Food Katha: If winter comes, can almonds be far behind?
The Sanskrit word Vaatama which became Badaam in Indian languages is derived from the Persian Vataam
The sea and silk trade routes were responsible for popularising poduce and their names in ancient India. Almonds and dry fruits from Persia and Afghanistan were imports to ancient India as silk and spices were exported from India.
Some almonds were found to be bitter but good to extract medicinal oils from. So, healers christened the bitter almond Vatavairi (enemy of vatt). The sweet almonds were edible while the bitter ones were used for extracting oil that kept the skin radiant and helped reduce rheumatic joints.
Both Charak and Sushruta prescribed almonds extensively as Ayurveda rated the nuts highly for increasing ojas or glow. They advised almonds to be soaked in water overnight, peeled and eaten early in the morning. Removing the skin was believed to help reduce excessive bile or Pitta in the body. Almonds are also good anti-oxidants and is believed to slow down ageing if taken regularly. Diabetics are also helped by taking them in small quantities (soaked and peeled) for keeping sugar levels down.
The almond fruit belongs to the family of prunes, cherries, peaches and apricots. Kernels of apricot also yielded a variety of almonds. Up to the Moghul period, many gardeners grafted apricot cuttings on almond trees.Moghuls, great patrons of horticulture, encouraged cultivation of fruits from cooler climates in the Kashmir valley. Almonds grew in abundance by Akbar’s time but remained an expensive nut compared to country cousins like Chironji and peanuts. Nuts like cashews and coconut were cheaper and plentiful down south but remained expensive in the north. In Cooch Behar, a traveller in the 16th Century claimed seeing almonds used as currency.
Badaam or almonds, besides being eaten in roasted, salted or sweetened forms, are used as ingredients to make sweets and savouries like Badaam ki Burfi, Badaam milk and Badaam ki Jaali etc. It is also added to Kheer or Payasam, to the green tea Kehwa in Kashmir besides dressing and garnishing rice beds and Halwas.
Dry and roasted almonds, almond milk (suitable for those who cannot digest animal milk), almond butter or sweet paste (Marzipan) are easily available.
Almonds are distributed with dried dates (Chhuaras) on all happy occasions like births, marriages and arrival of the bride. To commemorate the seventh month of pregnancy, believed to herald safe pregnancy, the mother-to-be’s aanchal or headscarf is filled with a platter of nuts, prime among them being almonds.
In affluent families, new mothers are fed generous dollops of milk mixed with a pinch of turmeric and powdered almonds to restore energy and enhance breast milk for the new-born.
In the spring when almond trees bloom with flowers, almond orchards light up. The blossoms ripen into green almonds, which are eaten for their milky sweetness. But bulk of the crop is dried to harden the seeds.