Despite being used in practically all dishes, salt is an ingredient that most of us scarcely give a second thought to. But not all salts are created equal. One needs only to go as far as Uttarakhand to find a tradition of exotic iterations of the staple seasoning.
Pisyu loon are a variety of colourful, flavoured salts traditionally found in Garhwal and surrounding regions within Uttarakhand. Literally translating to ‘ground salt’, these pahadi namaks are made by combining rock salt and fresh herbs and spices in a sil-batta, imparting unique colours and flavours.
The salts are made in a variety of flavours familiar to the Indian palate, such as mint, coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic, chili (both red and green) and many more seasonal herbs.
While the origins of these salts are not definitively known, there are many theories in circulation. Some believe that they came about as a means of increasing the amount of water people consume in hilly regions.Typically people living in these regions don’t drink a lot of water, and the thirst the salt induces was, purportedly, a means to get them to drink more water.
Another theory says they became popular because of the digestive benefits of the herbs and spices, along with general health benefits of rock salt. Whatever the theory of origin may be, the salts are exceptionally important to life in Pahari regions. In the severe cold months, harvests are often weak and vegetables are in scant supply. In these hard times, the only respite the locals get from eating bland rotis and parathas is from sprinkling on some of this flavourful and vibrant salt.
Today, these salts are finding increasing popularity not just up in the hills, but in major metro cities like Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Pune. They are perfect for livening up a dull dal or a bland raita, or even to add new flavour profiles on fruits or lassi in the summer.
These salts are still majorly produced by women in villages around Tehri and Garhwal, and to keep up with demand from across the country, they have taken to the internet.
One such producer of pisyu loon goes by the name of Namakwali on Instagram. Working along with an NGO called Mahila Nav Jagran Samiti based out of Dehradun, she is able to make and distribute her salt in its various flavours all across the country.
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Producers like her have brought other online distributors on board. Ejaa foods works with rural women in Uttrakhand in a similar fashion to bring various flavours of pisyu loon to customers across the country. They provide gainful, full-time employment to these women, and have created an active community with village women now growing the various spices and herbs within the villages.
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Whether you’re looking to liven up a bland curry or add an extra kick to your summer fruits, Garhwali pisyu loon is an exciting ingredient to experiment with.