Tempering is a basic step in Indian cooking. Adding deep-fried whole spices, chillies, chopped ginger and garlic to capture their individual and collective flavours.
And how does all of this happen? Well, enter any Indian kitchen and among the prized spices or mixes you will find the answer – a jar of ghee!
Originally, it was a sign of prosperity. And it had to be made at home.
But sometime during the mid-80s, it began to be replaced by vegetable oils. Those who could not afford desi ghee, cooked in the Dalda brand of vegetable ghee.
I’m told that families would hide their cans of Dalda from visiting relatives or neighbours because the presence of these cans suggested that they were not a khata peeta gharana, a prosperous home.
“If you look at our grandmothers and their traditional eating practices, they have never replaced ghee. If you look at their skin, hair, bone and spine health, they are way better than us, even if we are half their age, because what’s missing in our lives in ghee!” says Jinal Shah.
She is a diet and exercise consultant based in Mumbai. She talks to us at length about the value of traditional wisdom in food practices and how these are much older than modern nutrition science. She says that a lot of our health concerns today are a result of losing touch with our roots.
Jinal also emphasises the strength-enhancing capabilities of ghee; for this reason, it is given to expectant and new mothers in generous amounts. It’s also a mandatory element in the diet of athletes.
She adds, “Unfortunately, we need fancy names to make something aspirational. Ghee doesn’t sound so nice, but when it’s clarified butter or bulletproof coffee, it sounds attractive and aspirational. But calling food by its native name is very important.”
I think some credit for this increased awareness goes to Jinal’s mentor, Rujuta Diwekar. Her book Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight silenced many misconceptions that had been propagated by the food industry. It played a great role in making ghee fashionable again, especially because before her, fitness fads for the longest time shamed desis for their love of ghee!
In India, ghee is more than a superfood. It is considered to be one of the most balanced ingredients that enhances the equilibrium of the mind and the body. It’s also a half-a-billion-dollar industry, witnessing a growth of 11.1 per cent between 2011 and 2018.
“But this growth also means that millions of people now depend on commercial manufacturers of ghee. It is not made at home anymore, especially in urban areas, but an essential in the monthly grocery list,” says Tanvi Patel, a lifestyle writer at The Better India.
We also hear from Pintu Suvagiya who quit his corporate career to pursue beekeeping, grow organic vegetables, and make natural dairy products. He sells them under his label ‘The Nature’s Way’ from his farm in Rajkot, Gujarat. Pintu tells us, “Commercial manufacturers often make ghee from malai or cream obtained from milk instead of curd. This type is faster to make and gives better milk to ghee ratio as compared to the bilona variety. But at the same time, it cannot be digested easily.”
So go ahead, put that spoonful of ghee on your dosa and rice and have a delicious time at it!
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)