Ever had a dodgy stomach the morning after a curry? It must be a stomach bug or something, unless the pain in your gut is being prepared and served by unqualified, irresponsible cooks who have no prior experience of professional catering?
The most popular dish in the UK is chicken tikka masala, but it is probably one of the easiest to corrupt with unhealthy ingredients, resulting in extreme discomfort for the consumer, and sometimes long term health issues.
Atul Kochhar, the twice Michelin Starred chef at Benares and one of the stars of cookery programmes such as The Great British Menu, was kind enough to share his opinions with the Asian Express.
He said: “The natural colour has been used in Asian cooking for long time but it got replaced by artificial colour sometime in 19th Century. Since then its use has been abused rather than provide colour for a reason. I do not like the use of artificial colour in the food at all.
“We use only natural source of colour – if ever we have to use – however, we prefer not to use any form of colour in our food. ‘Nature gives us the Best’ is our policy. Artificial colour using restaurants are making Indian food look cheap just to make little better profit.
When asked about the relevance of Indian food in Britain, he added: “It is quite a favoured cuisine in the UK. It has a long history with Indian food and it was one of the first Asian food to reach UK. Due to its long presence in the UK – Indian cuisine of UK is considered part of local gastronomy and not a foreign cuisine anymore.”
Cyrus Todiwala OBE, owner and executive chef at Café Spice Namaste, also spoke exclusively to the Asian Express expressing his concern for the public’s health, the plight of the small business and the importance of British culture.
He said: “I am opposed to artificial colours. The British public needs to be educated on what to expect.
“A lot of people expect Indian food to be brightly coloured. The battle for chefs like me and others is to educate people on the matter. The attitude to Asian food is that it is cheap and cheerful but we have to prove that wrong.
“It’s difficult for the smaller business because they have smaller profit margins and more competition. They get into the bad habit of using colours and they are afraid that they will stop using they lose their customers. They need to stop serving greasy and fatty foods, too.
“I threw out all of the dyes and colourings in my first kitchen and I received complaints saying my tandoori dishes were the wrong colour. If the smaller businesses had more courage, better standards and better knowledge the bad cooking practices would stop.
“I think the British public has one of the most discerning palates in the world and they have chosen Indian dishes as their favourite because the food is open like the culture. I just wish the British public was more patriotic.”
Who is to blame?
Preparing a curry is an art in itself. An accomplished chef can use over 20 spices when making the base for a dish, in order to create something that is vibrant in both flavour and appearance.
The essence of making curries is that it is an unregulated practice
However, a cook who may cut corners, adding dyes and food colourings to create the resplendent red sauce usually associated with chicken tikka masala.
As restaurants and takeaways appear on every street corner, poor quality curries are slowly becoming a problem for the wellbeing of the public and Asian culture itself.
Salt is another culprit in Asian cuisine, as the communal nature of preparing a curry makes it difficult to gauge how much salt is added.
The Department of Health, which now regulates salt content in food, has found that 75 per cent of the salt we eat is already in food.
David Pickering at Trading Standards said: “It is not our job to say to people that having a takeaway is dangerous, but it is our job to step in when a restaurant or takeaway has been reported as being dangerous.
“For whatever reason people find their local Indian restaurant makes great curries then you go to another and their curries are a poor quality.
“We recently inspected a takeaway restaurant that had 27g of salt in one meal which is just unacceptable.”
A person’s recommended salt intake is 6g a day, anymore than this can raise blood pressure and ultimately put you at risk of heart disease and strokes.
Food colourings are increasingly becoming a crisis for the wellbeing of people eating curries.
Guidelines set by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) state: “colours may only be used if they perform a useful purpose, are safe and do not mislead the consumer.”
Further research initiated by the FSA and Trading Standards has found some artificial colourings in particular are singlehandedly contributing to a decline in health.
Colours such as tartrazine, sunset yellow and allura red are known to be added to curries, and it is these curries that the FSA and Trading Standards have linked to hyperactivity.
Prolonging the problem
The notion of having a few drinks and going for a curry, famously covered by the sketch show ‘Goodness Gracious Me,’ is still very popular amongst Britons up and down the country.
As a multi-cultural society, it is commendable that Asian cuisine is part of British culture, but are drunk punters, whose culinary judgement has been affected by the alcohol in their system, keeping a substandard curry industry alive?
Asian Express will be delving deeper into this issue over the coming weeks, investigating the use of spice, salt and food colouring used in restaurants ranging from the award-winners to the doorstep dinners.