Tuesday, May 04, 2021
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Friday, March 26, 2021
It struck me when I began researching Indian sweeteners, that Honey is the world’s oldest naturally occurring sweetener! Honey has been a part of the human diet since prehistory. Honey has been the food of Gods, Goddesses, Mortals, and Immortals through the ages.
And this is true of India too. There are countless references of honey as the elixir of life, or the 'sap of the sun,' in myth and legend. Lord Indra, Vishnu, and Lord Krishna, were all called Madhava, meaning ‘ones born of nectar.’ The twin horsemen, the Asvins, who are revered as the lords of light, carry a whip dripping with honey known as Madhukasa and ride in a chariot known as Madhuvahana, or "honey-bearer," and the honey that drips from their whip was believed to prolong lives. Honey has always been associated with love and romance, so it comes as no surprise that Kama, the god of love carries a bow with a string made of bees. And the Hindu pantheon even has a Bee Goddess named Bhrami, who according to some scriptures, is said to reside in the heart chakra, emitting the buzzing sound of bees, that is often imitated in Vedic chants, representing the essential sound of the Universe!
Early Hindus considered honey the food of gods. Some schools of Hinduism, like the Satapatha Brahmana taught that honey was "the supreme essence of plants" and that eating it was like absorbing the essence of the Vedas. It is no surprise then that it finds its way into rituals and ceremonies. Even the Ramayana reveals elaborate descriptions of apiaries and bee gardens or ‘Madhuvana’.
But these attributes of honey are not purely mystical. Archaeological evidence in rock and cave paintings, references in the Vedas, Hindu epics, and other scriptures from the subcontinent, from ancient recipes to age old medicinal preparations, all tell us sweet stories of honey consumption in India.
Scenes that have been replicated by tribal communities with animistic cultures through the ages, who have, for centuries, collected wild honey from forests, consuming it for its immunity boosting and medicinal properties. While honey was collected from the wild and is a practice still alive today. Over time, as humans evolved and settled, the consumption and requirement of honey grew creating a necessity to produce it, and hand in hand with this evolved a history of beekeeping and apiculture.
K. N. Dave, a scholar of Vedic practices, observed that Vedic Aryans, initially considered that the knowledge of bees and bee-behaviour was a primitive practice associated with hunter gatherer tribes of the time, they eventually began to study the social behaviour of bees and practice beekeeping, going on to build artificial hives for bees to inhabit. And honey became an essential requirement.
The Rig Veda, written around 2000-3000 BCE contains many mentions of bees and honey by its Sanskrit name, Madhu. Interestingly Madhu is etymologically identical to the Greek methu and the Anglo-Saxon medu and one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages was a fermented mixture of honey and water, called mead! But I digress, Ayurveda also prescribes the use of honey in hundreds of different ways, including for healing and cleaning wounds, for fighting infections, and as a preservative base for other medicines.
With the ever-growing requirement for honey, bee keeping also evolved through the centuries with innovation resulting in log hives, pot hives and wall hives becoming common practice in different parts of India. In fact, there are also accounts of hives built into the walls of houses so that the bees could access them from outside and honey could be harvested from inside! In the late 1800 and early 1900s, western methodologies such as movable frame hives were introduced, and formalised bee-keeping associations were formed in India.
Even outside of Vedic and Hindu culture, science has recognised the medicinal, antimicrobial and immunity boosting properties of honey. Today, more than ever before, we have realised the importance of bees in keeping global food, agriculture, and environmental systems from collapsing. And with this realisation there have been incredible movements to preserve vegetation, traditional honey harvesting and bee-keeping practices around the globe. Simultaneously, we see an ever-growing range of wild, single flora, and medicinal honeys becoming available, all to be used in new and creative ways!
Until then, here is a simple but lovely recipe I created inspired by references I found to an ancient honey-based snack called Madhulāja (मधुलाज) or “honey mixed with puffed rice” in the Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa while researching this post. Not surprising as the legendary city of Ayodhya was also called the land of milk and honey... In fact, this is a combination still eaten in many parts of India. I remembered the Assamese Akhoi Gur Aru Cream (puffed rice, was topped with cream and served with liquid jaggery) that my friend Gitika Saikia once served for dessert at a pop-up at my studio years ago. Over time the honey has been replaced by jaggery in many versions.
Kheel Honey Bowls inspired by the Mabhulaja of old
This makes a lovely light breakfast, snack or light dessert bowl. You can also add raisins or other dried fruit, roasted Makhana (Foxnuts) and peanuts or other toasted nuts to the dry mixture for variation.
4 cups Kheel/Lai/Kurmura
½ cup Sesame seed
½ cup Flax seed
4-6 tbsp Cream, chilled
½ cup Saffola Honey
Heat a kadhai and individually dry roast the Kheel/Lai/Kurmura until crisp. Transfer to a plate to cool. Toast the sesame and flax one by one and add to the thali. To assemble, divide the toasted kheel/lai/kurmura into 4 small dessert bowls. Drizzle with the cream and honey and serve immediately or the puffed rice will get soggy.
All the recent news about adulteration of honey had me worried. Especially the part about added sugar as an adulterant. Post some research and talking to experts and otherwise, I finally zeroed in on Saffola Honey for daily use because it's tested using FSSAI parameters as well as NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) test and has been proven to be free of any adulteration and specifically has no added sugar. Stay tuned as we explore the myriad ways in which honey is used as an ingredient in the next post. This series of recipes with Honey are sponsored by Saffola Honey.
Sources (click on links to access):
A deep dive into natural, traditional sweeteners in the Indian Kitchen.
As I explored the world of spices, I realised that, like with any cuisine, that the building blocks of flavour cannot stand in isolation. Any ingredient may have a dominant flavour, but will be bolstered by the others. This is especially true when it comes to Indian cuisine. For some reason we always focus on spices, thoughtlessly, perhaps, conveniently, attributing the with being the most diverse flavour reporters in the Indian kitchen. But, take a moment to widen the perspective and the value of each flavour family - sweet, bitter, sour, salty and hot becomes. And each of these families has a lot of members!
Lets start with sweet. The sweet taste is of course the most loved, and with reason. As humans we evolved a genetic conditioning to gravitate towards sweet-flavoured foods. Sweet foods (along with fatty ones) were sources of rapid energy. Over generations both our primate and hunter-gatherer ancestors learned to seek out sweet flavoured food , discovering a multitude of naturally available sweeteners, adapting them into our diets and with time creating ways to produce larger and larger quantities.
When it comes to India, we are perhaps one of the cultures with the sweetest of sweet tooths! “Muh meetha karna,” “muh me ghee shakkar,” “kuchh meetha ho jaye,” are all familiar phrases that remind us that sweetness holds the highest regard In Indian culture. Not to mention the fact that the extraction of sugar cane juice from the sugarcane plant, and the plant’s subsequent domestication both took place in tropical India and Southeast Asia. India also went on to invent the manufacture of cane sugar granules from sugarcane juice, figured out refining them. No wonder then that no ceremony, auspicious occasion, or a new beginning can be celebrated without something sweet to mark the occasion and bring good fortune even if it is a simple morsel of Gol-Dhana, Gud-Channa or Dahi-Cheeni!
In fact say meetha and one will envision halwas, Kheer and Kesari Bhaat, Undai and Laddoo, Pithas and Paayesh. With Mithai sweet is the primary flavour. But that said, sweet flavours are present in our food in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways! Be it in the natural sweetness of certain fruits, vegetables or starchy foods we cook, or in our sweet chutneys and murrabbas. But also the sweet notes added to dishes; that dash of jaggery with kokum in Gujarati Daal or Maharashtrian Aamtis, that bit of sugar in so many Bengali dishes, the gur or sugar added to balance tartness of the tamarind, tomato or mango in chutneys and pickles such as North Indian Shaljam pickle, Mumbai Imli chutney, Maharashtrian Kairi Methamba or Bengali Tamatar Chutney..
Unfortunately sugar being cheap and accessible, it has become the primary form of sweetener in Indian kitchens. Which is sad, because the variety of traditional natural sweeteners, that sugar side-lined, added so many shades of sweetness to Indian cuisine!
Long before sugar we had honey, first foraged, then farmed, also fruits and flowers like Monk fruit and Mahua, then came seasonal and regional forms of molasses and jaggery. And eventually sugar in organic and then refined form as we know it today. In fact the love for sugar has led to options of sugar made from coconut, stevia and more! But that’s a whole other blogpost. Right now, me being me, I’ve jumped down that rabbit hole, that is traditional sweeteners in the Indian kitchen via a brand new series of blog posts called Sweet Explorations in my favourite medium, the old fashioned written word. Join me over the next few weeks as I going to explore natural, traditional sweeteners in Indian home kitchens chronologically from the perspective of history, culture, nuances of usage and varied applications for taste and flavour.
So without further ado, lets begin our sweet explorations. Since one of the first and oldest naturally occurring sweeteners, used by humankind was Honey, (alongside fruits and certain vegetables) it is only natural our journey begin with its sweet notes! Please join me, over the next few weeks to learn about honey in the Indian context. And do leave comments if you have anything to share about sweeteners.
Monday, April 13, 2020
|My look when the spouse decided we needed a picture of this momentous day!|
In spite of a few ‘gentle reminders’ from the spouse, and my own conscience ‘That day, remained elusive. I had work stuff to get done… I was walking 2 hours in the house every day AKA… I hate being told what to do…
Monday, December 02, 2019
|Opening day for the family!|
|First official picture!|
|The wind beneath my wings...|
Friday, October 25, 2019
Saturday, July 27, 2019
|Chef Bawmra Jap of Bomra's Goa|
and Chef Hussain Shahzad of O'Pedro, Mumbai
|Scampi Ceviche by the|
"Ceviche Chef" Hussain
|Bawmras Jugalbandi Tartare |
as executed by Hussain.
|Smoked Corn Gnocchi|
|Char Grilled Quail in Cherry Teriyaki|
|Tofu Curry with Pelata (in the background)|
|Spicy Rice Noodles |
with Shan Tofu Sauce
|Candolim Midnight B*** stew|
|Coconut Edamame rice with Candolim B*** Stew|
|With Chef Hussain and Chef Bawmra outside O'Pedro|