How Traditional Utensils Are Shaping Modern Kitchens

In the fast-paced, technology-driven world of today, where convenience is often prime, an unexpected and encouraging trend is slowly taking shape in modern kitchens, the return of traditional cooking utensils. It's a trend that shows a deep desire to connect with our culinary past and embrace the cooking styles of our ancestors, as well as a growing understanding of how our choices affect the environment and our health. 

Throughout history, dating back to the Harappan civilizations, archaeological findings have consistently shown the prevalent use of clay pots. In addition to clay, metals such as bell metal and iron also played a prominent role during this era, signifying their presence in kitchens dating back in time. These materials were the primary mediums utilized for culinary purposes in those ancient kitchens. From cast iron skillets that conducted heat evenly to clay pots that imparted a unique earthy flavour to dishes, these utensils were not just equipment for cooking; they were vessels that held stories, rituals, and the generations of wisdom. These practices hold a distinctive significance. When food is cooked or presented in these vessels, they facilitate the infusion of natural elements and minerals into the food, enhancing our daily nutritional intake. 

However, in the contemporary rush of life, these time-tested traditions have taken a backseat. The weight of these utensils makes them challenging to transport when people frequently relocate for work or travel. They aren't everyday kitchenware, demanding regular maintenance and care. As a result, some have discontinued their use. Nevertheless, there is a bright side. Due to a growing appreciation for ancestral wisdom and their aesthetic appeal, traditional utensils are making a notable comeback. 

In recent years, there has been a significant revival of interest in these time-honoured culinary vessels. Cast iron pans, kaansa thalis (bell metal or bronze utensils) silver spoons and bowls, peetal, stone mortar and pestles, clay vessels, kalchitti and many more are finding their way back into modern kitchens. The COVID-19 pandemic also unexpectedly brought some positive changes to our lives. With everyone staying home and limited access to outside food, there was a revival of interest in home-cooked meals and mindful, healthy eating. Moreover, the choice of cookware shifted from non-stick pans to more traditional options like cast iron pans, iron kadhai, and earthen pots. Even cutlery underwent a transformation, as materials like ceramic and steel made way for the return of traditional metals like peetal and alike. This revival is driven by a confluence of factors such as the growing consciousness about the environmental footprint of modern kitchens, a desire for healthier, more rustic cooking, and a long wish for the past era of slower, more mindful food preparation. 

Kriti Goel, a co-owner of a handcrafted kitchenware brand, P.Tal, aptly adds on how she sees the resurgence of traditional utensils impacting the culinary culture in India. She says, “Indian Culinary culture is extremely rich, and if you look back, you will find that brass, copper and bronze utensils existed in every state of India just the form changed as per the cuisine of the region. We have people call and ask us for some specific utensils such as Copper ‘Sipri’ used to make mutton (this was because there was a video that surfaced where a chef recommends that the taste of the dish will only be the same if that utensil is used for cooking). We ourselves are always looking out for new designs inspired by different regions e.g. our brass dosa tawa is a very simple but vastly sold Stock Keeping Unit (SKU), not because it’s the best metal to make dosa on but because people like to experience different metals in cooking. Traditional materials enhance the taste of the dish. We have had customers come and tell us that brass saucepan has drastically intensified the taste of their morning tea. 

Traditional utensils hold a sacred role in religious customs. They are used to prepare offerings (bhogs) for deities, symbolizing purity. Additionally, food prepared in these vessels is often served to Brahmins as a form of divine reverence. These utensils are also integral in daily worship rituals, such as using them for offering lamps (diyas) to the gods, highlighting their significance in spiritual practices. 

Cooking in metals like alloy metal or using earthenware isn't just about enhancing flavours; it's also about the health factor that it adds to our food for example, the alkaline properties of metals interact with food acidity, resulting in improved digestion. Kansa, an alloy of 85 percent copper and 15 percent tin is particularly valued in Ayurveda for its ability to purify food, boost immunity, and enhance cognitive function. For instance, brewing and sipping filter coffee in brass tumblers can transform your coffee experience. The alkaline nature of brass counters the acidity of the coffee, elevating both the flavour and aroma of this beloved beverage, making it a true sensory delight. Also, unlike other metals, silver possesses a unique trait—it's naturally antibacterial. This characteristic disrupts the formation of bacterial cells during their chemical interactions, effectively preventing bacteria from growing rapidly and surviving. Recognizing its health advantages, many health-conscious individuals have transitioned to silver cutlery for their everyday dining and drinking utensils, especially for toddlers. In fact, in many Indian households, there's a tradition of offering a child's first meal in a silver bowl with a silver spoon, demonstrating the deep-rooted connection between our customs and nature. 

Considering the health perspective, Dr Trishita Issar, founder of Diet Solutions, and a certified Nutritionist and Diabetes Educator said “Copper and brass utensils provide unique advantages in preserving food's nutritional quality. These metals possess natural antimicrobial properties that help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, promoting food safety. Additionally, their excellent heat conductivity ensures even cooking, preventing nutrient loss due to overheating. The release of trace amounts of copper into the food can also contribute to vital mineral intake. However, to fully benefit, proper maintenance and occasional re-tinning of brass utensils are necessary. While modern materials are convenient, the traditional use of copper and brass can indeed help maintain the nutritional value of cooked food.” 

Additionally, ancient traditions prescribed distinct metals for particular uses, such as copper for storing water, kansa for serving food, and brass (lined with tin) for cooking. The vessel you use imparts trace amounts of the metal, providing potential health benefits. For instance, drinking water stored in copper vessels imparts a beneficial amount of copper essential for the human body. 

However, it is important to recognize that when cooking or serving in utensils made of materials like brass, copper, and similar metals, souring agents like lemon juice or tamarind are typically avoided. These metals can undergo oxidation when exposed to acidic substances, potentially leading to health issues. Therefore, it's a precautionary measure to ensure that such sour ingredients are not used in dishes prepared or served in these particular utensils. 

Bearing in mind the rise of convenience and modernization, we also asked Kirti about how P.Tal envisions the future of traditional utensils in Indian kitchens and their role in sustainable living. To which she replied, “We have been selling handcrafted brass, copper and bronze utensils since 2017, since then we have seen a considerable amount of growth in the market, and a great shift from aluminium and non-stick to traditional metals. With the right kind of awareness and solution around the utility and maintenance of these metals it’s a great fit for anyone looking for a healthy lifestyle, we have people buying from us because they are changing their entire kitchen to all healthy utensils. These metals are naturally non-stick, once bought they will last forever and are also artifacts. In my opinion, it will co-exist with modern equipment, and all Indian kitchens will have at least one of these utensils, be it Iron tawa, Brass kadhai or Copper vessel for drinking, all of these are here to stay, traditional metals are adapting to modern living in the form of designs to be more relevant to the consumer.” 

These vessels, often crafted from natural materials, like copper, tin, and bronze, connect us to the natural elements of the earth, and release energy into our food and drinks, fostering a deeper appreciation for mindful cooking and dining. This holistic approach promotes not only physical well-being but also a spiritual connection to the past, nurturing a sense of balance and harmony in our modern lives. Given its numerous advantages for both our well-being and the environment, why not wholeheartedly adopt it into our daily routines?