This infusion of aroma in food has a rich culinary heritage in our country and has seen an evolution through centuries. One of the first parameters of good food as per Indian culinary science is its aroma.
Aroma and Indian Cooking
The history of Indian cuisine dates back to 5000 years. The food that we eat today is a veritable blend of confluence cultures that gradually impacted our food and culinary tradition over centuries. What makes Indian food stand out is its liberal use of spices and its distinct aroma. In fact in a country of thousands of local cuisines, the most distinguishing factor is the aroma of food which varies immensely from region to region. And with the coming of the Muslim invaders and their gradual settling on the Indian lands, the role of aroma became even more significant. It graduated from the whiff of cardamom and crushed black pepper fried in ghee to rose attar added in sherbets and the fragrance of sandalwood in desserts.
Thousands of years before a Heston Blumenthal or a Jozef Youssef started popularising multisensory cooking, Indian khansamas had been adding khus, saffron, gulab jal, and kewra to their food.
Significance of aromatic infusion in food:
Can we taste food when we pinch our nostrils? No! The food tastes bland, completely. People who suffered from COVID-19 would know this feeling better. Losing smell means losing taste as they are interlinked.
Aromas play a pivotal role in our perception of food. Before we even taste the food, the whiff and aroma through our olfactory nerves enter our brain and trigger a sense of hunger and craving, which in turn helps activate the digestive process-what we call digestive fire or Jatharagni in Ayurveda. So they do have a role to play in accelerating a healthy digestive process.
Besides attracting us towards food, they also have a calming impact on the nerves and they help in relaxing the body and mind by promoting the enjoyment of food. No wonder food scientists employ botanical extracts and essential oils to enhance the aroma of food.
Each aromatic ingredient used in our cuisine has a significant role to play in increasing the overall value of food.
Rose Water: It has anti-inflammatory and healing properties. It is calming in nature and a glass of rose sherbet would more or less have the same impact on the senses as a glass of red wine would. It is also great for skin as it has anti-bacterial properties as well.
Khus: Mostly added in summer desserts and sherbets, it is a coolant and is said to reduce body heat. It is a good source of trace minerals like manganese, is a diuretic and a thirst quencher and hence prevents dehydration. It is a good source of anti-oxidants too.
Kewra Water: In its diluted form, Kewra water can help in preventing dry skin, eczema and rosacea. It controls sweating and is calming for the senses.
Sandalwood: It is a natural relaxant, is said to bring down blood pressure naturally and has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
Saffron: Saffron is a powerful anti-oxidant and is believed to have cancer-fighting properties, It is said to reduce PMS symptoms. is a natural aphrodisiac and is a mood uplifter. too.
The magic of aroma in food hence is not just confined to the senses but has a lasting impact on health too and this explains this beautiful blend of smell and taste that is an integral part of Indian cooking.