[Research + Content]
As an Indian, when you think about food, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Chicken Tikka and Naans slathered in butter? Soft idlies dunked in a bowl of spicy, steaming, sambhar? Intense curries and ghee roasts? The thing all these delicious dishes have in common: deep, bold, spicy flavours that have been marinating or simmering for hours.
Indian cuisine has a beautiful way of playing with flavours. Spice to us isn’t about something having a lot of chili. It’s about deep complexities that add flavours to our food. Ask any Indian cook, and they will talk about their best friends – masalas.
Masalas (or spices) are popular for their lovely fragrances and flavours. But they do come with their own set of myths. As Indians, we’re so used to seasoning our food with masalas, we tend to be a bit blind-sighted about them. Today, we’ll address a few common misconceptions associated with masalas – and introduce you to masala’s ignored sibling. A flavouring agent that just doesn’t get the same appreciation.
Myth: Masalas are the only way to flavour food.
Fact: Herbs might be around to give masalas a run for their money, especially in summer!
We’re all familiar with masalas. They come from the root, stem, seed, fruit, flower, or bark of a plant. Herbs are the green, leafy parts of the plant. The most commonly used herb in Indian cooking is coriander – mostly used only to garnish our food. Coriander seeds on the other hand are a spice or a masala. And we tend to use them whole, as well as ground. While we Indians tend to favour masalas, one thing is for certain – such high doses of spice might not be the best idea for the summer. Herbs might be able to help, with their brighter, fresher flavours.
Myth: The flavour of masala is strongest.
Fact: You can’t really compare the flavours of a masala against the freshness of an herb.
While it might seem like the flavours from masalas are stronger, the fact of the matter is this: comparing the flavour profile of the two is like comparing a beach whale and a flower. Fresh herbs are pure. They are untainted and unaltered, and have a mild, fresh flavour. Masalas are dried and ground – a process that helps them release their oils and stronger flavours. This also tends to make them seem ‘hotter’ so to speak, which is why we’d suggest going with herbaceous flavours this summer.
Myth: Masalas last forever.
Fact: Masalas can go bad if they aren’t stored properly.
Some might argue that herbs are a bad investment since they go bad so easily. How many of us haven’t thrown out an entire bunch of mint or coriander we purchased thinking we’d make a chutney and just never got around to it? Consider dried herbs. Also, masalas can go bad too if not stored properly. Exposure to heat, light, or moisture can destroy their flavour. The best way to store masalas is in their whole forms. This way they will keep their flavour longer.
Myth: Masalas are 100% authentic.
Fact: Masalas are easier to adulterate than herbs.
Masala powders are basically whole spices that have been dried out and powdered. Which means anything could be added to them, and you’d barely know. Some of the most common things used to adulterate your spices include talcum powder, ground walnut shells, sand, and even saw dust! This is also another reason to buy your masalas whole and grind them at home, when you need them. Or, try out fresh herbs if you aren’t sure where your masalas have come from.
We aren’t saying your food should be seasoned with either herbs or masalas. One isn’t better than the other. But a mélange of the two just might be the key! The flavours of the two are so diverse, we think we should include more herbs in our cooking – especially in the summer months. So we can remain cool and fresh like the herbs and enjoy some lovely flavour like our favourite masalas. And that, is the best way to season your food this summer.