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Brass utensils – The traditional cooking medium of India

India is fast realising that traditional Indian cooking methods were perhaps the best for health. The types of utensils that were used in the earlier times, which were essentially metal or clay based, also contributed a lot to maintaining good health. 

There is a growing disenchantment with the Teflon coated, plastic and other ‘modern’ utensils and their harmful effects on health are now well documented based on many research studies.  The result of this growing awareness is that people are now increasing going back to traditional methods of cooking. For this reason, brass utensils are also being re-adopted in kitchenware with due care being paid to their right usage.

Properties of Brass

Brass is an alloy of copper (60%-70%) and zinc (40%-30%). While copper is reddish in colour, brass is more yellow because of presence of zinc. 

Brass is more malleable that bronze or zinc which allows it to be easily drawn into sheets.

It is non-magnetic, good conductor of heat, durable and easy to work on. All these properties make it ideal for being made into and used as utensils in kitchens.

Where are Brass utensils made in India?

Brass has been found in excavations carried out at at the archaeological sites in India at Lothal, Kalibangan and Atranjikhera. However, it was when zinc was produced on an industrial scale in Rajasthan around First Century BC that allowed for production of brass in India.

Utensils of Brass are made in almost every state of India with some centres being more prominent than others. 

Moradabad is perhaps the largest and most famous city for brass items in India and these include brass utensils. Jagadhari, close to Yamuna Nagar and Jandiala Guru near Amritsar in the star of Punjab are some of the other major metallurgical centres in North India. 

In southern India, regions in Tamil Nadu (Thajavur, Chennai), Kerala (Mannar), Odisha (Balasor, Puri, Cuttack and others) are some of the important places of brass utensils manufacturing in India. Mannar is next only to Moradabad in North India. 

In Eastern part of the country also, there are noted centers of brass utensil making, such as Khagra and Nadia in West Bengal, Parev in Bihar and some parts of Kamrup district of Assam. 

Traditionally, Moosaries and Acharies communities within the larger Vishwakarma community have been doing this work.

Brass and ‘Kalai’

Items made of brass are first coated with a layer of tin so that the toxic elements do not leach into food while cooking. This coating process is called ‘kalai’ in Hindi. The traditional households used the services of ‘kalaiwala’ who used to move around places. The present generation living in cities might not know how this is done first-hand because this is now done in factories where these are made. 

1/4. Brass has to be first coated with tin (called Kalai) before being used in any way, either for cooking food or using for serving.

2/4. It is not advisable to cook acidic food in brass utensils as it might react with the metal to produce toxins.

3/4. Cleaning of brass utensils after use and on regular basis is very important as copper oxidises to verdigris, a well-known poison.

4/4. Kalai, or tin coating, also needs to be done on regular basis because it also gets removed over a period of time with regular use of utensil. 

Potential health benefits of Brass Utensils

Brass utensils are used for cooking non-acidic foods, such as rice and dal. Cooking in brass utensils retains most of the nutrient value of food and this makes cooking in brass vessels good for health. Respective properties of copper and zinc metals are beneficial for health in many ways. 

Deficiency of copper and zinc causes certain illness, which can be prevented when we use brass utensils either in cooking or for serving the food. 

Lack of copper reduces the level of immunity in the body, causes anaemia, skin diseases and deteriorates bone health. Quite naturally, therefore, when we eat food cooked in vessels made of brass can help in improving immunity, higher levels of haemoglobin in blood, prevention of skin diseases and strengthening of bones. 

Lack of zinc causes slow and improper growth in children. It leads to reduced ability to fight diseases, increase in skin diseases, loss of appetite and slow healing of wounds. Therefore, having food or water in brass utensils, which have about 30% zinc component, prevents these diseases.

1/4. Improves digestion

Zinc present in brass utensils helps in breakdown of food particles. This makes it good for digestion of food.  

2/4. Anti-bacterial properties

Drinking water kept in Brass utensils has the potential of purifying the water and it keeps the worm-related diseases away.

3/4. Prevents respiratory diseases

Eating food in brass utensils is also believed to be helpful in preventing respiratory diseases.

4/4. Balances Doshas

The three doshas mentioned in Ayurveda texts are balanced by eating food served or cooked in brass utensils. 

How to clean Brass utensils?

Brass utensils shall be cleaned immediately after cooking food and on regular basis so as to prevent it from developing toxic coatings. 

1/2. The best method to clean it is by mixing lemon and baking soda and applying the paste on it.

2/2. Another way is to mix water, flour and vinegar in equal proportions and applying it on vessel. Let it dry. Use soft cloth to remove the dried layer.  

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