Why is it that various national cultural and culinary practices around the world only gain international traction when a western person brings them to market?
Whether it’s the holy grail of recent years - turmeric, or the rise of the matcha latte, or today’s oral hygiene “must-have” tongue cleaner, there are a host of ingredients and appliances that have existed for centuries but are now all the rage in the West.
As a young British Indian girl going to my friends' houses for sleepovers, I used to be ridiculed for what we, in Gujarati, call an “ulyoo” (tongue cleaner). All my English friends would be at the ready with their toothbrushes, but I’d have my extra accessory which I’d be embarrassed to use in front of anyone. We would buy them from Indian shops in Tooting or Wembley, or more often than not, ask our relatives to bring a stash back when they went to India. Fast forward twenty years, introduce a host of Ayurveda-loving, yogi-practicing influencers, and suddenly it’s a new and shiny introduction to the wellness market. Stocked in the likes of Planet Organic or even on Jasmine Hemsley’s own website, they are dubbed as key to oral hygiene and a healthy gut.
Now for what the Washington Post have called “the It Girl of Wellness” - Turmeric! Most Indians will vividly recall the tumeric and ginger paste that their mums would concoct at the first sign of a common cold or cough. Whilst most people would go for hot water, lemon, and honey to soothe a sore throat, an Indian’s would often have a smidge of turmeric for good measure. I also remember when I came home from netball with a sprained ankle, my Dad mixed a turmeric paste to smother my ankle in to reduce the inflammation. Needless to say, my ankle support turned a vibrant yellow colour - never to be worn again! Fast forward fifteen years and turmeric is found in London’s most Instagrammable cafes in the form of the golden latte, in many health supplements, and added to chickpea and lentil dishes left, right, and centre.
One of the most impactful introductions in recent years has been the incredible Japanese ingredient - Matcha. You’ll struggle to pass a tea shop without a vinyl in the window advertising their new matcha blend. Likewise, all chi chi cafes offer a matcha latte (and perhaps a matcha brownie too!) What the trend fails to celebrate is the 10th century Tang Dynasty in China, 900 year history of matcha in Japan, or the 500 year ritual of the special Japanese tea ceremony.
The introduction of all of these into the mainstream, and incorporating them into our daily lives is of course a positive thing. Whether's it’s improving our health through antioxidents, anti-inflammation or improving hygiene, we can all benefit from jumping on the wellness bandwagon. It just seems a shame that those who benefit financially - by owning the UK-based matcha brands, the turmeric teabag blends found in supermarkets, or indeed the wholesalers of “fancy” tongue cleaners - are rarely from the culture or ethnicity that the ingredients or appliances originated from.