Many say variety is the spice of life but for most of us Bangladeshis, spice adds the variety to life. Our kitchens are quite literally bare without the addition of various spices. Without it we would not really be cooking. Heck, the word 'spice' says it all. Without it food is simply bland.
Garlic, bay leaves , mustard, turmeric, chilli, coriander, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, fenugreek, kalijira, etc add different flavours, scents and aura to particular dishes. Most of these are easily available from the roots, fruits, seeds and other plant products. For cooking purposes these are available in many different forms. There's paste, grounded seeds, diced, chopped or small chunks of the aforementioned materials.
All these different spices are not necessarily available in our country. Chili, coriander, turmeric, onion, garlic etc is farmed here whereas the rest is imported from India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka etc. basically most of the spices are produced here in the South East Asian subcontinent. Culinary creations from this region is madly craved for all across the west.
Spices existed in the oldest times when man used to walk around chewing on whatever was found growing on, under and around rocks. Some tastes literally killed him while others titillated the taste buds. The use of spices to enhance food began gradually. Now the entire world is caught up in the process of making tasty foodstuff even tastier.
Even a couple of decades ago we would see our mothers always maintain a ready stockpile of spices in the kitchen rack. A criminal sin was to end up putting something on the stove and then finding out that the required spice is missing. Spices were bought from the stores or even prepared at home and diligently stored in all kinds of containers, jars, packets, tins etc.
As times change, so must the tried and true methods of yesterday. The world of spice has also been spiced up. No longer do cooks have to spend hours creating and maintaining stockpiles of spice. Ready made packaged products are easily available at the nearest grocery store. Modern times are making it more difficult to keep hired help at home to help with preparing spices. Now you can have a hassle free cooking experience simply by opening a packet and pouring the contents into an airtight container.
A different taste
Aside from the typical turmeric, chili, onion etc; there are many other varieties of spices required for very specific dishes. These are just as readily available. Packaged goods such as these provide a fast, convenient way to acquire what you need and that too at reasonable prices and decent quality to boot. Despite that, a few families who like to do things the traditional way turn their noses up in the air at the mention of ready made spices. Shayla from Uttara uses a Pakistani spice from a producer called Shaan. Now all kinds of local brands are available producing a similar variety and quality products. According to her, these new packaged spices add a different taste to her creations. It's a difference that is not at all disliked.
Some people though tend to disagree that packaged spices do not always create the right effect. Colours and tastes sometimes turn out different than expected.
Of course, spicing up your food is not simply delegated to spices. Bringing in different tastes and aromas to the cooking is also helped by vinegar, ketchup, tasting salt, baking powder, cornflower, custard powder and a multitude of essence colors. Then there is saffron, peanuts, pistachio, cashew etc. The choice of different sauces is mind boggling at times. A small selection would include soy sauce, tomato, chili, oyster, puree, etc. All these come is different textures and flavours for respective baking, grilling, boiling and frying. As if the contents were not enough sometimes the packaging is so eye catching that it would not be too far fetched to call the containers decoration pieces on the kitchen shelves.
The hot stuff
As far back as reminisces go, Beauty Masala was a packaged brand that used to be advertised back in childhood. That was as far back as three decades ago. At that time cooks were not very interested in ready made products as a result of which the brand died out. Changing trends have shown women reaching out more and more to packaged spices. It helps when the goods come in attractive packaging and catchy advertisements. At present the leading brands are Radhuni from Square Group and those produced by Pran. Others who are also competing for piece of this hot market are BD Masala, Globe Masala and Agro Products.
Pran and Radhuni are at the top spot for their quality and of course, highly gimmicked ads. What goes into their favour is the quality control that is carried out at every step form harvesting the raw material, to transporting it to factories, producing and packaging. Involved in this lengthy process are both local and foreign nutrition technicians.
Munirul Islam and Afroza Sharmin of the marketing department of Pran Groups Agricultural Marketing Company Limited helped us with a few queries. The raw materials for the different spices, sauce and pickles is collected from farmers all across the country. For this purpose Pran provides advance cash, seeds and fertilizers to the farmers and then collect the output during harvesting time. Pran also purchases straight from the market when the farmers' output does not quite meet the needs of the factory. In some instances the raw material has to be purchased from abroad such as fennel which has to be bought from Pakistan.
It's all good
In the end such production techniques are not only helping the consumers get their quality local products but also helping out the farmers. Using the local labour to produce the raw materials is helping the economy. It helps to motivate the farmers into working harder as well as offering something new and convenient for the general public. In the end everyone benefits.
By Sultana Yasmin
Translated by Ehsanur Raza Ronny
Photo: Munem Wasif