Decorating with Mukhwas

The tasty mukhwas (mouth fresheners) one nibbles on at the end of an Indian restaurant meal are a traditional part of Indian cuisine. Indeed, 17th Century European travellers remarked on the prevalent practice of chewing paan-- areca nut wrapped in betel leaf-- a practice that continues today (Lizzie Collingham, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). The type of mukhwas shown here are a mixture of sweet, crunchy, and aromatic ingredients including fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and colored sugar pieces, with oils of peppermint and rose. There are many different blends available for purchase as well as online recipes for homemade versions.

19th Century German Silver Salt Dish and Salt Spoon

These fragrant tidbits can be more than just a snack. Sprinkled atop desserts, the brightly colored mukhwas impart a celebratory appearance and add an unexpected flavor and crunch (with a more interesting taste than regular sprinkles).

Chocolate Cupcake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting and Mukhwas.

Because the minty-anise aspect of the mukhwas is so strong, I found it went well with chocolate based desserts, such as the cupcakes and cookies I've shown. The cookie recipe in particular uses no eggs or dairy ingredients and results in a light, chewy texture that pairs well with the mukhwas blend.

Chocolate Zucchini Cookies Topped with Mukhwas.

Chocolate Zucchini Cookies (Vegan)
Makes about 16


1 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup grated zucchini
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips for glaze (to keep the recipe vegan, use vegan chocolate chips)

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine all ingredients except for the chocolate chips in a large bowl and mix well.

2. Place 1" balls of dough about 1 1/2 "apart on a prepared baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.

3. While cookies are cooling, heat chocolate chips over low heat in a heavy bottomed pot or double boiler until just melted, stirring constantly.

4. Spread glaze over cooled cookies and decorate with mukhwas mix.

Camellia Flower Tea

Tea is a product of the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves are dried and processed using a variety of methods that result in black, oolong, green, and white teas. Further variations might include flowers such as jasmine or orchid, which infuse the tea leaves with their fragrance. Although such flavorings were disdained by many tea scholars of the Ming era (1368-1644) in China, these fragrant teas have remained popular and today are a subject of connoisseurship.

Some teas, such as chrysanthemum, are made without using tea leaves at all, and are appreciated for their unique flavor and medicinal qualities. Camellia sinensis flower tea, made exclusively from the blossoms of the tea plant, is a lesser known example. Camellia flowers contain a trace amount of caffeine and some polythenols and catechins, properties that make tea leaves so beneficial to health. I recently acquired some Chinese heirloom camellia flowers from Upton Tea Imports, located in Massachusetts. After immersing the flowers in boiling water for 8 minutes, the water becomes a glowing nectar, with whole blooms slowly drifting to the bottom of the teapot. The fresh taste is reminiscent of a delicate white tea, but with a softer finish and sweet undertones. Camellia flower tea is an excellent choice for a spring afternoon and makes a refreshing iced drink as well.