Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Complex Flavor of India

Not a single recipe in Rahgavan Iyer’s wonderful book 660 Curries: A Gateway to Indian Cooking contains curry powder, he explains, because authentic Indian curry is a sauce-based dish with endless distinctive variations—nothing like the generic blend of spices found at your supermarket.

He said that Indian food has eight building blocks. They include the five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and “umami,” whose existence was confirmed in 2000, when scientists discovered receptors for it in the human tongue. (Nuts and cheese are among foods considered very “umami,” which has been described as “savory” or “satisfying.”)

The other three elements other than taste that define Indian fare include an astringent element (turmeric), pungent elements (peppercorn, chili, garlic and cloves) and aromatics (cardamom, cumin, coriander and cinnamon).

Thanks to this complex blend, Iyer says, Indian food is the world’s most sophisticated cuisine. I think he makes a good argument.