You would have relished your favourite Bengali dishes – ‘Macher Jhol’, ‘Kosha Mangsho’, or ‘Sukto’. What you might not have known was the quintessential Bengali spice mix that was common to those delicious dishes.
The distinct aroma of Bengali cuisine is essentially due to a blend of spices known as Panch Phoron (usually fried in mustard oil). Panch means five, and Phoron means ‘flavour’ or ‘spice’. Together, in equal quantities, these five spices have the all powerful ability to satisfy the taste of every ‘Bengali Babu’.
Panch phoron is a blend of some very commonly found spices – fennel seed, mustard, nigella seeds, fenugreek and cumin seeds. The spices are whole, and mixed in equal quantities.
This perfect blend of spices, also brings with itself the combined health benefits of each of the spices used. Apart from imparting a unique flavour and taste, Panch Phoron helps in proper digestion of food, among other benefits. Cumin stimulates the secretion of pancreatic enzymes, which is helpful in proper digestion and nutrient assimilation. As with other carminative spices, cumin’s digestive stimulating effects are due to its content of volatile oils. Mustard is a good source of selenium and magnesium and is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, magnesium, protein, niacin and dietary fiber. The seeds of the fenugreek plant are known to be great cleansers of the system and those of fennel acts as a digestive, appetite enhancer. Kalonji seeds have been known to have many healing properties including migraine, chronic colds, palpitations, alopecia, asthma
To use Panch Phoron to perfection it must be fried briefly in hot ghee or oil, until the seeds ‘pop’, and release flavors. Care must be taken not to scorch or the seeds will get bitter.
Panch Phoron finds usage in a wide variety of Bengali food. Its usage can also be found in other cuisines of East India, like Odiya and Asamese cuisines.
Panch Phoron can be used in dal or chicken-vegetable stew, knead into bread dough, season marinades for roasted meats, or sautéd with sliced cabbage.