Mukhwas is a traditional South Asian digestive aid and mouth fresher. Mukh meaning mouth, Vas meaning smell is a herbal, natural aid in digesting foods like curries in the South Asian cuisine.
I remember growing up whenever I was sick or had an upset stomach my grandmothers (may God be pleased with them) would always give me fennel seeds. Always sneaking in some candied fennel when my mom wasn’t looking, but it was a norm for their era. I remember my grandmothers always had a little pouch (batwa) in their pocket ready to go after a meal or ready to feed the next grand kid who complained of a stomach ache. And all you needed was a teaspoon and a matter of a few minutes before you felt better!
My mother also used to boil fennel seeds in water, postpartum for my sisters and I. A way to digest food and hydrate not just for us but for our babies.
Being a spice enthusiast and learning more and more about spices and their benefits, it makes me truly understand what a special era it was, and what a blessing it is to have your grandparents around to learn from. These are traditions and memories I hope to pass onto my own boys.
Mukhwas, also known as Saunf or Chaliya, traditionally consisted of fennel seeds and roasted split coriander seeds. Fennel Seed, a licorice flavor for digestion, and roasted Coriander Seeds, a lemony salty flavor for its herbal proponents, similar to peppermint for freshness.
Don't let the coriander seeds in Mukhwas confuse you with whole coriander, the spice used in curries. It comes from the whole coriander but it is split and roasted with salt to bring out its lemon notes.
These days Mukhwas has been elevated for the holidays and for weddings by adding candied fennel, anise, sliver dipped cardamom, coconut and even sesame seeds. All still in the digestive aid family but made more festive for celebrations.
Here is my basic, very simply way of making Mukhwas. Mainly for medicinal use but with a little hidden candied fennel just the way my grandmothers gave me to cut the strong licorice flavor.
Preheat oven to 350'F.
Pour out your fennel seeds onto a sheet pan.
Pour out your roasted split coriander seeds onto another sheet pan.
Dry roast both of the seeds by popping them into the oven for 10 minutes, making sure to give them a mix half way through.
After about 10 minutes you will begin to smell the licorice and lemony aroma they give off.
You know they are ready when the fennel seeds turn a deep green color and the coriander seeds turn an almost caramel red hue.
Remove them from the tray, to avoid them from burning and over roasting.
Place both the roasted seeds into a bowl and allow them to cool for at least an hour.
After an hour, mix in your candied fennel and desiccated coconut.
Enjoy a teaspoon after meals or serve as a side with tea (chai) and desserts.
Store in an airtight glass jar for up to 6 months.
Make sure your roasted seeds are completely cooled before adding your candied fennel or they will melt.
This Mukhwas is the basis to Paan (betel leaf) which is usually mixed with Gulkand (sweet rose preserves), and more coconut.
Because I'm a spice nerd: Some people also add Areca Nut (chaliya) which is a narcotic and should not be used! It is a dry berry that dates back to thousands of years which needs special scissors to cut thin slices or pieces to use. It became popular to those that didn't want to show their use for tobacco or cigarettes. A traditional use for many Asians for mild stimulants, causing a warming sensation in the body and slightly heightened alertness. So if you have loved ones or if a Paanwala (a person who makes paan) offers you Paan or Mukhwas with Areca Nut, please advise them against it. Just ask them for more coconut or sweet rose preserve instead!
Remember to tag me if you give this or any recipe of mine a try and of course as always, I hope you enjoyed the recipe! Pictured above in my two year old fishing out all the "sprinkles," candied fennel! lol