From North to South and East to West, go across the length and breadth of India, and if there is one ingredient that you will find everywhere, it is paneer. From Kashmiri paneer masala and tandoori paneer tikka up North to paalkattichettinad curry down South. Topla nu paneer and surti paneer in the West, to ponir and in the east. Paneer is a ubiquitous, quintessential ingredient in Indian kitchens.
Simply put, paneer is a heat and acid coagulated cheese prepared by heating and then deliberately coagulating the hot milk with a coagulant like acetic acid, citric acid, or even the humble lime. This leads to separation of the coagulated proteins of milk, trapping the milk solids in their denatured structure, and a rich by product: Whey. Paneer is commonly also categorized as cottage cheese internationally.
As Indian as paneer has become, thanks to how Indians have whole-heartedly adopted paneer, creating countless delicious recipes around it – both sweet and savoury – paneer does not find its roots in India. ‘Paneer’ is a Persian word, meaning ‘cheese’, any kind of cheese. There are similar words to ‘Paneer’ in other languages as well, such as, ‘Peynir’ in Turkish, ‘Panir’ in Armenian, etc. It is popularly believed that Paneer originated in the North-West frontiers of South Asia, from where it was brought to India by Afghani and Irani travellers, businessmen and rulers around the 16th century. Products like the Anari from Cyprus, Circassian cheese from North Caucasus, Queso Blanco and Queso Franco in America and Spain, Churpi in the Tibetan belt are all very similar to paneer.
Packed with health benefits, paneer has taken a modern avatar in India now. While buttery, spice-rich gravies and curries, are still a popular favourite among the young and old alike, paneer is becoming a common ingredient in salads too. Proteins in paneer are in a heat and acid denatured state, making them highly digestible for the human body. Many dieticians and nutritionists encourage people to consume more paneer, especially vegetarians, as not only is paneer rich in protein and calcium, but it is also low on carbohydrates. Flavoured paneers are also becoming quite a rage in the markets now and the tikka or tandoori form of paneer has also donned an international avatar, being featured in skewers and barbecue meals. Walk into any restaurant in any part of India – be the dhaabas of Punjab, or restaurants along the Kovalam beach in Kerala, the shacks of Goa or cafes in the Paltan Bazaar of Guwahati, Gujarati thali restaurants in Mumbai or the very famous Sarafa bazaar of Indore, Haleem places in Hyderabad and breakfast biryani places in Bengaluru, you are sure to find at least a few paneer dishes or paneer versions of popular non-vegetarian dishes.
Generations will go on, and paneer will evolve to keep up with changing traditions, but it will continue to remain an integral part of our culture and heritage. Debates can go on if paneer originated in India or not, or if it was the Portuguese who taught us how to break the milk, paneer will continue to live on. This soft, delicious, protein-rich ingredient is a must-have in all pantries.
Paneer is as much a part of your roz ka khaana, as it is a key ingredient in any celebratory pakwaan, and at ProVedic, the endeavour is to ensure that you enjoy this national favourite in its purest, healthiest and most delicious form. ProVedic’s Fresh Malai Paneer is 100% pure and natural, and is prepared from farm-fresh pasteurized milk. Whether you are preparing a festive feast or cooking your daily meals, enjoy a healthful treat with ProVedic Malai Paneer.