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Indian ‘masala’, among other condiments spicing up global food palate

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New Delhi: The Indian condiment or ‘masala’ as we call it, is gaining popularity in various world cuisines. The ingredients used in Indian cuisine are unique and their mixing is an art mastered in the subcontinent over centuries.

In the olden days when there were no refrigeration techniques, the use of spices in dishes also acted like preservatives. When the Europeans came to the Indian subcontinent, they soon discovered the local spices and were impressed with the aromas and tastes. They took them back home and soon the demand in Europe sky-rocketed.

At one time, the cost of spices was more than that of gold and precious stones and it was one of their most profitable trades. The use of Indian spices in the West gradually became popular but not in the mainstream dishes.

Recently, with increasing globalization of trade and communications, Indian cuisine has penetrated the masses across the world. With the result, the population across the globe is getting intrigued and willing to learn more about the “masala”, Indian cuisine has penetrated the masses across the world. With the result, the population across the globe is getting intrigued and willing to learn more about the “masala”.

The word spices have been used as a misnomer to describe hot food. In actual terms, spices provide different aromas and flavours. The hotness of the food comes from green, red, yellow chilies and black peppers.

The surge in Indian restaurants across Europe and the US has helped the spread of Indian aromas and tastes among the masses. The culinary world is rapidly advancing in both techniques and different flavours. Increasingly, the chefs are mixing flavours and ingredients from different regions of the world.

This phenomenon has created fusion cuisine. As the world discovers the flavours of spices the chefs are not inhibited in experimenting with the spices. Thus, fusion food has taken another dimension in the culinary world. Indo-French, Indo-American and Indo-Chinese restaurants are sprouting up all over the world.

The masala chai once exclusive to India is one such example which is a popular drink in Europe and the US. A high-end chain in the US named Teavana extensively sells spice chai, maharaja chai and Ayurvedic chai. The spices used include cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and other garam masala ingredients.

Cinnamon is commonly used in tea, coffee and confectionery across the world. Its use in meat dishes is popular now in the Western hemisphere. I have seen its use in African cuisine along with cumin seeds and bay leaves. Black pepper is ever so popular as a table top condiment but its popularity in the dishes for cooking and marinating meat has increased significantly. Clove oil and cloves are now used as flavouring agents in various South American cuisines as well.

Of late, there has been a surge in the use of turmeric across the western world. Once an exclusive Indian spice, turmeric is now available as capsules and consumed raw for medicinal purposes. Although this has been the practice in India for centuries and is a common ingredient in almost all dishes in India, turmeric and milk is now popularized in food shows across the US as an exotic drink renamed “golden milk”. Food shows on network channels are showing use of turmeric in various meat dishes in the West.

Marinating meat and poultry is commonly done with Indian spices. The traditional Indian garam masala is available extensively across the super markets in both Europe and USA. During my stays in the USA, I have seen the use of Indian condiments in Thai as well as Italian cuisines. Ethiopian cuisine is heavily influenced by these spices especially in kababs.

The kababs in Middle Eastern cuisine have the same reflections. Recently, an Anthony Bourdain show revealed that Iranian cuisine was immensely influenced by Indian spices too. Indian spices have always influenced Middle Eastern cuisine. The spice trade from 16-18th century left a trace of spices all throughout the route.

Bay leaves, once an exotic addition to Indian recipes, is now being grown in households in the world and used for aroma in African, English and French cuisines. Coriander leaves and seeds have their counterparts in other cuisines but now used for garnishing entrees and appetizers.

There has been an increasing evidence of health benefits of herbs and spices as well. Various spices have plant-derived chemical compounds that have disease preventing and health promoting properties. Certain spices could provide antioxidants that are important in combating disease and improving immunity.

The anti platelets and clot prevention properties of some of the spices may explain the lower incidence of venous clotting of the legs in the Indian subcontinent.

Spices have been used since ancient times for their anti-inflammatory and anti-flatulent properties. Turmeric has been used over wounds swollen and painful joints and is now proposed to reduce the post menopausal symptoms. Its cholesterol-lowering properties have been reported too. Clove oil and dentistry is another example.

It has also been proposed that spices may reduce the incidence of certain cancers. With the renewed interest in spices around the world and changing palates I’m not surprised that Indian spices are increasingly used all over the world in various cuisines. (Sunil Soni, IANS)

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Find out How Coronavirus Pandemic Has Disrupted Global Food Supplies

Explainer: How Coronavirus Crisis Is Affecting Food Supply

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coronavirus
People wait in line to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in downtown Havana, Cuba. VOA

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted global food supplies and is causing labor shortages in agriculture worldwide. This is the latest health news.

Are there food shortages?

Panic buying by shoppers cleared supermarket shelves of staples such as pasta and flour as populations worldwide prepared for lockdowns.

Meat and dairy producers as well as fruit and vegetable farmers struggled to shift supplies from restaurants to grocery stores, creating the perception of shortages for consumers.

Retailers and authorities say there are no underlying shortages and supplies of most products have been or will be replenished. Bakery and pasta firms in Europe and North America have increased production.

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Food firms say panic purchasing is subsiding as households have stocked up and are adjusting to lockdown routines.

coronavirus
Agricultural workers clean carrot crops of weeds amid an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a farm near Arvin, California, U.S. VOA

The logistics to get food from the field to the plate, however, are being increasingly affected and point to longer-term problems.

In the short term, lack of air freight and trucker shortages are disrupting deliveries of fresh food.

In the long term, lack of labor is affecting planting and harvesting and could cause shortages and rising prices for staple crops in a throwback to the food crises that shook developing nations a decade ago.

What’s disrupting the food supply?

With many planes grounded and shipping containers hard to find after the initial coronavirus crisis in China, shipments of vegetables from Africa to Europe or fruit from South America to the United States are being disrupted.

A labor shortage could also cause crops to rot in the fields.

As spring starts in Europe, farms are rushing to find enough workers to pick strawberries and asparagus, after border closures prevented the usual flow of foreign laborers. France has called on its own citizens to help offset an estimated shortfall of 200,000 workers.

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More wide-scale crop losses are looming in India, where a lockdown has sent masses of workers home, leaving farms and markets short of hands as staple crops like wheat near harvest.

Is food going to cost more?

Wheat futures surged in March to two-month highs, partly because of the spike in demand for bakery and pasta goods, while corn (maize) sank to a 3½-year low as its extensive use in biofuel exposed it to an oil price collapse.

Benchmark Thai white rice prices have already hit their highest level in eight years.

Swings in commodity markets are not necessarily passed on in prices of grocery goods, as food firms typically buy raw materials in advance. A sustained rise in prices will, however, eventually be passed on to consumers.

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A farmer feeds iceberg lettuce to his buffalo during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Bhuinj village in Satara district in the western state of Maharashtra, India. VOA

Some poorer countries subsidize food to keep prices stable.

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The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that a rush to buy by countries that rely on imports of staple foods could fuel global food inflation, despite ample reserves of staple crops.

Fresh produce such as fruit or fish or unprocessed grains such as rice reflect more immediately changes in supply and demand.

Will there be enough food if the crisis lasts?

Analysts say global supplies of the most widely consumed food crops are adequate. Wheat production is projected to be at record levels in the year ahead.

Also Read- Every Hospital in US May Treat COVID-19 Patients: Health Human Service Agency

However, the concentration of exportable supply of some food commodities in a small number of countries and export restrictions by big suppliers concerned about having enough supply at home can make world supply more fragile than headline figures suggest.

Another source of tension in global food supply could be China. There are signs the country is scooping up foreign agricultural supplies as it emerges from its coronavirus shutdown and rebuilds its massive pork industry after a devastating pig disease epidemic. (VOA)