9 Foods On UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage
Image Credit: Image: Shutterstock

Food is such an integral part of a culture that culinary styles and secrets are often passed on from one generation to the other. No wonder we have so many family heirloom recipes in different cultures that are preserved for years. While globalisation and the internet have made many interesting recipes and cooking techniques popular from around the world, there are food traditions that are still not completely known yet. For instance, did you know about the Turkish Kahvesi? It is a deliciously frothy Turkish coffee, and we know about it because it has been on the list of the UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. 

You must have heard about cities and destinations from across the world being awarded the coveted UNESCO World Heritage tag, but recently the French staple bread, baguette, made news when it entered the list of many foods in the coveted list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It is a list that curates and recognizes some of the most wonderful food traditions and recipes from across the world and is often awarded to build awareness about these amazing culinary traditions. 

The process isn’t simple though. Countries submit their requests and nominations to UNESCO after which they are selected by an Intergovernmental Committee, especially set up for the safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. As per the UNESCO website, "The Committee meets annually to evaluate nominations proposed by States Parties to the 2003 Convention and decide whether or not to inscribe those cultural practices and expressions of intangible heritage on the Convention's Lists." Isn’t that interesting? Now, if you are wondering what all foods come under the coveted list, we’ve got you covered with some of them. 

1. Baguette 

Let’s start with the latest enrant on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List. The elongated French bread with a crunchy crust has been a mainstay in French culture, and is undoubtedly one of the most popular foods in the country. While the look of it may make you feel it is an easy bread to make, there is a lot of knowledge and technique that goes into its making. The bread is crispy on the outside and soft on the outside, and is consumed daily as part of many different recipes. Did you know France makes around 16 million loaves of it per day, which is nearly 6 billion baguettes per year? After all, it has been a fixture in the French diet for at least 100 years. 

2. Couscous 

Africa’s Maghrebi dish comprises small, steamed granules of rolled durum wheat semolina. Couscous earned a global UNESCO recognition in 2020. It is traditionally made by steaming the granules in a couscousière over a simmering stew until light and fluffy to absorb the stew’s flavours before being served together. The process is one that is meticulous and detailed. It can then be cooked and paired with vegetables, meats or any other accompaniment of choice. The dish is loved so much that many countries including Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Morocco submitted a joint bid for couscous to receive intangible cultural heritage status from UNESCO. 

3. Kimchi 

Korean food’s popularity has seen a steep rise all over the world, and has become quite a rage. But the traditional art of making Kimchi - a Korean side dish of salted and fermented vegetables - won UNESCO's recognition in the year 2015. This side dish with a slightly sour and zingy flavour is a staple at every Asian restaurant, however the art of making kimchi differs in different Korean homes. These recipes are passed on from one generation to another. The tradition of making Kimchi is called 'Kimjang', and it is said to bind the entire community together.  

4. Neapolitan Pizza 

Pizza is quite a classic, and a favourite of kids and adults alike. Just picture a slice of doughy pizza topped with tangy Marinara and some crunchy toppings? Mouth-watering, isn’t it? Did you know the art of making Neapolitan Pizza or 'Pizzaiuolo' originates in Naples, Italy. The fascinating process of making a Neapolitan pizza – right from the preparation of the dough, forming the pizza with the customary rotatory motions to the subsequent baking in a wood-fired oven – was recognized by UNESCO in 2017. While you may have tried pizza all across the world, the knowledge and skill required to make Neapolitan pizza can only be learnt at the 'bottega' after years of careful study and apprenticeship.

5. Belgian Beer 

Where there is food there has to be drinks. And UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage is no different. The beer culture in Belgium, where thousands of varieties of beer are produced in the country not just on special occasions but also as a part of daily cooking, is popular across the world. And it made it to UNESCO’s list in 2016 too. In Belgium, brewers who have mastered the art of beer-making pass on their training to amateurs to preserve it for generations to come. 

6. Lavash

This flatbread from Armenia, made it to UNESCO's list twice: once for its starring role in Armenian cuisine, and once as part of flatbread making culture in Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. Lavash is usually unleavened; as it i made by a dough of wheat flour and water is kneaded and formed into balls, which are then rolled into thin layers, stretched on an oblong cushion, and cooked on the walls of a clay oven (think tandoor) for 30-60 seconds. 

7. Harissa Sauce

Harissa sauce is another latest entrant in the 2022 UNESCO Intangible Heritage List. Hailing from Tunisia, Harissa is a spicy and fiery seasoning or pastes made by processing peppers. You'll be surprised to know that the process of making it is quite similar to our classic Indian achaar - the peppers are sun-dried, split, deseeded, and then washed. Harissa can then be stored and used in cooking as required.

 8. Chinese Tea

Another addition to the UNESCO List in 2022, Chinese tea-making traditions date back several centuries. Chinese culture promotes tea consumption, tea plantations and tea sharing heavily, so much that tea is an important part of their weddings and other ceremonies too. There are primarily six categories of tea in China - white, oolong, green, yellow, dark, and black that are processed to make over 2,000 different kinds of tea.

9. Arabic Coffee

Did you know that the tradition of drinking coffee is believed by many to have originated from the Middle East? Perhaps this is why it deserves a place in the UNESCO list in 2015. Arabic coffee beans are roasted, ground to a powder in mortar and pestle and then heated on the ground with fire in a copper vessel. Serving Arabic coffee to guests is a long-standing part of the history of the region. The coffee-making practices of Arabic coffee are being carried forward by countries such as United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.