms of energy and protein density (as qualitative indicators) are shown in Tables 4 and 5. Kachie, eshkeneh-daneh and changal were more energy-dense than other plant foods, but the protein content (grams per 100 kilocalories of food) and the protein-energy ratio of foods like bonash and eshkeneh-daneh were higher than those of the others (Table 4). Similar results were shown for animal foods. The most energy-dense foods were kal-joush, bosghormeh, chekdermeh and ab-baneh, while foods with the highest protein-energy ratio were bozghormeh and ghalieh-mahie, abgousht-pesteh and ab-baneh (Table 5).


The nutritive composition and the nutritional value of traditional animal and plant foods show that their quality and quantity are different and that there are a few foods which can provide most of the nutrients that the body needs. For example, eshkeneh-daneh, among all foods of plant origin, had a high energy and protein content, and its calcium and iron contents were also acceptable, although the bioavailability of these two important minerals is not known and needs further investigation. The main constituent of this dish is melon seeds. Foods like bozghormeh, ab-baneh and kal-joush are the most appropriate foods on the basis of their protein content and energy density. The food items in bozghormeh include meat, kashk, pulses, potatoes and vegetable oils. The ingredients of kal-joush and ab-baneh are kashk, nuts, vegetables and vegetable oils. Nuts are locally available: walnut for kal-joush and wild pistachio for ab-baneh. They are a valuable source of protein and vegetable oil in the diet.

The other traditional foods had different energy and nutrient contents. For example, some foods, such as bonash, arosheh and tarkhineh, had a low energy and protein content, but the ratio of protein to energy in the diet was suitable (Tables 2-5).

Conversely, foods like changal and kachie had a high energy content, while their protein density and protein-energy ratio were much lower. Therefore, the nutritive value of each food as well as its protein-energy ratio should be determined. In other words, in addition to the quantitative aspects, qualitative aspects should also be taken into consideration [10].


The authors would like to thank Dr A. Djazayery for his valuable comments in the preparation of this article.


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