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So what's with the freaky pigments?


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Okay, so I realize there must be some cultural or religious significance to this, but I don't understand why a lot of Indian food is heavily pigmented or colored. For example, the bright red Tandoori chicken in Indian buffets that we all know and love -- and carrot puddings with that nuclear waste orange color that only comes from heavy food coloring. What gives? Any other examples?

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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While it's true that food coloring is widely used in India (particularly in sweets), their use in things like the bright red tandoori chicken is geared to Western eyes.

You might be slightly unhappy to learn that these dyes can be cumulatively posionous - warning.

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While it's true that food coloring is widely used in India (particularly in sweets), their use in things like the bright red tandoori chicken is geared to Western eyes.

You might be slightly unhappy to learn that these dyes can be cumulatively posionous - warning.

So real Indians don't prepare Tikka with the red dye?

I recently had some Tandoori chicken at a local Indian restuarant popular with Indian families recently during the saturday buffet that had no such coloring -- it was seasoned with I think coriander, chile and mint. But I think they were technically Heriyali kebabs, not Tikka. However, the carrot pudding was that nuclear orange/crimson color.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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However, the carrot pudding was that nuclear orange/crimson color.

Jason,

Could you describe the carrot pudding.

Perhaps you had a gajar halwa which is really grated carrots stewed in milk, sugar and a little ghee( clarified butter)? In that case no colour is used.

As far as the red colour for tandoori chicken is concerned the correct agent is extract of Cockscomb flowers which very few people use nowadays. An easier and healthier option is Carrot puree.

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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Indian restaurants abroad (and alas here too now) seem to feel the need to make up with colours what they lack in quality. In general Indian food isn't the most photogenic of cuisines - an Indian cookbook writer and occasional food stylist I know once described it as "its all brown glop and yellow glop and green glop" - so the restaurants decide they had better make it technicolor to add some interest.

In any case, we're supposed to be known for our love of strong colours - there's that Diana Vreeland remark about pink being the navy blue of India. This is probably more applicable to certain particularly touristy parts like Rajasthan, but I guess we are just more at ease with lots of colours.

Coming back to your food, that red dye should not be there, it should just be Kashmiri chillies which give colour but taste of nothing at all. The carrot halwa though is orange because, well, carrots are orange so what do you expect? That being said, I think carrot halwa here is more traditionally made with red carrots, but I guess you just don't get them abroad.

Vikram

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now, now, plently of mid-range and lower restaurants in north india add red food coloring like it is always holi in their kitchen. but in the u.s it has taken on the added burden of signifying spicy. it is a simulation become real. as vikram says cooks who can't get by on taste jazz it up with color--enough time goes by and the color becomes "real" and every tandoori chicken has to be red.

and jason, technically tandoori chicken is just chicken cooked in a tandoor. while that reddish chicken has monopolized its every day definition it has no fixed claim to it.

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I remember years ago in Bahrain eating at Indian restaurants and walking out with fingers stained a strange shade of yellow. I know a lot of Chefs in this forum can tell us stories about that and how things are now changing a lot for the better

Indian curries (as are things like stews) are at the bottom of the rung sometimes for good food photography (as Vikram has mentioned) so I know the stylists use color

BBhasin -- you were telling me some intersting stories on this the other day.. do share them here.

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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Okay, so I realize there must be some cultural or religious significance to this, but I don't understand why a lot of Indian food is heavily pigmented or colored. For example, the bright red Tandoori chicken in Indian buffets that we all know and love -- and carrot puddings with that nuclear waste orange color that only comes from heavy food coloring. What gives? Any other examples?

Much of what is cooked in various homes across diverse regions and ethnicities do not use colour. Many of the colors you see in restaurants in the US is unfortunate force-of-habit cooking by many non-traditional cooks :sad:

An Upscale Indian restaurant in India serving a buffet will not attempt to put colour if the clientele is predominantly locals. BTW that's "mutton Saag, Chatpate Aloo, Bhindi Achari and Chicken do-pyaja" which is Mutton with mustard greens,sour&spicy potatos, Okra cooked in indian pickles and chicken cookid in two onions.

Much of the colour one would find in dishes cooked in dhabas and fairly decent restaurants are by products of chilis,mustard oil,turmeric, and/or other natural spices.

Edited by anil (log)

anil

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As to the color of the carrot puddng -- we're not just talking the orange color of carrots here. I mean like it was artificially enhanced, super day glo colored orange.

I could be food coloring you saw - but, as mentioned earlier, there would be none if you were to eat it at a decent restaurant in India. For the carrot halwa, artificial coloring would be unnecessary in Northern India because they use the red Punjabi carrot - which is a stunning scarlet color to begin with (not to mention much more flavorful). In the U.S., color is probably added to recreate the appearance of the original dish even though the all they have available are pale supermarket carrots.

A similar explanation can be used for the use of colorings in other North Indian dishes served in the West. Roghan Josh, for instance, is naturally a bright red in India because of the use of mild but colorful Kashmiri chilis, as well as cockscomb flowers. Since neither is available here, food coloring is used. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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That RED RED chicken is called, at my house, "psychedelic chicken"

Some people use beet powder to achieve this outrageous eye popping colour and not a chemical dye. ( I am assuming the beet powder is really reliable and not beet powder with red dye #2 added LOL)

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