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The traditional food of India is characterized by the use of many varied spices, herbs and other vegetables grown in India and also for the widespread practice of vegetarianism across many sections of its society.
Each family of Indian cuisine is characterized by a wide assortment of dishes and cooking techniques. As a consequence, it varies from region to region, reflecting the varied demographics of the ethnically diverse Indian subcontinent.
India's religious beliefs and culture have played an influential role in the evolution of its cuisine. However, cuisine across India also evolved due to the subcontinent's large-scale cultural interactions with neighboring Persia, ancient Greece, Mongols and West Asia, making it a unique blend of various cuisines across Asia.The spice trade between India and Europe is often cited as the main catalyst for Europe's Age of Discovery. The colonial period introduced European cooking styles to India adding to the flexibility and diversity of Indian cuisine. Indian cuisine has had a remarkable influence on cuisines across the world, especially those from Southeast Asia.
As a land that has experienced extensive immigration and intermingling through many millennia, India's cuisine has benefited from numerous food influences. The diverse climate in the region, ranging from deep tropical to alpine.
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 will not consume any roots or subterranean vegetables. One strong influence over Indian foods is the longstanding vegetarianism within sections of India's Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities. People who follow a strict vegetarian diet make up 20–42% of the population in India, while less than 30% are regular meat-eaters.
Around 7,000 BC, sesame, eggplant, and humped cattle had been domesticated in the Indus Valley. By 3000 BC, turmeric, cardamom, black pepper and mustard were harvested in India. Many recipes first emerged during the initial Vedic period, when India was still heavily forested and agriculture was complemented with game hunting and forest produce. In Vedic times, a normal diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, grain, dairy products and honey. Over time, some segments of the population embraced vegetarianism, due to the ancient Hindu philosophy of ahimsa. This practice gained more popularity due to a cooperative climate where a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains could easily be grown throughout the year. Buddhism, among several other beliefs and practices borrowed vegetarianism from Hinduism to embrace Ahimsa. A food classification system that categorised any item as sattva, rajas or tamas developed in Ayurveda. Each was deemed to have a powerful effect on the body and the mind.
Later, invasions from Central Asia, Arabia, the Mughal empire, Persia, and elsewhere had a deep and fundamental effect on Indian cooking. Influence from traders such as the Arab and Portuguese diversified subcontinental tastes and meals. As with other cuisines, Indian cuisine has absorbed New World vegetables such as tomato, capsicum, chilli, and potato, as staples.
Islamic rule introduced rich gravies, pilafs and non-vegetarian fare such as kebabs, resulting in Mughlai cuisine (Mughal in origin), as well as such fruits as apricots, melons, peaches, and plums. The Mughals were great patrons of cooking. Lavish dishes were prepared during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The Nizams of Hyderabad state meanwhile developed and perfected their own style of cooking with the most notable dish being the Biryani.
During this period the Portuguese and British introduced foods from the New World such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and chilies as well as cooking techniques like baking.
The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, atta (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses, the most important of which are masoor (most often red lentil), channa (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or yellow gram), urad (black gram) and mung (green gram). Pulses may be used whole, dehusked, for example dhuli moong or dhuli urad, or split. Pulses are used extensively in the form of dal (split). Some of the pulses like channa and "Mung" are also processed into flour.
Most Indian curries are cooked in vegetable oil. In North and West India, peanut oil has traditionally been most popular for cooking, while in Eastern India, mustard oil is more commonly used. Coconut oil is used widely along the western coast and South India, Gingelly oil is common in the South as well. In recent decades, sunflower oil and soybean oil have gained popularity all over India. Hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee, is also a popular cooking medium that replaces Desi ghee, clarified butter (the milk solids have been removed).
The most important/frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed (rai), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi, manjal), fenugreek (methi), asafoetida (hing, perungayam), ginger (adrak, inji), coriander (dhania), and garlic (lassan, poondu). Popular spice mixes are garam masala, which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly including cardamom, cinnamon, and clove. Each region, and sometimes each individual chef, has a distinctive blend of garam masala. Goda masala is a popular sweet spice mix in Maharashtra. Some leaves are commonly used like tejpatta (cassia leaf), coriander leaf, fenugreek leaf and mint leaf. The common use of curry leaves, curry roots is typical of all South Indian cuisine. In sweet dishes, cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, and rose petal essences are seasoned.
Indian cuisine is one of the most popular cuisines across the globe. The cuisine is popular not only among the large Indian community but also among the mainstream population of North America and Europe. In 2003, there were as many as 10,000 restaurants serving Indian cuisine in England and Wales alone. A survey held in 2007 revealed that more than 1,200 Indian food products have been introduced in the United States since 2000. According to Britain's Food Standards Agency, the Indian food industry in the United Kingdom is worth £3.2 billion, accounts for two-thirds of all eating out and serves about 2.5 million British customers every week. The popularity of curry, which originated in India, across Asia has often led to the dish being labeled as the "pan-Asian" dish. Curry's international appeal has also been compared to that of pizza. Though the tandoor did not originate in India, Indian tandoori dishes, such as chicken tikka made with Indian ingredients, enjoy widespread popularity. Chicken Tikka Masala has now become the most popular dish in the United Kingdom and curry sauces are now being exported from England back to India.
The spice trade between India and Europe led to the rise and dominance of Arab traders to such an extent that European explorers, such as Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, set out to find new trade routes with India leading to the Age of Discovery.
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