History of Indian cuisine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The history of Indian cuisine consists of cuisine of the Indian subcontinent, which is rich and diverse. The diverse climate in the region, ranging from deep tropical to alpine, has also helped considerably broaden the set of ingredients readily available to the many schools of cookery in India. In many cases, food has become a marker of religious and social identity, with varying taboos and preferences (for instance, a segment of the Jain population consume no roots or subterranean vegetable; see Jain vegetarianism) which has also driven these groups to innovate extensively with the food sources that are deemed acceptable.

One strong influence over Indian foods is the longstanding vegetarianism within sections of Hindu and Jain communities. At 31%, slightly less than a third of Indians are vegetarians.[1]

Historic developments[edit]

Prehistory and Indus Valley Civilization exchanges with Sumeria and Mesopotamia[edit]

After 9000 BCE, a first period of indirect contacts between Fertile Crescent and Indus Valley (IV) seems to have occurred as a consequence of the Neolithic Revolution and the diffusion of agriculture.[note 1] Around 7000 BCE, agriculture spread from the Fertile Crescent to the Indus Valley, and wheat and barley began to be grown. Sesame and humped cattle were domesticated in the local farming communities.[2] Mehrgarh is one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming and herding in South Asia.[3][4][note 2] Jean-François Jarrige argues for an independent origin of Mehrgarh who notes "the assumption that farming economy was introduced full-fledged from Near-East to South Asia,"[14][note 3] and the similarities between Neolithic sites from eastern Mesopotamia and the western Indus valley, which are evidence of a "cultural continuum" between those sites. But given the originality of Mehrgarh, Jarrige concludes that Mehrgarh has an earlier local background and is not a "'backwater' of the Neolithic culture of the Near East".[14]

From circa 4500 to 1900 BC the rulers of Lower Mesopotamia were Sumerians who spoke a non-Indo-European and non-Semitic language, may have initially come from India and may have been related to the original Dravidian population of India.[32][33][34] This appeared to historian Henry Hall as the most probable conclusion, particularly based on the portrayal of Sumerians in their own art and "how very Indian the Sumerians were in type".[32] Recent genetic analysis of ancient Mesopotamian skeletal DNA tends to confirm a significant association that some of Sumerians might have come from IVC, and it cannot be excluded that among them were people involved in the founding of the Mesopotamian civilizations.[34]

By 3000 BCE, turmeric, cardamom, black pepper and mustard were harvested in India.[35][36]

From Around 2350 BCE the evidence for imports from the Indus to Ur in Mesopotamia have been found, as well as Clove heads which are thought to originate from the Moluccas in Maritime Southeast Asia were found in a 2nd millennium BC site in Terqa.[37] Akkadian Empire records mention timber, carnelian and ivory as being imported from Meluhha by Meluhhan ships, Meluhha being generally considered as the Mesopotamian name for the Indus Valley Civilization.[38][39][40]

Vedic and vegetarian Buddhist exchanges with Roman empire and influence on Southeast Asia[edit]

The ancient Hindu text Mahabharata mentions rice and vegetable cooked together, and the word "pulao" or "pallao" is used to refer to the dish in ancient Sanskrit works, such as Yājñavalkya Smṛti.[41] Ayurveda, ancient Indian system of wellness, deals with holistic approach to wellness, and it includes food, dhyana {meditation} and yoga.

Thai cuisine was influenced by Indian cuisine as recorded by the Thai monk Buddhadasa Bhikku in his writing ‘India's Benevolence to Thailand’. He wrote that Thai people learned how to use spices in their food in various ways from Indians. Thais also obtained the methods of making herbal medicines (Ayurveda) from the Indians. Some plants like sarabhi of family Guttiferae, kanika or harsinghar, phikun or Mimusops elengi and bunnak or the rose chestnut etc. were brought from India.[42]

Filipino cuisine, found throughout the Philippines archipelago, has been historically influenced by the Indian cuisine.[43] Atchara of Philippines originated from the Indian achar, which was transmitted to the Philippines via the acar of the Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Indian influences can also be noted in rice-based delicacies such as bibingka (analogous to the Indonesian bingka), puto, and puto bumbong, where the latter two are plausibly derived from the south Indian puttu, which also has variants throughout Maritime Southeast Asia (e.g. kue putu, putu mangkok). The kare-kare, more popular in Luzon, on the other hand could trace its origins from the Seven Years' War when the British occupied Manila for 2 years mostly with sepoys (Indian conscripts), who had to improvise Indian dishes given the lack of spices in the Philippines to make curry. This is said to explain the name and its supposed thick, yellow-to-orange annatto and peanut-based sauce, which alludes to a type of curry.[citation needed]

Cuisine exchange with Central Asian and Islamic world[edit]

Later, arrivals from Arabia, Central Asia,[44] and centuries of trade relations and cultural exchange resulted in a significant influence on each region's cuisines, such as the adoption of the tandoor in Middle East which had originated in northwestern India.[45]

Cuisine exchange during European colonial period[edit]

The Portuguese and British during their rule introduced cooking techniques such as baking, and foods from the New World and Europe. The new-world vegetables popular in cuisine from the Indian subcontinent include tomato, potato, sweet potatoes, peanuts, squash, and chilli. Most New world vegetables such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, Amaranth, peanuts and cassava based Sago are allowed on Hindu fasting days. Cauliflower was introduced by the British in 1822.[46] In the late 18th/early 19th century, an autobiography of a Scottish Robert Lindsay mentions a Sylheti man called Saeed Ullah cooking a curry for Lindsay's family. This is possibly the oldest record of Indian cuisine in the United Kingdom.[47][48]

Factors driving globalisation of Indian cuisine[edit]

Universal appeal[edit]

A 2019 research paper by US economist Joel Waldfogel, based on travel data from TripAdvisor, affirmed India's soft power which ranked Indian cuisine fourth most popular. Italian, Japanese & Chinese food being top 3. Indian cuisine is especially most popular in United Kingdom, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Germany, France and US.[49] In another 2019 survey of 25,000 people cross 34 countries, the largest fans of India cuisine who have tried it are the Indians (93%), British (84%), Singaporeans (77%), Norwegians (75%), Australians (74%), French (71%), Finnish (71%), Malaysians (70%), Indonesians (49%), Vietnamese (44%), Thai (27%), and mainland Chinese (26%).[50]

Unique molecular taste and richness of spices[edit]

The Washington Post reported the results of a 2019 study by the researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur, which analysed over 2,000 popular online recipes from Tarla Dalal's portal "TarlaDalal.com" containing 200 ingredients out of the 381 known globally. Each Indian dish on average contains at least 7 ingredients. Each ingredient has on average over 50 molecular flavour compounds. Data scientists studied the numbers and amount of molecular flavour compounds shared by each ingredient combined in a dish. Western cuisine tends to pair similar molecular flavour compounds, which is why it tastes bland. On the other hand, the secret to Indian cuisine's unique and delicious appeal is that at molecular level the ingredients used in Indian dishes share less molecular flavour compounds, which provides a contrasting, uniquely balanced taste. Indian cuisine does not uses ingredients that overlap in molecular flavour compounds, "we found that average flavour sharing in Indian cuisine was significantly lesser than expected... Each of the spices is uniquely placed in its recipe to shape the flavour sharing pattern with rest of the ingredients." The more overlap two ingredients have in terms of shared molecular flavour compounds, the less likely they are to be used in the same Indian dish.[51]

Long and globally networked evolution that is widely ranged[edit]

Indian cuisine reflects an 8,000-year history of various groups and cultures interacting with the Indian subcontinent, leading to diversity of flavours and regional cuisines found in modern-day India. Later, trade with British and Portuguese influence added to the already diverse Indian cuisine.[52][53]

Large diversity of fusion and regional variations within Indian cuisine[edit]

Another reason for the popularity of Indian cuisine is evolution of a large number of distinct diaspora and fusion Indian cuisines such as Indian Chinese cuisine (Chindian or Indian and own cuisine-Cantonese cuisine fusion),[54][55][56] Malaysian Indian cuisine, Indian Singaporean cuisine (based on Tamil cuisine),[57] Anglo-Indian cuisine (developed during the British Raj in India with adoption of western dishes with Indian ingredients).[58][59][60][61]

Contribution of the Indian diaspora towards promoting Indian cuisine[edit]

In 2019, according to data released by United Nations, 17.5 million of overseas Indians formed the world's largest diaspora, including 3.4 million in UAE, 2.7 million in USA, and 2.4 million in Saudi Arabia.[62] Indian migration has spread the culinary traditions of the subcontinent throughout the world. These cuisines have been adapted to local tastes, and have also affected local cuisines. Curry's international appeal has been compared to that of pizza.[63] Indian tandoor dishes such as chicken tikka enjoy widespread popularity.[64]

The UK's first Indian restaurant, the Hindoostanee Coffee House, opened in 1810.[65][66] By 2003, there were as many as 10,000 restaurants serving Indian cuisine in England and Wales alone. According to Britain's Food Standards Agency, the Indian food industry in the United Kingdom is worth 3.2 billion pounds, accounts for two-thirds of all eating out and serves about 2.5 million customers every week.[67] A survey by The Washington Post in 2007 stated that more than 1,200 Indian food products had been introduced into the United States since 2000.[68]

Indian cuisine is very popular in Southeast Asia, due to the strong Hindu and Buddhist cultural influence in the region. Indian cuisine has had considerable influence on Malaysian cooking styles[69] and also enjoys popularity in Singapore.[70][71] There are numerous North and South Indian restaurants in Singapore, mostly in Little India. Singapore is also known for fusion cuisine combining traditional Singaporean cuisine with Indian influences. Fish head curry, for example, is a local creation. Indian influence on Malay cuisine dates to the 19th century.[72] Other cuisines which borrow inspiration from Indian cooking styles include Cambodian, Lao, Filipino, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, and Burmese cuisines. The spread of vegetarianism in other parts of Asia is often credited to Hindu and Buddhist practices.[73]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ According to Ahmad Hasan Dani, professor emeritus at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, the discovery of Mehrgarh "changed the entire concept of the Indus civilisation […] There we have the whole sequence, right from the beginning of settled village life.", ref "Chandler 34–42"
  2. ^ Excavations at Bhirrana, Haryana, in India between 2006 and 2009, by archaeologist K.N. Dikshit, provided six artefacts, including "relatively advanced pottery," so-called Hakra ware, which were dated at a time bracket between 7380 and 6201 BCE.[5][6][7][8] These dates compete with Mehrgarh for being the oldest site for cultural remains in the area.[9]

    Yet, Dikshit and Mani clarify that this time-bracket concerns only charcoal samples, which were radio-carbon dated at respectively 7570–7180 BCE (sample 2481) and 6689–6201 BCE (sample 2333).[10][11] Dikshit further writes that the earliest phase concerns 14 shallow dwelling-pits which "could accommodate about 3–4 people."[12] According to Dikshit, in the lowest level of these pits wheel-made Hakra Ware was found which was "not well finished,"[12] together with other wares.[13]
  3. ^ According to Gangal et al. (2014), there is strong archeological and geographical evidence that neolithic farming spread from the Near East into northwest India.[15][16] Gangal et al. (2014):[17] "There are several lines of evidence that support the idea of connection between the Neolithic in the Near East and in the Indian subcontinent. The prehistoric site of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan (modern Pakistan) is the earliest Neolithic site in the northwest Indian subcontinent, dated as early as 8500 BCE.[18][18] Neolithic domesticated crops in Mehrgarh include more than 90% barley and a small amount of wheat. There is good evidence for the local domestication of barley and the zebu cattle at Mehrgarh [19],[19] [20],[20] but the wheat varieties are suggested to be of Near-Eastern origin, as the modern distribution of wild varieties of wheat is limited to Northern Levant and Southern Turkey [21].[21] A detailed satellite map study of a few archaeological sites in the Baluchistan and Khybar Pakhtunkhwa regions also suggests similarities in early phases of farming with sites in Western Asia [22].[22] Pottery prepared by sequential slab construction, circular fire pits filled with burnt pebbles, and large granaries are common to both Mehrgarh and many Mesopotamian sites [23].[23] The postures of the skeletal remains in graves at Mehrgarh bear strong resemblance to those at Ali Kosh in the Zagros Mountains of southern Iran [19].[19] Clay figurines found in Mehrgarh resemble those discovered at Teppe Zagheh on the Qazvin plain south of the Elburz range in Iran (the 7th millennium BCE) and Jeitun in Turkmenistan (the 6th millennium BCE) [24].[24] Strong arguments have been made for the Near-Eastern origin of some domesticated plants and herd animals at Jeitun in Turkmenistan (pp. 225–227 in [25]).[25]

    The Near East is separated from the Indus Valley by the arid plateaus, ridges and deserts of Iran and Afghanistan, where rainfall agriculture is possible only in the foothills and cul-de-sac valleys [26].[26] Nevertheless, this area was not an insurmountable obstacle for the dispersal of the Neolithic. The route south of the Caspian sea is a part of the Silk Road, some sections of which were in use from at least 3,000 BCE, connecting Badakhshan (northeastern Afghanistan and southeastern Tajikistan) with Western Asia, Egypt and India [27].[27] Similarly, the section from Badakhshan to the Mesopotamian plains (the Great Khorasan Road) was apparently functioning by 4,000 BCE and numerous prehistoric sites are located along it, whose assemblages are dominated by the Cheshmeh-Ali (Tehran Plain) ceramic technology, forms and designs [26].[26] Striking similarities in figurines and pottery styles, and mud-brick shapes, between widely separated early Neolithic sites in the Zagros Mountains of northwestern Iran (Jarmo and Sarab), the Deh Luran Plain in southwestern Iran (Tappeh Ali Kosh and Chogha Sefid), Susiana (Chogha Bonut and Chogha Mish), the Iranian Central Plateau (Tappeh-Sang-e Chakhmaq), and Turkmenistan (Jeitun) suggest a common incipient culture [28].[28] The Neolithic dispersal across South Asia plausibly involved migration of the population ([29][29] and [25], pp. 231–233).[25] This possibility is also supported by Y-chromosome and mtDNA analyses [30],[30] [31]."[31]


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