Panch phoran (five-spice mix) is a spice blend used in Bangladesh and Eastern India, especially in Bengali, Assamese, and Oriya cuisine. Panch phoron is a colourful blend of flavourful seeds: the green of fennel seed, black mustard and nigella seeds, golden fenugreek and buff-coloured cumin seeds. Some variations may substitute anise for the fennel seeds or wild mustard for cumin, radhuni seed for mustard, and possibly black cumin for nigella. Generally the ingredients are added in equal proportions, though this can vary according to taste.In the tradition of Oriya and Bengali cuisine, panch phoron is typically fried in cooking oil or ghee, which causes it to start popping immediately. This technique is called "baghaar" (literally "tempering") in Oriya, "phoron" in Bengali, and chaunk in Hindi. At this point, one adds the other ingredients to coat with the spice mixture. The distinct aroma of Bengali cuisine is mostly due to the blend of spices known as panch phoron.
Finely crushed panch phoran- This can be prepared by roasting the whole spices and then crushing them into fine powder. A blender may be used for this purpose, however care should be taken to avoid grounding the spices into too fine powder. The finely crushed panch phoran are used for marinades or stews or soups.
Coarsely crushed panch phoran - Roast the whole spices, cool them and then crush them coarsely in a hand held spice miller.
How to select
Avoid purchasing pre ground or crushed panch phoran, because its volatile aromatic notes quickly dissipate and what's left is single-dimensional hotness. Whole panch phoran should be heavy, compact and free of any blemishes. Just like with other dried spices, when purchasing panch phoran ,try to select that which is organically grown since this will give you more assurance that it has not been irradiated. While buying packaged panch phoran, check the expiry date and feel for lumpiness( sign of moisture inside the packet.)
· Panch phoron is usually fried in oil or ghee before adding anything else to the pot, flavouring the oil and releasing the aroma of the oils in the seeds and causing them to pop in the pan. Other ingredients are added at this point
· panch phoran helps to bring forward the flavours of vegetables, beef, fish or lentils
· Though panch phoran is utilised in other parts of northern and eastern India, It is almost impossible to imagine Bengali food without them. Panch phoran should be used in small quantities as it has a very powerful aroma and flavor
· Crushed panch phoran matches well with: cheese, eggs, fish, game, lamb, pork, poultry, salad, sausages, soup, steaks, strawberries, tomatoes, paneer .
· Potato curry with tamarind and panch phoran or fish kalias,and macher Jhol( Bengali fish curry),spinach with panch phoran, lentil , etc are a few popular recipe .
· It gives a unique flavour when it is added to mustard oil as is generally done in Bengali cuisine
· This seasoning mix is excellent for flavouring when used in vegetable dishes, chutneys or dal (lentil) or fish recipes
How to store
The panch phoran should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place.
· Apart from imparting a unique flavour and taste, the five types of spices used in panch phoran have significant health benefits too
· The presence of cumin may stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes, important factors 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.