There are different mediums through which flavors can be infused into food.
Through air, which is what smoking technique uses.
Water: which is what boiling technique is based on
Oils:which is used in the concept of garlic or chilly infused oils
Aclohols/Vinegars: which are infused with flavors and added to the dish too.
Each of these mediums are chosen based on time taken,the end result expected and the ingredients aimed at.
But none of the global cuisines use the method of tempering Spices which is found in Indian and Indian inspired cuisines.
And not much is written or known about this unique process apart from how to execute it.
But there are several questions about this process we use in daily cooking routine and I set out to do my own research and here is a 2 part series compilation of all the literature about tadka I found online.
What is tadka or tempering?
The dictionary meaning of tempering is ‘act as a neutralizing or counterbalancing force to something’ which is a very apt description of the Indian tadka which is mainly used as a nuetralizing and counterbalancing force to the effects that certain ingredients of food can have on the human body.Which is why you will see cumin and asafoetida are staple ingredients in a tadka for a dish comprising of daal,beans or besan which have flatulence causing properties.
Why is tempering/tadka used?
Tadka uses spices as an agent to both impart flavors and act as a medicine.
Also, one cannot dismiss the sense of drama tadka can bring to the table when done live and the anticipation it arouses with its aroma and sizzle.
Why is it a unique cooking practice in the whole world ?
While there are many different cuisines that use spices in cooking, no other cuisine has perfected the way of capturing the essence of spices in this manner using both heat as a catalyst and oils as a medium. The closest parallel we can draw is the chili oil used in Chinese cuisine or the Italian herb infused oils which aim at capturing the essence of the plant material by steeping it in the oil for long periods of time till its chemical compounds are extracted into the oil.
Instead , Tadka/tempering uses oil/fat as a medium to capture the easily vaporize-able essential oils of spices and seal them from contact with air.Additionally,high heat is used as a catalyst to induce quick release of chemical compounds of the spices into the fats and thus achieves the same results instantly. Surprisingly this technique is not observed in any other cuisine in the world!
What is tadka called in different languages in India
Chonk in north India
Baghara in urdu
Oggarane in kannada
Phoron in kolkatta
Phodni in marathi
Thaalithal in tamil
When is tadka done?
At the beginning of cooking process in some recipes while sort of as a topping towards the end in some.
More science stuff upcoming:p read on Continued to part 2 of post