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Indian Spices Shop : How an Indian merchant created his success story abroad

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Indian_Spices

Moscow: At P. Jeevanantham’s chain of retail outlets selling Indian spices and other food items in Russia, Russians are his major customers and not Indians.

No, his Russian customers are not cooking Indian food at their homes, but buy the spices for their medicinal properties.

“When I started the Indian Spices Shop in early 1990s, my customers were largely Indians-students and others-who bought the items for cooking. But with the reduction of Indian population due to economic reasons, the ratio of Indian-to-Russian customers reversed,” Jeevanantham said.

“The Russians do their research on the internet on the natural remedies for some ailments and come here to buy the spices. Recently, a Russian asked for gymnema leaves having anti-diabetic properties which were shipped to him from India,” he added.

Born and raised in Madurai, Jeevanantham owns and runs a chain of seven Indian Spices Shop outlets, out of which, five are in Moscow,  and there is one each in St. Petersberg and Tver.

He has also promoted a hotel by the name Amil in Rajapalayam in Tamil Nadu.

“The retailing business growth is good. We clock around 20 percent annual growth. The Indian hotel is also picking up business with occupancy going up at a steady pace,” he said.

Jeevanantham landed in Moscow, the then capital of undivided Soviet Union for a masters in agriculture.

“As the education was in Russian language, we had to study the language for a year and then join the main course,” he recalled.

According to him, vacations were spent in London working in retail outlets there.

“I used to see many Indians in London buy spices and other things at the retail outlets. Though at that point of time there were many Indians living in Moscow and in other parts, there was no outlet catering to our needs,” Jeevanantham said.

During early part of the 1990s, there used to be around 12,000 Indians in Moscow. Indians also lived in other parts of the then Soviet Union.

“It was then that I wondered about the business opportunity for selling Indian spices and other food items for the Indian community in Russia. In order to cook our food, we used to bring the ingredients in bulk from India. At that time there were other Asian nationals in Russia apart from Indians and other foreigners,” he said.

According to him, at that time, India mainly shipped pepper and curry leaves to Russia for industrial/bulk users, and not for retail customers.

The idea of starting an Indian store started gaining roots in his mind, and partnering with his friend M. Athimoolam, he set up his first store in Moscow at the People’s Friendship University in 1994.

The initial investment was around $300, and the outlet catered to the Indian and other Asian students.

While the break-up of the Soviet Union impacted the business initially, with the size of the Indian community in Russia going down, the sales started to pick up after some period.

“Russians turned out to be our major customers now. Post the break-up of the Soviet Union, many Russians started going out to other countries and started tasting different cuisines. And on their return to Russia, they started looking out for ingredients,” Jeevanantham said.

But life was not easy for Jeevanantham after the Soviet Union break-up, the following ruble devaluation in 1998.

“My bank collapsed and along with that went my savings. I also suffered a big loss due to burglary at my home,” he said.

His partner had gone back to India and settled there much earlier.

He even contemplated quitting Russia.

“I even went to London and saw a store. But the locality did not promise good business. I was also advised by my close friends to come back here,” he said.

Focussing his energies, he stabilised the operations and started expanding his product range by including items bought by Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Mexicans and others.

Along the line the number of outlets too started to increase.

Looking back, Jeevanantham recalls fondly his first full container load import from India that got sold out immediately.

“That was a big event in my life. I was bit tense,” he recalls.

While he imported assorted items earlier, today, at times he imports a container load of single item.

After selling third party brands, Jeevanantham last year started selling products under his own brand, called Amil.

Speaking of business dynamics, Jeevanantham, who is cagey in sharing financial figures, said that an outlet similar to his, would need an investment of around $300,000, and would even break in around three years time.

Agreeing that there is further growth potential, he is bit reluctant to expand his chain or opening a departmental store.

Jeevanantham follows a strange policy of being debt free and expanding the outlets through internal accruals and own funds.

“Somehow, I do not like to borrow from the banks. I had to resort to borrowing only for the hotel project in Rajapalayam, as the cost exceeded the expectations,” he said.

The 52 room star hotel in Rajapalayam is a field that is entirely new to him.

“I hired a consultant who chalked out the path. I wanted to have a hotel and decided to venture into this segment,” he remarked.

The hotel involving an outlay of around Rs.20 crore, opened last December and picking up fast.

Jeevanantham is married to Karina, a Russian by birth, and the couple now takes care of the business. (IANS)

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Land of Spices: India is Hosting Annual meet for Head of State Chefs from across the World

Chefs are going to visit the spice market in Old Delhi and will go to Agra and Jaipur, where they will be enjoying camel and elephant rides

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Indian spice. Flickr

October 26, 2016: Indian food comes with a perfect balance of fresh vegetables and fruits, that can be teamed up with high notes of spices like turmeric, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and saffron which makes a dish full of flavour, colourful and aromatic.

This week India is going to host the Annual meet for Head of State Chefs, including personal chefs to the US President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, French President François Hollande, and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

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Montu Saini, the executive chef to President Pranab Mukherjee said to HT, “India has been a member of this club for three decades and never once had it hosted the general assembly.”

Saini wants to show them the flavours of Indian cuisine and culture. Chefs are going to visit the spice market in Old Delhi and will go to Agra and Jaipur, where they will be enjoying camel and elephant rides.

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White House chef Cristeta Comerford, who cooks for Barack and Michelle Obama and their children- wants to take Indian spices back as much as she can, considering the luggage she will be allowed to carry, mentioned the HT report.

Michelle Obama laughs with White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford. Flickr
Michelle Obama laughs with White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford. Flickr

On her return to Washington DC, President Barack Obama and his family is going to enjoy some Indian spicy curries.

Not only spices, India also have a wide range of mouth-watering and pocket-friendly street food. All guests are eager to taste some authentic Indian street food during their visit.

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The British royal chef, Mark Flanagan, says London has many Indian restaurants, but the country’s street food is so rich that he has to try it here, where it originated.

According to HT, Christian Garcia, chef to Prince Albert II of Monaco, said they were looking forward to becoming “ambassadors of Indian gastronomy” after their visit.

– Prepared by Ruchika Kumari of NewsGram. Twitter: @RuchiUjjaini

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Cling to Hing: The secret weapon spice of Indian Cuisine

'Hing', popularly known as 'asafoetida' was introduced in the Indian subcontinent by the Mughals of Middle East in the 16th century.

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Asafoetida, popularly known as Hing. Image source: herbfinder.tattvasherbs.com
  • ‘Hing’ or ‘asafoetida’ forms a basic component of Indian spices
  • ‘Hing’ was brought to India by the Mughals of the Middle East in the 16th century
  • ‘Hing’ is used in traditional Indian medicines to minimize, control and cure kidney stones, bronchitis digestive problems, and ulcers

Indian spices have always attracted buyers and admirers from across continents over the years. Many would consider the mixture of different civilizations and cultures as the reason behind the country’s exquisite cuisine, which actually stands true for the special condiments of spices enriching the ingredients of Indian food.

As one who is introduced to Indian cuisine for the first time, it would be easy to guess that the dishes contain about four to six different spices inadequately measured quantities. These spices help create aroma and taste of the food which normally isn’t the case with other styles of cuisines. Where it’ll be natural to guess the presence of cumin, coriander and turmeric in an Indian kitchen, but it will be extremely surprising to discover ‘hing’ as an important ingredient.

An Indian spices market Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
An Indian spices market. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Known popularly as “asafoetida” in the English language, ‘hing’ is made from the resin of huge fennel plants in Afghanistan and Iran. Where Europeans usually refer to it as the “devil’s dung” because of its strong smell of sulfur and onions, it forms a basic component of Indian spices, said an NPR article.

In ‘The Book of Spices’, John O’Connell attributes the Mughals of Middle East as those who brought the ‘hing’ to India in the 16th century. Since then, ‘hing’ is preserved and used in varieties of Indian dishes. Due to its pungent odour, it is often stored in airtight containers.

A newbie would find it difficult to believe in the power of ‘hing’ as a basic Indian spice, but a little amount of experimentation would help to create a giant belief in its strength to turn tastes from good to better.

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“For a Western palette, hing can be shocking,” says Kate O’Donell in her book ‘The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook.’ It is further explained how the pungent smell of the spice mellows to a milder leek-and-garlic flavour when cooked in a balancing manner.

The Indian 'asafoetida' or 'hing' as powder forms a special part of Indian spices Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Indian ‘asafoetida’ or ‘hing’ as powder forms a special part of Indian spices
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Vikram Sunderam, a James Beard Award winner and chef at the Washington, D.C., Indian restaurants says that he “adds hing to lentil or broccoli dishes.” But his usage of the spice is done efficiently, depending on what he is cooking.

“Hing is a very interesting spice, but it has to be used in the right quantity,” he warns. “Even a little bit too much overpowers the whole dish, makes it just taste bitter.”

According to the NPR report, a huge number of Indians use hing as a substitute for onions and garlic. Gary Takeoka, a food chemist with the U.S Department of Agriculture, after studying the volatile compounds in hing feels, “A major proportion of hing’s volatiles are sulfur compounds.”He further adds, “Some of these are similar to the ones found in onions and garlic.”

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Other than cooking, hing in India also finds a place in traditional medicines. It is believed that the spice is powerful enough to minimize, control and cure kidney stones, bronchitis, whooping cough, digestive problems, and ulcers. The same is used for medicinal purposes in Afghanistan and Egypt.

While hing forms a definite material in Indian kitchens, it is also markedly present in Middle Eastern dishes. However, experts in international food find it hard to believe how hing hasn’t reached the international stage in this age of global fusion of cuisine styles.

It might trigger protests from the elder members in the family if a Slovak were to add chilli or cumin to their food in place of the traditional salt and pepper, but a tiny dash of hing is worth experimenting with!

-This article is compiled by a staff-writer at NewsGram.

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3 responses to “Cling to Hing: The secret weapon spice of Indian Cuisine”

  1. Along with distinctive taste in the food, hing also cure stomach aches and has many other medicinal properties

  2. Asafoetida provide us many benefits. It is also a well known antioxidant and possess anti-carcinogenic properties.

  3. Spices not only add taste to food but also add various nutritional values to it and prevent many diseases. Hing is helpful in digestion and also cures many respiratory diseases.

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The magical things Cumin seeds (jeera) do to your body

Cumin seeds, whose scientific name is Cuminum cyminum, not only makes a dish flavorful but is also healthy

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Cumin seeds (jeera), Wikimedia Commons

By Pashchiema Bhatia

Cummin (Botanical name: Cuminum cyminum). Jeera in Hindi.

Cumin seeds ( Hindi: Jeera )  are mostly associated with Mexican and Spanish foods but it is widely used as a traditional spice of Indian cuisine. Indian food is popular for using spices which not only add flavor to dishes but also nutritional value. The distinct flavor of cumin makes it favorite of many but its health supporting properties are much more impressive.

Nutritional Values of Cumin

  • Iron- 16%
  • Manganese- 7%
  • Copper- 4%
  • Calcium- 4%
  • Magnesium- 4%
  • Vitamin B- 13%
  • Phosphorus- 3%

Benefits of Cumin

  1. Helps in digestion process

It improves the energy production and metabolism and stimulates the production of some essential pancreatic enzymes which is necessary for proper digestion and nutrient assimilation. The presence of thymol and other essential oils stimulate the salivary glands hence helping in proper digestion.

  1. Prevents Cancer

In some lab research, Cumin was found effective in preventing cancer due to its high antioxidant content and the ability to enhance the liver’s detoxification enzymes.

Cummin (Cuminum cyminum). Jeera in Hindi. Wikimedia Commons
Cummin (Cuminum cyminum). Jeera in Hindi. Wikimedia Commons

  1. Improves Immunity

Do you know that 100 grams of cumin contains 11.7 milligrams of iron? Being a good source of iron, Cumin seeds not only keep the immune system healthy but also prevent anemia. The effective anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of cumin seed, boosts your immunity and helps to fight infections like cold and asthma.

  1. Beneficial for Pregnant women

Pregnant women deal with a lot of pregnancy symptoms like nausea and constipation. Cumin acts as a remedy in relieving constipation and improving the digestion process. It also increases the milk production without any side effects due to its high iron and calcium content.

  1. Weight loss

Cumin is rich in antioxidants and phytosterols which inhibit the absorption of harmful cholesterol in the digestive tract and thereby helping in reducing weight.

  1. Enhance the memory

One study found that it prevents memory loss and the damaging effects of stress on the body. In Ayurveda, it is commonly used to treat patients suffering from amnesia.

  1. Regulates the blood pressure and heart rate

Due to its high potassium content, it helps in regulating cell production and also in maintaining the blood pressure and heart rate.

Although, these seeds look ordinary and but its benefits makes it unique and special. It’s not just because of its flavor that it got so much significance in Indian cuisine but also because of its health benefits.

Pashchiema is an intern at NewsGram and a student of journalism and mass communication in New Delhi. Twitter: @pashchiema5

One response to “The magical things Cumin seeds (jeera) do to your body”

  1. It is very fortunate to know the good benefits we can get of this seed. In constipation problem, it shows its effectiveness also. Speaking of constipation, this Digestic by Mimonis is very effective also in treating that problem. It does a very good job in getting me out of the constipation that is why I am highly relying on it.

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