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Friday, November 28, 2014

Tempering......healthy affair with spices.


  • Tempering is the method used heavily in traditional Indian cooking. Tempering of spices is a traditional method to extract the full flavor from spices. Essentially this method is when whole or ground spices are heated in hot oil/ghee (butter) and then added to a dish, which makes the dish more fragrant and flavorsome and brings the essence of the spices to the fore. The symphony of various spices in hot ghee has its own taste and smell which defines Indian cuisine.
  • But have you ever wondered why we add a tadka or chhonk in our dals and other dishes? Is it just for taste or does it holding any other benefit as well? The truth is, a tadka not only adds flavor to our food but also holds many health benefits in it. Not only does tempering add flavor but it also unlocks the nutritional benefits of the spices.

  • Chaunk/chhaunk/ chounk/ chonk ( छौंक)  in Hindi
  • তড়কা(tarka)/বাগার(bagar)/ ফোড়ন(phoron) in Bengali
  • Tarka (ਤੜਕਾ) in Punjabi
  • Thaalithal (தாளித்தல்) in Tamil
  • Oggarae (ಒಗ್ಗರಣೆ) in Kannada
  • Fonna(फोण्ण) in Konkani
  • Vaghaar (વઘાર) in Gujarati
  • Fodni (फोडणी) in Marathi
  • Thalimpu (తాళింపు) or popu ( పోపు ) in Telugu
  • Baghaar (Urdu: بگھار)
  • Baghara (in oriya)

  • The Hindi name, chhaunk (the initial consonant, "chh" () is a heavily aspirated "ch" sound), is believed to be onomatopoetic, imitating the muffled sound of the just-fried spices being added to a dal or other dish.

        What are the uses of tempering?
  • Herbs have their own healing properties and some like cumin, turmeric etc. are excellent for digestion. So, it makes complete sense to add it your dishes like dals, veggies, etc.
  • It also gives the food a mouth-watering taste and adds a visual appeal to boring, routine food.
  • Phytonutrients present in turmeric, curry leaves, cumin, etc are important for our body, they all have medicinal values. Since the hot ghee or vegetable oil helps the spices unlock their healing properties.
  • Hot fat has an amazing ability to extract and retain the essence, aroma and flavor of spices and herbs and then carry this essence with it when it is added to a dish.

        What is the science behind tempering?
  • Tempering is the method of heating fat and throwing in whole spices until they release their essential oils.
  • Solubility of compounds - The aroma and heat of spices are caused by organic compounds that are synthesized by plants. These compounds are usually hydrophobic in nature. When spices are tempered in oil, these compounds are readily solubilized in the oil and the aroma and fragrance is dispersed through the dish along with the oil. Added to this, some spices like mustard seeds or sesame seeds contain oil inside the seeds, when added to hot oil, these seeds pop and splutter, this releases these fragrant oils into the cooking oil.
  • The aromatic compounds in spices dissolve much better in oil than in water, thus frying in ghee enhances the fragrance because of the high temperature, and also extracts the flavor to the oil, and hence it can be dispersed through the food efficiently.
  • Frying all the potent spices in hot oil releases the flavors of the spices and the aroma, and cooking the dish in this flavorful oil adds the subtle taste of the spices to the dish, without overpowering the actual dish itself.
  • These are fried to a crisp during the tempering process. This adds an element of crunch, which is an added dimension of texture to the food. Adding raw or boiled spices will not be able to achieve this texture.

        How is tempering done?
  • In authentic Indian cooking, the key to making a truly delicious meal is not only choosing the right spices but also adding them in the right order and tempering them correctly.
  • Tempering is done primarily by heating a little oil or clarified butter and adding the relevant spices until they change color or crackle. Here again although the basic concept of tempering is the same all over the country, each region or for that matter every family has its own distinctive way of tempering, and each claims proudly & possessively that theirs is the best way to temper food!
  • Tempering is followed across India from north, south, east and west. Though the ingredients may differ slightly, the benefits still remain intact. Here’s what you need to do.
  • Heat a tablespoon of ghee or oil in a pan. When it is simmering hot, keep the gas on a medium flame and add mustard seeds. Once they start to crackle, add jeera. Once the jeera becomes slightly bigger in size, add onion, garlic. Stir continuously till they become slightly pink. Now add spices like haldi(turmeric), hing(asafetida), mirchi(chili) powder or red chilies, etc. Mix them well and then turn off the gas. Now add this to your pre-cooked dal, mix and serve immediately. This is a standard dal tadka. Depending on the dish, the ingredients change. For example, in some dishes, curry leaves, ginger-garlic paste is added in the tempering.

        Where tempering of spices is well known?
  • Tempering is a common technique used in the countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

        When is tempering done?
  • Tempering is either added at the very beginning or at the very end of the dish depending on what it is. For example, in dals, tempering is often added in the end while other preparations have it at the start.
  • When making a simple dish of rice with cumin, heat the whole cumin seeds in hot oil and then add the rice and continue cooking it. Tempering also can be used at the end of the cooking process. 

        What are the Ingredients used?
  • Ingredients typically used for tempering include cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, fennel seeds, fresh green chilies, dried red chilies, fenugreek seeds, asafetida, cassia, cloves, urad dal(split black gram), curry leaves, chopped onion, garlic, ginger or bay leaves. When using multiple ingredients for a tempering they are often added in succession, with those requiring longer cooking added earlier, and those requiring less cooking added later. In Oriya cuisine and Bengali cuisine, a mixture of whole spices called Panch phutana or panch phoron( is used.
  • The ingredients used in a Tempering varies dependant on the area the dish originated from.  Dishes from the North of India tend to favor cumin whilst dishes from the south prefer curry leaves.
  • There is no fixed authentic combination, but go with what you have and what you like, it's completely up to you.


        Spice Box or Masala Box
  • An Indian kitchen is incomplete without the tempering box or masala box. The general ingredients that go into the various compartments of this box are: cumin, mustard, split black gram, chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder. The seventh container in the centre can be filled with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Asafetida is often kept in a tiny bottle within the box, but with its lid closed since it has a very strong aroma. Some boxes are fitted with a rimmed tray for dry chilies and bay leaves.
  • Each of these ingredients has something to offer in terms of good health, especially for proper digestion. Given below are the basic uses of some of the spices used for tempering.
  • Turmeric is used for its great healing, cosmetic as well as antioxidant properties for building immunity. Turmeric is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, and anthelmintic. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antiseptic.
  • Black gram is added for its heating quality,
  • Health benefits of cumin are that it dispels gas, eliminates toxins, is a mild laxative, and is anti-inflammatory.
  • Mustard seeds are supposed to relieve muscular pain it also has anti inflammatory properties.
  • Asafetida health benefits are many; it is an antiepileptic, antimicrobial, mild laxative, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, antispasmodic, and anti-flatulent agent.
  • Fenugreek seeds are excellent digestives, especially after a heavy meal. It has been also used as a general tonic to improve metabolism and health.
  • Curry leaves  improve the quality of digestive juices secreted during digestion. Their action starts with intake. Their smell, taste and visual impression initiates salivary secretion and initiates the peristaltic wave, which is the first step in good digestion. They are mildly laxative and thus can tackle multiple digestive problems caused by food intake.
  • A lot of these spices are known for improving digestive health and healing powers.So, next time you open that masala box, pause and take note that it holds lots of secrets to our health!

       Tempering Tips
  • You don’t need lots of oil/ghee. One or two tablespoons are enough.
  • Ideally use Ghee, sunflower or vegetable oil.  Olive oil in this case is not the best choice, Olive oil breaks down at high temperatures, and the oil needs to be very hot for this.
  • The whole process only takes a few seconds, so make sure you are prepared before you start.
  • The oil or ghee should be very hot at first, then reduced to medium, then add the spices. You know the oil is hot enough when you can see a slight shimmer.
  • Tempering method is a good way of delivering the spice flavor as fat is a good transporter for them and closing the lid means trapping the fragrant vapor.
  • Fresh curry leaves are gorgeous. Aromatic, earthy, pretty, they make a curry. The dried variety pales in comparison but is still worth using if fresh is hard to come by.
  • When it comes to mustard and cumin seeds, it’s important to make sure they all pop in the oil and I’ll tell you a little secret to avoid being burnt by the mini fireworks display on the stove. Holding a lid over the pan is a much more elegant way to avoid injury.
  • If you are not sure whether the oil is hot enough (look for a slight shimmer), Tempering requires your undivided attention, so it is not to be juggled with distractions An annoying but unavoidable truth of tempering is that if you burn the spices, you must get rid of them, wipe the pan and start again because burnt seeds are perfectly capable of ruining the whole dish.
  • If you are making a curry, then temper at the start.  If you are making a dal, rasam or sambar then it is best to temper at the end.  If you are tempering at the end of a dish, then use a separate pan and simply add to the dish.
  • Not sure what to temper?  You can try powdered spices, cumin seeds, red dry chilies, mustard seeds, grated ginger or garlic, bay leaves or cloves.  The choice is yours.
  • The perfectly acceptable way is to drop in a couple of mustard or cumin seeds to see if popping occurs.  Always maintain control of the oil temperature. Turning the heat down or even off once the seeds have popped is advisable to prevent burning things.
  • If you’re going to add your vegetables or other ingredients to your tempering, be sure to choose a large enough pan to hold everything.
  • Trying to prepare the tempering too far in advance or storing in the fridge will result in loss of flavor and aroma.
  • No water is ever added to a tempering.
  • The only thing you need to bear in mind is to control the oil content while making the tempering. Many people end up using too much oil which obviously adds to weight gain and other health issues. People with stomach ulcers, acidity, heart problems, mouth ulcers, pimples, excessive body heat, etc must keep it to a minimum. 
  • If you burn the spices, you’ll have to throw your mixture out and start again, as the burnt flavor will ruin your whole dish.  The key to tempering is heat control.
  • Once your tempering is complete, you can start to add your other ingredients such as onions, meat & vegetables
  • As you add more ingredients the temperature in your pot will start to drop, so you may need to add more heat
  • The ingredients are usually added quickly one after the other. Start with those that require longer cooking and move to those that require least cooking.
  • The splattering of the spices and changes in the color will let you know that the tempering is complete.
  • Dry Roasting spices are not recommended as volatile essential oils in the spices are lost when dry roasted. Fat is a good carrier of flavor. Well here you have the combination of both.  The heating of fat to fry the spices/aromatics and then pouring it over the food and trapping that essential oil vapor by closing with a lid.  You’re maximizing the spice flavor.

        Other methods
  • In addition to showing us the typical tempering ingredients, u can used some unusual techniques for tempering, such as adding hot oil to already roasted spices, which really helped transform dishes from mundane to magical.

  • Almost every Indian recipe, except Dessert, is tempered with crackling spices. Anyone who aspires to learn Indian cooking has to learn the art of tempering. Usually heating is associated with the word temper. But in the context of Indian cooking, the term ‘temper’ takes on a very different meaning.
  • Every good cook knows that spices and seasoning can make or break a dish! For many people, choosing and adding the right spices can be the most intimidating part of learning a new style of cooking. In traditional Indian cuisine, spices are an integral part of every dish, not only picking the right ingredients, but adding them in the right order and using a specific technique is also crucial. With just a little bit of understanding and practice, you’ll see how easy it is to add a whole new level of flavor to your cooking which also has healthy implication.
  • Tempering tends to enhance the original flavors of a spice, making them bolder and more intense, almost as if they've become surer of themselves. The aroma of a tadka (tempered spices) is irresistible,it fills a room instantly, a sort of crazy treat for the nose. 
  • It's a quick, intense three or four minutes of crazy stirring and definitely not burning the spices, until your housemates, partner and neighbours come in, salivating, and it's done!


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