Celebrity chef Ranveer Brar is on a quest to make dhaniya or coriander India’s national herb. On 10 March this year, he posted a picture on Instagram requesting people to sign a petition on change.org – a crowdsourcing website for signatories – to “give India’s most-loved herb ‘Dhaniya’ the glory it deserves”.
The claim for this title, according to Brar, stems from the herb’s versatility – it can be used in literally every dish and is found in almost every kitchen. I get that he loves dhaniya, but calling it a national herb? That’s where my disagreement begins.
Coriander is an extremely useful herb, but if there ever was a contest between dhaniya and other herbs, will it win? I don’t think so.
Technically any part of a plant – usually the stem or leaf – which is used to add flavour or nutritional value to edible items, can be considered a herb. The caveat is it should not have a woody structure like a tree. But the Collins Dictionary also gives us a more liberal definition – plants whose leaves are used to add flavour or form an ingredient of a medicine can also be considered a herb. Which spices up the competition against Dhaniya.
But the issue is not technicality, it’s the nationalisation of edible items, which I am strongly against.
Also read: Don’t trust the ‘superfood’ label. Here are five common foods to boost your health
Step aside, dhaniya
Shouldn’t food be celebrated for its diversity? All herbs have their distinct flavour and use – then why should we have one national herb?
And even if we were to have one, the current political environment may not allow dhaniya to be a winner. It has strong competition from tulsi, which most Hindus grow at their home, even if they use it mostly when they’re sick to make medicinal drinks. Dhaniya is at best a north-Indian freebie in the race. And if south and west India unite for curry leaves, coriander loses the battle even more.
Dhaniya is the herb people can do without – sure it enhances flavour, adds to the look, but will you stop cooking if there is no dhaniya at home? If I don’t have turmeric, which comes from the roots of the turmeric plant, I cannot cook many dishes. If I don’t have asafetida – commonly known as hing – how will I add the basic flavour in my tadka? Mustard, methi, jeera – without which many dishes would be incomplete – are all herb products.
To quote Punjabi comedian Jeeveshu Ahluwalia on this, “How many people can tell the taste of dhaniya? Zero, because it’s given for free”. Do you even know the price of dhaniya (in Rs/kg) you are obsessing about? No right? Then let’s not mix nationalism in food items, it’s a recipe for disaster.