Like any summer, as the marriage season mounts Kashmir this summer, the traditional Kashmiri Wazwan cuisine is being served at marriage parties with enthusiasm these days and the local chefs, ‘Waza’, who specialize in cooking this largely mutton-dominant feast, are in great demand.
Gull Mohammed, a famous chef from Islamabad says even though he had to politely say no to a lot of old customers is booked till May and then after Ramadan till November.
"We need to ensure that the food is healthy, delicious and hygienic. The ground spices make the food hygienic. So we add special quality spices including saffron, chilies, cardamoms, fennel seeds, tamarind, turmeric, onions, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, black pepper and cumin seeds” Gull Mohammed Says.
The arguably first study on the traditional Wazwaan titled “Wazwan the Kashmiri Cuisine - A Caloric Bomb” by Mushtaq Ahmad, Sakina Akhter, Shariq R. Masoodi, Departments of Medicine, Endocrinology, Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Soura, Srinagar argued “The highly cherished cuisine rich in protein, calories, iron and vitamin B12 can is very useful for, growing children, pregnant women and lactating mothers, apart from its potential benefit in catabolic states like cancer or burns”
Mustard oil used to cook ‘Wazwaan’ is believed to be beneficial for cardiac health against the pre conceived notion. Mustard oil into your diet may help protect against heart disease, according to a study in the April 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, both of which help lower bad cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol. Improving your cholesterol balance also helps lower triglycerides, or blood fat levels, which can in turn prevent obesity, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism, in addition to improving heart health.
It is also proven that Mustard oil also works as an antibacterial agent when taken both internally and externally and as an antifungal when used externally. Internally, it can fight bacterial infections in the colon, intestines and other parts of the digestive tract. Externally, it may be able to treat both bacterial and fungal infections when applied directly to the skin. Researchers from the Armed Forces Institute, reporting in the October 2004 issue of the Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, stated that a 1:1 mixture of honey and mustard oil is effective at killing dental bacteria and may be useful in root canal treatments. It even helps fight fungal and vaginal yeast infections by massaging your body with mustard oil due to the allyl isothocyanate found within it.
Cardamom is used in alternative medicine to remove toxins. It has also been linked to anti-tumor activity.
Capsicum, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, has been shown to increase circulation and contribute to weight loss.
Cinnamon is popular in Chinese medicine for its antioxidant properties. It’s also been shown to enhance glucose sensitivity.
Traditionally, cumin was added to foods to aid in digestion and the absorption of nutrients. Recently, cumin has been shown to have antibacterial qualities, especially associated with the digestive tract.
Ginger is often recommended for nausea and an upset stomach, especially associated with pregnancy. It has also shown anti-inflammatory properties.
As common as we find it today, black pepper was one of the most sought-after and expensive spices during the spice trade era. It has been proved to lower blood lipids and inhibit cholesterol absorption.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, “has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities and thus has a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic illnesses,” according to a review in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology.
Certain herbs and spices used in the traditional Wazwaan cuisine curb inflammation in the body, which may give rise to heart disease and cancer. For example, antioxidants in cinnamon have been linked to lower inflammation, as well as reductions in blood glucose concentrations in people with diabetes.
Though Wazwan with all the health packed benefits should be preferred by one and all, it is not feasible in situations like chronic liver disease or chronic kidney diseases. But one can always argue that since this cuisine is used irregularly, hence it cannot be an issue of concern in managing of such non transmissible diseases. But knowing that ready-made Wazwan is now available on a fly, it is not uncommon to see Kashmiris taking Wazwan every now and then.
The author is a lecturer and a columnist at ‘The Kashmiriyat’