Panch Phoran: Indian Five Spice

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Panch phoran is sometimes written as paanch phoran or panch phoron. It literally translates to five spices or five flavors. The word panch (or paanch) means five. The spice mix has various other names depending on where in Asia it is being used. For example, it may be called padkaune masala in Nepal. It is also sometimes called Indian five spice.

The spices that make up a traditional panch phoran blend are nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds, and cumin seeds along with black mustard seed and fennel seed. Some varieties of Bengali panch phoran may be made with radhuni instead of mustard seed. Celery seeds may be used in place of the radhuni.

Aside from the spices used to make it, panch phoran also differs from garam masala and other Indian spice mixes in that the traditional version is consists of whole spices rather than ground. All of the spices are added to the mix in equal amounts in most traditional blends; however, this can be a matter of taste as it is with most spice blends.

While the true history of panch phoran is unknown, some historians believe that it has to do with the importance of the number five in ayurveda. The number five may be related to the Pancha Bhoota, which is the basic five elements that Hindus claim is the basis of creation. Those elements are fire and water along with air, earth and ether. Buddhists also consider the number to be meaningful. The number five shows up repeatedly in Indian food and Bengali cuisine in particular.

Panch phoran flavor profile

The fenugreek gives panch phoran its distinctive nutty pungency and bitterness. The nigella seeds provide a light peppery flavor, while cumin brings an earthy quality. Radhuni can add a herbaceous note that is intense enough to compete for dominance with the fenugreek. In blends that use black mustard seeds, they bring an aggressive tanginess. Fennel brings a potent sweetness that helps to soften the bitterness of the fenugreek and the cumin.

Health benefits of panch phoran

Because all of its ingredient spices are nutritious, panch phoran is a good source of the following compounds:

  • Minerals: Most of the spices in panch phoran are good sources of minerals, including calcium and iron.
  • Fiber: Most spices are good sources of dietary fiber, including fennel seeds and the other spices in panch phoran.
  • Vitamins: While the spices in panch phoran are not particularly good sources of major vitamins, B vitamins like thiamin and niacin are present in modest amounts.

Panch phoran’s blend of spices may not be the first line of treatment for any health problems, but they do contain nutrients known to be beneficial for:

  • Diabetes: Fenugreek, cumin and nigella are all believed to be beneficial for blood sugar control. As a result, panch phoran may contribute to the management or prevention of type 2 diabetes.
  • Digestive problems: Cumin and fennel seeds time-honored digestive aids used to treat everything from constipation to heartburn.

Common uses

Panch phoran is used mostly in the cuisines from the eastern side of India including Bengal, Bangladesh, and Nepal. In most cases, the tempering method is used to add it to a dish. Tempering involves frying the spices in ghee or oil. The spices are removed and the ghee or oil is used in the dish. Common applications include the mixed vegetable dish that is popular in Bengal known as shukto. Panch phoran is also used in pickles and stews. If you are not interested in holding to tradition, you can simply grind the spices and use them as a barbecue rub.