The culture of eating mukhwas after every meal is quite common in our country. Let’s trace its origin.
For Indians, having our meals has always been an elaborate ceremony. From performing the ritual of serving a small portion of food and water on the floor to the ancestors to having a spoonful of sugary fennel seeds after a heavy meal, savouring Indian food is an experience. Having mentioned that, I can’t ignore but emphasise the elaborate tradition of having mukhwas at the end of a heavy meal.
Before starting with the history and origin of mukhwas, let us go down our memory lanes. Most of us treasure the memory of stealing some yellowish-green, sugar-coated fennel seeds in a tissue paper after every restaurant visit. I used to pocket them away from restaurants and store them in a glass jar to have them every day after school. Not just a fun and exciting childhood memory, mukhwas also have an elaborate history behind them.
Mukhwas is not just a sugary treat after every meal. It also has numerous other reasons attached to them. Apart from being delicious palate-cleansers, mukhwas also aids in digestion and sweetening the breath. Mainly composed of fennel seeds, sugar and some food dyes, mukhwas have become ubiquitous in almost all parts of the country now. This simplified version of mukhwas is mainly served in restaurants whereas its complex counterpart comes in tiny packets for instant palate cleansers. These tiny packets have sugar-coated fennel seeds along with mishri, sesame seeds, coriander seeds, dried coconut pieces and chanothi leaves. This complex counterpart has a more pungent flavour profile than the basic sugar-coated fennel seeds and yields a sweet-mint heat in the palate.
The ubiquitousness of mukhwas in the Indian culinary culture makes tracing its origin a difficult job. However, most food historians believe that the tradition of having mukhwas dates back to the Islamic rule in India. These rulers used to chew on betel nuts and fennel seeds to sweeten their breath and palate after every meal in the 13th and 14th centuries. Some food historians also associate the origin of mukhwas to that of paan, but most are sceptical of believing the fact due to the elaborate elements that go into the assembly of paan. However, the presence of betel nuts in both- paan and mukhwas is quite evident.
No matter where the origin of mukhwas lies, the roots of its use are laid by the numerous nutritional benefits attached to it. These benefits and attributes sway us into sneaking a handful of the sugar-coated delights on our way back from restaurants after a heavy meal.