An ode to spice & everything nice

An ode to spice & everything nice

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN

PURE & SIMPLE? NO WAY! Spices in the market contain the highest amount of  adulterated substances.

Indian spices truly empower those who are willing to master culinary art; they lend a wonderful aroma, lip-smacking taste and tempting colour to the food. However, what often spoils the mood (and the preparation), of kitchen queens is the perturbing fact that some spices sold in the market may be adulterated. Nothing could be more disturbing than to see red chilli not giving the desired taste and colour and garam masala devoid of creating aroma, strong enough to tantalise taste buds.

Shunning the ready-to-use spices and opting to grind them at home perhaps is the difficult option not many women would like to tread. But Raksha Zaveri, a businesswoman, felt motivated to enter the condiments business after some tasteless encounters with packaged spices, which she thought were “adulterated.’  

She likes to call it a ‘mini battle’ against impure spices, along with a group of housewives. Her passion to provide only the best of powders saw her business bloom into a successful enterprise, simply by word of mouth.

“At first we began with just 500 kgs of li, but gradually the number swelled to over a 1000 kgs,” she says. Working mainly with housewives, Raksha who heads the Jain Women Organisation, states that each and every step of processing like cleaning, sifting, drying and grinding is performed under their strict vigilance.

A chat with her provides an insight into how much hard work goes into processing spices without which our food looks and tastes quite insipid. The most tedious task, after spices are bought from the whole sale market, is the cleaning and sifting process.

Turmeric, for example, has numerous health benefits, but the addition of adulterated substances, can kill all its medicinal properties. So to ensure that the powder is pure, it is first carefully washed and purified and left under the sun for a few days to dry completely with no traces of moisture. Grinding is the last stage, before it is packed for clients.

The weather plays an important role in making spices. Drying of whole spices, before they are ground is essential. This is carried out during the summer months when the sun is scorching. That is the time of the year when they also make a variety of pickles prepared with at least 1,500 mangoes.

“We prepare spices and pickles on a yearly basis and in enough quantity. Summer is peak season, when the workers are usually working round the clock to make the most of the sun. Monsoon season brings our work to a complete halt. But business goes on as we sell what we have prepared to our select clients” she says.

Hailing from a Gujarati background, Raksha feels that her traditional upbringing has greatly helped her in the business. Since Gujuratis are known for their excellence in food preparation and preservation, it is no surprise that she knows a few tricks as well.
  “We also sell toor dal (purchased from Surat), that is rubbed with castor oil as this serves as an insect deterrent and makes it last longer”, a practice she learnt from her mother. She also reveals that the  the chilli powder they prepare has some amount of salt and oil mixed in it which acts as a natural preservative.

There are several other Indian spices and items on their list like butter milk masala and garam masala, a flavourful combination of a dozen assorted spices. Not to forget her ‘masala tea’ powder, which is a blend of a few beneficial herbs and spices.

Maintaining the quintessential Gujurati flavour, Raksha says it is not just spices which keep their customers coming back to them. They also make an array of condiments and savouries —  khakra, puri, ghatia, chakli, and sev. But what really sells like hot cakes is the theplla, a traditional salted Gujarati preparation which, she asserts, can stay fresh for weeks and is a preferred snack for family picnics and travels.

With too many spices in their lives, the overdose of pickles and salted items is duly countered by mouthwatering sweets which they prepare on orders during Diwali season.

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