While I don’t consider myself a South Indian food connoisseur, I love the cuisine. Growing up, I regularly ate dosa with sambar, chutney, or molagapudi (spice mix) with ghee. Little did I know, these spice mixes, in addition to being absolutely delicious, are also healthy. They are made using ground pulses, dried chillies and curry leaves, in addition to several other condiments.
Each state in South India has its own variation of the spice mix. In Karnataka, it’s made of roasted peanuts or sesame seeds, chillies and garlic. In Kerala, the mix is made of ground urad dal and grated coconut, and in Andhra Pradesh, it’s made using dried red chillies and wheat germ. In Tamil Nadu, the spice mix is made of chana dal, jaggery and chillies.
But as Indians migrate to different parts of the country for reasons such as work and education, they might find it hard to get their hands on spice mixes that retain their authenticity.
Keeping this in mind, Poojitha Prasad (36), a Bengaluru-based entrepreneur, launched the Deccan Diaries in 2017. The organisation aims to promote traditional spice mixes and natural flavours across the country. Poojitha says she wanted her brand to represent flavours of the south, bring authentic tastes, and traditional recipes under one ambit.
“In 2014, after quitting the corporate world, I wanted to start a business of my own. My parents own a catering business that makes meals for corporate companies and offices. The food they make is so delicious that often, relatives ask them to share their recipes and the masalas they use. This gave me the idea to start a masala business,” Poojitha says.
From remote corners of the south
Poojitha began doing her research on different kinds of spice blends and how to make them. At the time, she realised that in Karnataka alone, there are several varieties of spice blends, which are native to each district. Most of these were long forgotten.
“Nowadays, many are attracted to the concept of superfoods, which include flax seeds. But little do they know that in north Karnataka, there is a spice mix called agase, which is a variety of chutney powder made from flax seeds, dals, dried chillies and more ingredients,” says Poojitha.
She launched Deccan Diaries with a few spice blends like chutney powder, Bisi-Bele bath mix, and sambar pudi. Over time, as she travelled across the state to learn about long-lost recipes from women in various districts, the product range expanded.
“Once I got the recipe, I would come back home and try making it in my kitchen. If it was a success, it would be packaged and sold,” says Poojitha.
An initiative driven by women
All raw material such as chillies, pulses, dals, pepper and cinnamon, is sourced through farmer produce associations in Karnataka. Once the raw material is delivered, it is thoroughly cleaned, dried, roasted, ground, and packaged. She has hired three women in her production unit to help her with the process.
“To make the Andhra-style guntur gun powder, guntur chillies are sourced from a farmer in Bijapur, Karnataka,” Poojitha says.
However, in 2020, the workers had to return to their hometowns due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Subsequently, Poojitha began making the mixes herself. “I had to reduce the number of items we were selling, because the production unit was closed. Now the operations all take place in my kitchen.”
Initially, Poojitha marketed her products through fairs and exhibitions, and stocked the products at Go Native stores in Bengaluru. But recently, the brand was chosen by Amazon.in’s ‘Saheli’ programme, and her products are now being sold under the food division.
“We were one of the first startups to be chosen under this division because the entire production process is done by women. This gave us a boost to expand the business and eventually improved our sales,” says Poojitha.
Since 2017, Deccan Diaries has made 15 types of spice mixes, including puliyogare mix, chutney powder from Niger seeds, Andhra-style gunpowder, curry leaf powder, moringa powder and more, and has received over 1,000 orders from across the country.