Food has been a hugely significant part of Indian culture for thousands of years. While Indian cuisine is now widely eaten throughout the UK, many of us only know about the most common dishes – from samosas to Korma and Vindaloo – without knowing much else about the diverse range of foods that are enjoyed by the people of this fascinating country.
With that in mind, here are some surprising facts about Indian food that could change your own perception of the cuisine – prepare to have your mind opened!
- The food of India is traditionally based on six types of tastes, or rasas. The first is sweet (madhura), followed by salty (Iavana), sour (amala), bitter (tikta), pungent (katu) and astringent (kasya).
- Samosas existed long before they came to India in the 13th century; they actually originated as sambosas in the Middle East.
- Another food that originated in the Middle East is Zalebi, but they were called either Zabiya (Arabic) or Zalibiya (Persian).
- India is the biggest spice producer in the whole world – nowonder it’s known the world over as the Land of Spices.
- It is also home to the biggest variety of rice, including black rice (also known or magic or forbidden rice), which is only produced in India and China.
- Although tomatoes and chillies are now an integral part of Indian cuisine, being used to make a variety of dishes and curries, they were only introduced to India around the 16th-17th century.
- Potatoes and sugar were also introduced around this time, with refined sugar being brought in by the Portuguese. Before this time, the only sweeteners available for Indian cooks to use were honey and fruit.
- Some 40% of India’s population is vegetarian, meaning it has the lowest meat consumption per person rate in the world.
- The most widely used spice in India is chilli.
- India is home to one of the hottest chillies in the world: bhotjolokia, otherwise known as the ‘ghost chilli’. It’s grown in north eastern states and is said to be 400 times fierier than tobacco sauce.
- Saffron did not originate in India, but was brought over by Arab, Greek and Roman traders in the Middle Ages, who brought with them a host of new tastes and cooking techniques.
- Supposedly one of India’s most famous dishes, chicken tikka masala, was actually first invented in Glasgow, Scotland – the cream making the dish more palatable for Scottish tastes.
- The Indian food system classifies food into three categories: Saatvicis used for fresh juice and vegetables and is believed to lead to an elevated state of being; Raajsic means oily and spicy food, and is said to be the core of activity and motion; and Taamsic means meat and alcohol, which are said to instigate negative feelings and emotions.
If these revelations have whet your appetite for some delicious Indian food, make sure you forego your standard high street curry house and pay a visit to one of London’s fine dining Indian restaurants, for a true taste of Indian cuisine at its best.