Exploring the Culinary Traditions of Bhang
Image Credit: Bhaang thandai is very popular | Unsplash

Bhang is an ancient form of edible cannabis that has been a part of Indian culture for centuries. It is believed to have originated in India during the Vedic period and has been used for both medicinal and recreational purposes throughout history. Bhang is made from the leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant, which are ground into a paste and mixed with buts, dried fruit, spices, and sugar. 

The history of bhang can be traced back to Hindu mythology, where it is believed to have been the favorite drink of Lord Shiva, one of the most revered deities in Hinduism. In ancient times, bhang was used by sadhus, or holy men, to achieve a state of transcendence and connect with the divine. It was also believed to have medicinal properties and was used to treat a variety of ailments, from headaches to insomnia. 

Today, bhang is still widely consumed in India, particularly during the festival of Holi, where it is traditionally consumed in the form of a sweet, milky drink. There are also many other traditional recipes that incorporate bhang, ranging from savory snacks to desserts. 

One popular bhang-infused dish is thandai, a cold, refreshing drink that is typically consumed during the festival of Holi. Thandai is made by blending a mixture of milk, almonds, cashews, pistachios, and a variety of spices, including cardamom, saffron, and black pepper, with bhang paste. The resulting drink is sweet, nutty, and slightly spicy, with a subtle hint of cannabis. 

Bhang lassi is another traditional bhang-infused drink that is popular across the subcontinent. Bhang lassi is made by blending bhang paste with curd, sugar, and spices, such as cardamom and cinnamon. The resulting drink is thick and creamy, with a sweet, nutty flavor and a subtle hint of cannabis. 

Bhaang is Lord Shiva's favourite drink | Unsplash

The northern half of the country also incorporates the intoxicant into savory preparations, the most well-known of which is bhang pakoras. The pakoras are made by coating vegetables, such as onion or potato, in a batter made from chickpea flour spiked with bhang powder before deep-frying them until they are golden and crispy. 

Alternatively, bhang may also be added to desserts. Bhang halwa is a popular variation of the traditional Indian dessert, besan halwa, that is spiked with bhang paste. Besan halwa is typically made by cooking a mixture of besan (gram flour), ghee, and sugar until it forms a dense, sweet pudding-like texture. To make bhang halva, bhang paste is added to the mixture, infusing the dessert with the unique flavor and intoxicating effects of cannabis. 

Another traditional bhang-infused dish that is worth mentioning is bhang chutney. Made with fresh herbs and spices, bhang chutney is a flavorful condiment that is commonly eaten with snacks and meals in India. To make bhang chutney, bhang paste is mixed with a variety of fresh herbs, such as mint and coriander, along with spices, including cumin, black salt, and chaat masala. The resulting chutney is tangy, spicy, and slightly bitter, with a subtle hint of cannabis. 

Depending on how it's made, bhang can make you feel high in different ways. This is because heating the cannabis plant makes the cannabinoids in it more accessible. When bhang is cooked or fried, a process called decarboxylation happens. This changes the inactive THCA molecule in the raw cannabis plant into the psychoactive THC molecule. This means when bhang is heated, it gets stronger and the effects of getting high are amplified. This is why a fried item containing bhang, such as pakoras, can have a much stronger effect compared to an uncooked preparation such as thandai. It is important to note that the effects of bhang can vary depending on the potency of the cannabis used and the amount consumed, so it is always advisable to consume bhang-infused dishes in moderation and with caution. Despite its long history and cultural significance, bhang remains a controversial ingredient in many parts of the world, particularly in countries where cannabis is illegal. In India, however, bhang continues to be an important part of the country's cultural heritage and is celebrated as a symbol of spiritual and cultural unity. 

Bhang has a fascinating past and is a big part of Indian culture. Its roots go back to Hindu mythology, where it was thought to be Lord Shiva's favorite drink. Today, it is still a popular ingredient used in traditional recipes such as thandai, bhang pakoras, and bhang halwa. Its intoxicating effects have varying strengths, depending on the preparation method used, and this makes it a unique and intriguing ingredient. Bhang is another instance of the diverse flavors and traditions that make Indian food so distinct and remarkable.