Here’s to the precious one!

You see your favourite food and exclaim – waah, mooh mein pani aa gaya! Ever wondered about this pani – what exactly it is and where does it come from? This very modest but extremely precious pani is nothing but the saliva inside the mouth, a thick, colourless liquid secreted by the salivary glands.

Before I jump onto the scientific information, let me share some basic facts about saliva, and what is the reason that actually makes it a wonder thing. Saliva is made up of 98% of water and the other 2% consists of components like electrolytes, mucus, antibacterial compounds, other enzymes, proteins, salts and buffering agents that help keep apt pH levels. The water that forms a major part of saliva comes from the blood and it is due to the mucus that the saliva attains its glossy appearance and thick texture. It will be difficult to believe, but the truth is unless our food is mixed with saliva, it cannot be digested!

Some other useful and protective aspects of saliva are :

•Saliva, and not just the taste buds, helps us to taste and enjoy our food, and this is proved by scientists and researchers. It is said that if you keep a strong tasting substance like salt on a dry tongue, the taste buds alone will not be able to taste it. However, when a drop of saliva is added to it, salt gets dissolved and results in a taste sensation!
•It is due to the enzyme ‘ptyalin’, also called salivary amylase in the saliva, that the digestion of the starch into a sugar called maltose takes place. The maltose gets further broken into glucose molecules in the small intestine.
•Saliva keeps a check on the correct amount of water in our bodies. Drying of mouth when we are dehydrated happens due to less production of saliva, which is an automatic indication for us to drink more water!
•Chemicals like lysozyme, lactoferrin, peroxidase and immunoglobulin A are found in saliva which help fight bacteria.
•Saliva has sodium bicarbonate that helps to neutralize acids in foods and drinks, which are otherwise harmful to the tooth enamel.
•Saliva washes away food particles, dead cells and bacteria in the mouth and thus reduces tooth infections and decays.
•Keeping the mouth moist, to help the tongue and lips make speech sounds and lubricating the food, so it is easy to swallow, are also some of the things that fall in the everyday to-do list of saliva! In addition to this, preventing the swallowed food from damaging the wall of oesophagus, is also done by saliva.

Now, coming to the more scientific terms – ‘submandibular glands (submaxillary glands)’, ‘parotid glands’ and ‘sublingual glands’ are the three main pairs of salivary glands which help in the production of saliva. Out of these three, parotid glands are the largest. Besides these, there are also about 600-1000 minor salivary glands that are placed in the mouth, throat and lips alongwith tubes called the ‘salivary ducts’ that help the saliva to leave the glands.

Submandibular glands – two in number and are located under the floor of the mouth. Responsible for producing a liquid mixture that consists of water and mucus.

Parotid glands – one each located in each cheek, front of the ear. Responsible for producing a watery liquid containing proteins.

Sublingual glands – two in number and are located under the tongue, in front of the submandibular glands. Responsible for producing liquid containing more mucus than the secretions of other glands.

In a day, the average saliva production ranges from 500 ml to 1000 ml in which 70% is produced by the submandibular glands followed by parotid glands which produce 25% and the remaining 5% is produced by the sublingual glands. The salivary glands continuously keep on releasing saliva, but the amount can vary during the day. The highest volume of saliva is produced before, during and after meals, reaching a peak at about 12 a.m. The production lowers down when we go to sleep in the night. Also, the reason of bad breath early morning is due to the fact that less saliva is made while we sleep as compared to when we are awake. Various other reasons can also affect the quantity of saliva production like nature of the food (spicy, sour, acidic foods), smell of the food, chewing, drugs, hormonal status, age, hereditary, oral hygiene and physical exercises.

Have you ever thought that why is it advisable to drink water sip-by-sip? Well, it has a very salivacious answer – the reason is – saliva, when mixed with water and had, helps neutralising the acidity in the stomach. Thus, you drink water sip-by-sip, move it in the mouth so that it mixes with the saliva in the mouth and then gulp it down. This is the best way you can keep your digestion process under control – seen animals and birds doing the same, and being much healthier than humans? I am sure we all can learn these nitty-grittys to stay fit from the nature around us!

Also, saliva happens to be the world’s best medicine. Again, take a look at the nature around us – animals, when they are injured, they treat that injury with their saliva itself by licking that injured area. Such is the medicinal quality of saliva! Same is the case with human saliva. Infact, the early morning saliva is the most powerful. To test – spit the early morning saliva on an insect, and watch it die! It is also advised that we should swallow the early morning saliva with lukewarm water so that all its medicinal properties are taken by the human body.

Apart from these highly useful features of the human saliva, the nature has provided some animals with such saliva that act as defence mechanisms for them. For instance, take the venomous reptiles and insects possessing poisonous saliva that is potent to such an extent, that it can not only kill their preys but also become super medicines for humans and treat some deadly diseases! Surprisingly, some bird species have a sticky saliva that help them build their nests. Such a saliva acts like a glue and helps stick materials together. Then there are some species, which make their nests completely of saliva as it hardens when comes in contact with air. These types of nests form the main ingredient of the ‘Bird’s Nest Soup’ which is a popular delicacy in many Asian countries. For obvious reasons, this particular dish is a pretty expensive affair and is made by washing the bird’s nest first and then cooking it in chicken or other broths to give it a taste. The nest forms a gelatinous texture when added to water and is said to have many health benefits. Still haven’t had the opportunity to try one, but I would definitely want to give it a shot if given a chance sometime!

By now, all that I’m trying to zero down on to is to tell you about the helpful nature of our very own dear saliva. There lies a major concern in doing this – whichever corner of India I travel to, I see Indians spitting away to glory and wasting this valuable medicine. To put it in numbers, its totally devastating to know that 125 crore Indians indulge in spitting and they actually don’t know what they are throwing away! And this business of spitting relentlessly occurs more with people who chew on tobacco, guthka and other such products. Doctors also say that they are spitting life’s most precious thing. By spitting, such people are not only spoiling the roads and environment, but also spoiling themselves; and to be honest it is quite a shame! According to doctors, the only condition when one can spit is when one has extreme cough, and in no other circumstance. And while doing so as well, make sure that you do it in the wash basins and not anywhere on the roads or where you wish to! Spitting can also be checked by eating paans minus the kattha and consuming them only with chuna (calcium). This calcium not just saves us from spitting and wasting the worthy saliva but also has its own wonders for the body. I’ve already written at length about the benefits of paan as well as calcium in my previous blogs, you can always refer to them to get a connecting link…

Last but not the least, it is very rightly said that whatever is required by the human body for its survival is supplied free of cost by God! So, why not use it wisely and live a healthier and a happier life.

Let’s all of us together, SOS (Save Our Spits)!

Khaike paan Banaras wala…

How fast things around us change! Every time I’m travelling and go back to any city in India, I always encounter something new, something that didn’t exist the last time I was there. Mumbai for sure, is changing every day that too at such a “blink and miss” pace. New malls, new buildings, new coffee shops and eateries have cropped up in every single nook and cranny of the city. However, one thing that remains unchanged, are the paan shops or paantapris as they are popularly called. Paan shops are omnipresent. They are found in every by-lane of the city and they all have their string of loyal customers. These paantapris are also a hub for catching up on all the local gossip. They sell things right from tobacco, cigarettes and bidis to biscuits, chocolates and wafers and even cold drinks, but the real hero is thepaan!

Chef Anupa Das at a famous Panwala at Juhu Beach, Mumbai
The betel plant is a creeper with leaves that are heart-shaped and glossy, bright green in colour. They belong to the pepper family of plants and that probably explains their pungent taste. The origin of betel leaves has been traced to Malaysia, however, they have been a part of Indian history and culture for centuries now.
For religious ceremonies, the paan leaves are always used with the stem intact. I remember, paan leaves and thesupari or betel nut as being an integral part of almost all religious ceremonies we had at home. Money and betel nut are placed on the paan leaves and given as dakshina to the pundits. Betel leaves are also used to adorn the mouth of the kalash(pot) because it is believed to purify the water. Also considered a symbol of hospitality, the paan is also used to honor and welcome guests.
Paan Leaves stored in cold water
In South India, paan, supari, haldi and kumkum are offered to married ladies during the ‘Varalakshmi Puja‘ and on all auspicious occasions like marriages and festivals. At a Rajasthani wedding, there is a ceremony called the “niyona” where the groom and his baraat will eat food only after the elders of the bride’s party put a paan into the mouth of every guest. Even till this day, the auspicious paan leaves are used in several ceremonies throughout India and South East Asia.
The uses of this versatile leaf are not just limited to pujas and religious ceremonies. The custom of chewing paan has been embedded in our culture and history for ages. Right from thenawabs of Luckhnow to the workers in a factory in Tamil Nadu and to the housewives of Bihar, you can find people from all walks of life eating paan. There are nearly 32 varieties of betel leaves, but in India, three types of paan leaves, namely Kalkatta, Banarasi and Maghai are highly popular. Of these, the Maghai paan, which is grown in Bihar is considered to be the best. Paan leaves can easily be bought from any grocery or paan shop. They can cost anywhere between Rs 20 to Rs 500 for a pack of 100 leaves, depending upon the type and quality of the leaves. The paan leaves are stored in a steel bucket that is filled with cold water or a wrapped in a moist red cloth called the “shaal-baaf” and then kept in a metal casket called the paandaani.
One of the many special paans available in the market today

The making of a delicious paan is truly an art. Every paanwari has a unique style of paan making and uses different ingredients for the stuffing, which is often a closely guarded secret. The filling in the paan depends upon the type of paan you have ordered. Depending upon the betel leaf used and the ingredients that go into the stuffing, you have varieties such as Calcutta sada paan, Calcutta meetha paan, Banarasi paan, Chocolate paan, Masala paan, Luchknowi paan, Magai meetha paan, Magai sada paan and chooski paan, just to name a few.

The panwari applying katha and chunna to a paan leaf
To begin with, the paan leaf is de-veined and the stem is cut. This is done to remove the tiny earthworm like creatures often present in the betel leaves. The leaf is then smeared with chuna, which is essentially the edible variety of lime paste and katha or catechu – a brown-colored paste derived from the wood of the acacia tree, and these are briskly mixed together using the finger. Thereafter, various ingredients for the stuffing are placed on top. These can include desiccated coconut, meethi supari (sweetened areca nut shavings), saunf, elaichi, gulkand, powders of kaju, badam, nutmeg and cinnamon, candied cherries, laxmichura, etc. The paan leaf, complete with all the condiments and spices, is then folded into a triangle, called the gilouree and is held together with the pointed end of a clove. Alternatively, thegilouree is held together by a paper or foil folded into a funnel with the gilouree’s pointed end folded inwards. However, it is a rare practice these days. The more fancy and expensive paans are coated with silver warq.

For those who don’t like the taste of betel leaf, but relish the stuffing, can ask the paanwari for mava, which is nothing but a mixture of the ingredients that go inside a paan. Now days, the mawa that goes inside a paan is separately sold in tiny boxes or packets. If stored properly, this mixture can last upto a year. Indians settled abroad, who long for the very Indian flavours of the paan, but fail to get it easily, carry back mawa in substantial quantities.

A lot of people consider chewing paan as a bad habit. I beg to differ as thepaan by itself is good to eat, but it is addictive and toxic ingredients such as tobacco or supari that are harmful to the health. According to Ayurveda, chewing paan minus the harmful ingredients aids, digestion, keeps the mouth fresh, relieves hunger, reduces blood pressure and also strengthens the teeth. An application of ground paan leaves on the forehead near the temples, or few drops of the juice of the paan on the nostrils is said to provide relief from headaches. The choona that is applied on the paan has a very important role to play in the preparation of a good paan. It is the most natural form of edible calcium. However it is very important to get the amount ofchoona right as too much of it can cut the tongue.
To enjoy the full benefits of the paan, it must be properly chewed and swallowed. Spitting the paan is of no use, it is like spitting away all the benefits associated with it. As the paan is made with edible ingredients and there is no need to spit out any of it, unless of course there is tobacco, kathaor supari added inside. Chewing tobacco or supari is as harmful as smoking cigarettes.
Supari or chopped areca nuts

It causes discoloration of the teeth and gums, blisters, cardiovascular diseases, bronchitis and mouth cancer.Each year, several people die because of this addictive habit, especially in the South East Asian region where this is a common practice.

People who eat tobacco-filled paan and those who chew tobacco directly, have given the phrase “paint the town red”, a whole new meaning.Wherever you go, you can see walls and roads blotched with red-coloured spit. I strongly feel that those who dirty our cities and towns like this should be heavily fined. It is not only an unhygienic and dirty habit, but is also harmful to health in more ways than you can even imagine.
I am glad that the government has taken up this issue and is making people aware about the ill effects off chewing tobacco and spitting around carelessly. It is our duty, as responsible citizens, to create awareness about these things. Fortunately, most people are smart enough to make the correct decisions once they become aware of the ill-consequences.
The paan, ready to eat!
Paan is an acquired taste, you either like it or not, I am one of those people who love the taste of paan! Paan stuffed with elaichi, laung and gulkand is my favorite. It’s simple, tasty and effective. In fact, I have tried to infuse the flavours ofpaan into several of my recipes. While some of these dishes spelt disaster, a few of them turned out to be delicious! The paan-centered chocolates that we served during the recent launch of my book Aah!chocolate were a big hit with the crowd. Paan in savoury food, why not? Murgh Benarasi Beeda is a delicious starter. The betel leaves added to the marinade lends a completely new dimension to the dish! And then there is the delicious paan kulfi– which is an innovative blend of India’s two age old favorites, the paan and kulfi – This had to be great!
You can find a few more interesting and innovative paan recipes at Till then let me share the links to three of my favorite ones.
Paan Kulfi 
Murgh Benarasi Beeda 
Paan Chocolates

Vrats – the logical way!

That time of year has already begun when we, especially Indians, indulge in some hardcore fasting or vrat rules, and most of which is usually to please the God. The navratras, like always, have set the trend which will go till the end of the year with various other festivals of different religions. I really wonder how people can associate a particular time and day to please the God – isn’t it that if the almighty is there, looking after us and taking care, we should be thankful to him all 365 days and why only for 9 days? Instead of doing so, we actually nurture the mean human nature by keeping fasts and vrats on festivals, without even giving it a logical thinking as to why we actually do them. Even God doesn’t want us to starve and keep him happy, he wants us to be wise and keep our bodies, minds and souls pure, fresh and healthy. We should eat food not too less and nor too much, commonly termed as ‘yukta aahar’ and eating simple, nutritious and pure food even when not fasting is what is preached by the Bhagvad Gita as well.

Fasting or keeping vrats, according to me is all a part of applying self-discipline as the season changes. Scientifically speaking, our body constantly requires cleansing and detoxification, which, generally goes ignored by us humans due to the rustle-bustle of our daily lives, or I would put it this way that by nature, we humans are actually not disciplined. Thus, these vrats, in the name of God are doing nothing but helping us clean our systems in all possibilities and the most by consuming the right type of food. The message is simple – eat these particular foods and eat them at the right time, this is what was started long ago by our gurus and is still followed. To which the logic is simple – if there will be fear in the minds of the people in the form of Godly rituals, the right thing will be done at any cost! Body digestion processes are related to change of season, and most of the religions provide all the right reasons to indulge in a particular type of food at the right time, which help detoxify our bodies in the long run.

Look at this fasting thing in a practical way – getting food items, cooking them, eating them and finally digesting the food is a nonstop process in a human being’s life. Not to forget that all these activities also take up a lot of our energy and time. Food, though it provides us with energy, is not always good as certain foods do make our minds dull and agitated. So, simply to revitalize the minds, these fasting days come as a saviour by making us conserve our energy by eating light and simple food. Also, our bodies have a limit to tolerate any or all types of food and vrats are the best way to give a break and rest to the digestive system as well as the entire body. Most of the vrats call for vegetables and fruits in the diets, and I think it is absolutely necessary for the body to cater to these needs also and not just keep on indulging in our favourite foods all the time! Also, according to the tridosha theory of Ayurveda, our health is a result of the balance between the vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth and water). So, when we fast with a special diet on particular days, it helps in the health and wellbeing of the entire body by bringing nutritional balance.

Summing it all up, be it the Hindu navratras or the Jain paryushans or the Catholic Lent or the Muslim rozas – whatever religion the fast or vrat belong to, there is always a literal and scientific meaning attached to these which should be the reason for us to apply them as and when required as it only helps in adding to the betterment of our bodies. On the other hand, let me ask you a very simple question – will you still keep these vrats if there were no Godly rituals attached to them? If it’s the fear of God which makes us keep these vrats so appropriately and that all the non-doable things can be kept away by instilling this fear – then, can we apply the same logic in keeping mobile phones away? Why not introduce a ‘mobile vrat’ time in each month and be a part of it?

Well, on a lighter note, give a thought about this…because I would really be interested in knowing what you all have to say about this! But, do enjoy some of the recipes from that I’m sharing with you all –

Vrat ki Kadhi 
Kootoo Ke Aate Ki Puri 
Adrak Navratan

Tell me about the dishes you made this navrata!

Happy fasting!