Picture saffron straight from the fields of Pampore, Bhut Jolokia from the southern Nagaland and fiery dried red chilies from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. It takes a chef to understand the value of provenance. Award-winning chef Prateek Sadhu’s travels across India have taught him precisely that. His search for exciting hyper-local ingredients has taken him to the far corners of the country. They, in turn, have found artistic culinary interpretations in Mumbai’s Masque restaurant and its R&D extension, the Masque lab. The restaurant’s recent inclusion in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 is further validation for experiments with Indian ingredients that have found resonance among food lovers in the city.
It is this learning that has gone into Paushtik, an online e-commerce site launched by Sadhu, his wife Aashina Kaul and fellow food lover Zainab Burmawalla. The venture sources whole spices and pure powdered masalas from different regions across India and also makes their own spice blends.
“India is diverse in ways more than one and you can see this in the way spices are used from north to south and east to west. In Kashmir, there is no concept of black pepper in the cuisine while if you go down south, it becomes a mainstay. Every place you go to in India, the use of spices as well as blends and proportions vary from one household to the next. It only goes to show how essential spices are to our kitchens,” says Sadhu.
From Kashmir to Kerala and the Northeast, the brand works with about 20 farmers’ collectives who grow pesticide-and chemical-free spices according to the best practices. This small start-up has big dreams of making it as a fair-trade online market that will benefit farmers as well as the communities that help in small-scale manufacturing of the spices.
Consciously sourced spices
“Our conversations inevitably revolve around food. Zainab who comes from a Bohri family would talk about the fragrant masalas in her mother’s biryani while Aashina and I would discuss Kashmir and its rich culture of spices,” says Sadhu. “We also realized a lack of quality in the ground spices available in the market and the missing flavours in the same and Paushtik is our small attempt to address that issue,” he says.
Sadhu’s travels led him to spice plantations across India. From his uncle’s saffron farm in Pampore to cinnamon growers in Kerala, his personal interactions led to this idea of sourcing spices directly from the producers and creating a sustainable supply chain.
The brand claims to be mostly organic with a large number of spices that come from certified organic farms. Apart from this, there are many smaller vendors that offer products that are grown according to best practices but do not have the wherewithal to get the paperwork done themselves. Prateek and his partners also plan to help these producers get proper organic certification which is often a time-consuming and cost-intensive process.
Paushtik’s community focus is furthered by their manufacturing unit which is an all-women’s collective in Pune. And all of this comes at an extremely affordable point. “The idea is to be accessible and reach every nook and cranny in the country while delivering on quality,” says Sadhu.
The secret is in the blend
Apart from pure spices, Paushtik has another agenda—to make cooking more fun and accessible. It is with this end in mind that Sadhu and his partners have created a range of spice blends. Their products range from hyperlocal mixes like the Maharashtrian kala goda masala and Kolhapuri masala to everyday kitchen aids like meat masala, chana masala, curry masala and more. “The idea is to make cooking fun and easy and also to promote something which is hyper-regional,” says Sadhu.
There are a bunch of local flavours in the pipeline and these include range of thechas, East Indian bottled masala and Kashmiri spice blends like the rogan josh masala.
They also plan to use social media to increase awareness and knowledge about these different spice blends as well as offer recipes and tips on how to use them. Prateek’s experience as a chef ensures that there will be a lot of experimentation in the mix. His excitement at pairing scrambled eggs with kala goda masala is reason enough to watch out for updates on their site.
Paushtik products are available pan India. Orders via their website. From Rs 60 onwards