The name birth masala is unique to Indian cooking in South Africa. Growing up in the eighties, Birth Masala was one of the most elusive spices, it was only available in some spice shops or from aunties who made their own secret blend. The spice itself was often shared but never the recipe. Amma often got her supply from her sister. This spice blend was mainly used for a dish called‚ maren salo – essentially a chicken curry, made from ‘odd’ chicken pieces, chicken wings, necks, feet and sometimes included a gizzard or two braised with onion, chilli powder and birth masala or to make russum. Both of these dishes were Amma’s remedy to alleviate symptoms of the common cold. Birth masala has a characteristic aroma and brown colour. This is my attempt at recreating the recipe from scratch. It is also my first attempt at blending my own spices and I am not completely dissatisfied with the results. Having become a mum in my late thirties, I can safely say, that no amount of birth masala could prepare you for the feat of motherhood, but the nostalgia and memories associated with this spice certainly give you the motivation and comfort needed to kick start the journey into motherhood, especially if your mum is no longer here.
What is Birth Masala
The name birth masala implies that it is a postpartum spice mix most likely for lactating mothers to regulate breast milk production and restore the body after birth. Similar recipes in the Indian diaspora includes the East Indian spice blend called Keoka or Kevka and the Indo-Caribbean version called Halwa Masala. The latter to make a postpartum spice Halwa pudding. All three recipes have common spice ingredients, coriander seeds (dhaniya,) cumin seeds (jeera), carom seeds (ajwain). Recipes vary with the addition of ginger powder and turmeric powder. For this recipe I have opted for all 5 spices. South African recipes may vary depending on family recipes, since no one I know, knows a recipe for this masala or those who do are unwilling to share, I have attempted my own version. If you have tried this recipe, do let me know in the comment box below how it turned out.
What Spices are used to make Birth Masala
I have opted for ajwain, cumin, coriander, turmeric and ginger. I used varying proportions of spice instead of equal amounts. Mostly because ajwain has a very pungent taste and strong smell. I used a lesser quantity of this spice. According to some research it is recommended to avoid large quantities during pregnancy.
Birth Masala Benefits
The health benefits of this masala stem from the ingredients used. Here are some of the characteristics of each of the spices used to make birth masala:
Carom Seeds (ajwain or bishops weed) is slightly bitter and pungent. It is known and used for its medicinal properties and use as a preservative in the manufacture of food. It may be helpful for treating gastro intestinal disorders.
Cumin, has a distinctive warm, nutty flavour an aroma. Like carom seeds, one of the key ingredients in cumin is thymol, which is known to stimulate the salivary glands, enzymes and bile, all of which are involved in the digestion of food. Cumin also has a high iron content. One teaspoon of cumin seeds contains around 2mg of daily iron intake (that’s 14% of daily iron intake ). This could be why it is often combined with water to make jeera water. It also contains Zinc and Calcium for boosting immune functioning and promoting strong bones and teeth.
Coriander, is rich in anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Studies have shown that it can regulate cholesterol, stimulate appetite and improve digestion.
Turmeric is a powerhouse of health, famous for its anti inflammatory properties and characteristic yellow colour.
Ginger has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that help improve digestion and prevent any infections in the body. It is also known to help relieve common cold symptoms.
How to Make Birth Masala
Tools needed to make masala include a pan to roast the whole spices, a mortar and pestle (not as effective as a grinding stone but works just as well) and or spice grinder or coffee grinder ( I have often used a coffee grinder to make Biryani spice). A fine strainer is also useful to sift out any unground pieces.
The secret to making good masala is roasting the whole spices. This releases natural oils in the spice and eliminates moisture. To make the masala, I roasted each whole spice individually to release individual oils before combining. After allowing roasted spices to cool, I blended all whole spices in a spice grinder, then added powdered ginger and turmeric.
After grinding whole spices, sift and store in an airtight jar.The combination of cumin, coriander and carom seeds results in a brown powder. The addition of ginger and turmeric changes the colour.
This recipe yields around 250 g of birth masala. Once stored in an airtight container it can last at least 3 weeks. perfect for making chicken curry.