Indian food is known for its benevolent use of spices in every dish. But do you know most of the spices we use today are not originally Indian?
Modern Indian cuisine is inspired by several kingdoms that have ruled the endowed lands of the Indian Subcontinent. Rich cultural diversity is seen all over the place. Throughout the geography of India, we see a lot of different cultures flourishing together in harmony and adapting to each other's traditions, and this diversity is seen in their culinary practises as well. Not only have we established a beautiful empire among the culinary kingdoms of the world, but we have also set an example of how well the fusion of different tastes goes with each other.
One such great example is seen in the use of spices in our cuisine. Indian food is known for its spices. In almost every dish, we employ the use of spice in one way or another. From curries to desserts, a rich use of compatible spices is seen. The use of spices goes beyond mere taste enhancement; it reflects the diversity of the country, with different regions having their own signature spice blends.
Even though spices have played an important role in shaping Indian culinary scenarios, several of those spices were not originally Indian. Each spice tells a different story about its origin. Today we are going to explore how some of the essential Indian spices came to India.
1) Chilli Powder
While chilli powder is one of the most essential spices in Indian cuisine, it originated in America. Chilli peppers were introduced to India by Portuguese traders during the 15th and 16th centuries, and they quickly found a welcoming home in the Indian soil. It has since been adapted to Indian cuisine and flourished well in diverse climatic conditions. Today, the signature Indian dishes feature chilli in such a way that it has become the most defining ingredient.
Coriander is used open heartedly in several Indian dishes and it has become a characteristic element of garnishing every recipe, yet it is of Mediterranean origin. Coriander is one of the oldest herbs, dating back to 5000 B.C. It has been cultivated for thousands of years in Egypt and it spread across Asia through trade routes and cultural interactions. Coriander is believed to have been introduced to India through trade connections, possibly facilitated by the Silk Road or maritime routes. Since then, it has quickly become a staple in Indian culinary and medicinal use.
While we use cumin as a base for almost every Indian curry, the base of its origin is established in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions. It was originally cultivated in Iran and its oldest use dates back to 5000 B.C. as an ingredient for mummification of the bodies of Egyptian pharaohs. It was spread through trade routes and traded as a valuable commodity. Like coriander, cumin is also said to have found its way to India through the Silk Route and maritime trade Since then, it has become a quintessential flavouring ingredient in several Indian recipes.
Cloves are widely used in Indian sweet and savoury dishes. Its addition gives the dish a pungent kick, which is spicy and sweet and it adds a unique warming flavour to the dish. Apart from their culinary use, cloves are also known for their medicinal properties. But they are also not of Indian origin. Cloves are native to Indonesia and were introduced in India by the East India Company. It was present in several South Asian countries in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.
Hing, also called Asafoetida, is essentially used in several dishes in India and known for its pungent taste and characteristic smell. It is one of the most widely appreciated spices in India and is rarely found in the cuisine of other countries. But surprisingly, they are not of Indian origin. Afghanistan is where this spice is said to have first appeared. Hing is a dried version of a plant endemic to southern Iran and Afghanistan called Ferula Assa-foetida. These days, neighbouring countries in Afghanistan like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have also begun to cultivate it.