The cuisine of India is one of the world's most diverse cuisines, characterized by its sophisticated and subtle use of the many spices, vegetables, grains and fruits grown across India. The cuisine of each geographical region includes a wide assortment of dishes and cooking techniques reflecting the varied demographics of the ethnically diverse Indian subcontinent. India's religious beliefs and culture have played an influential role in the evolution of its cuisine. Vegetarianism is widely practiced in many Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities.
India’s unique blend of cuisines evolved through large-scale cultural interactions with neighboring Persia, ancient Greece, Mongols and West Asia. New World foods such as chili peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and squash, introduced by Arab and Portuguese traders during the sixteenth century, and European cooking styles introduced during the colonial period added to the diversity of Indian cuisine.
Indian cuisine has also influenced cuisines across the world, especially those of South East Asia. It is now one of the most popular cuisines across the globe, enjoyed not only among the large Indian diaspora but also by the general population in North America, Europe, Australia and parts of Africa.
Indian cuisine is characterized by the widespread practice of vegetarianism across India's populace.
The cuisine of India has is considered one of the world’s most diverse cuisines. Extensive immigration and intermingling of cultures through many millennia has introduced many dietary and cultural influences. India's diverse climate, ranging from deep tropical to alpine, has made a broad range of ingredients readily available to its many schools of cookery. In many cases, food has become a marker of religious and social identity, with various taboos and preferences (for instance, a segment of the Jain population consume no roots or subterranean vegetable; see Jain vegetarianism) that have driven certain groups to innovate extensively with the food sources that are deemed acceptable.
The longstanding vegetarianism within sections of India's Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities has exerted a strong influence over Indian cuisine. People who follow a strict vegetarian diet make up 20–42 percent of the population in India, while less than 30 percent are regular meat-eaters.
By around 7000 B.C.E., sesame, eggplant, and humped cattle had been domesticated in the Indus Valley. Many recipes first emerged during the initial Vedic period, when India was still heavily forested and agriculture was complemented with game hunting and products from the forest. In Vedic times, a normal diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, meat, grain, dairy products and honey.The ancient Hindu concept of ahimsa, a rule of conduct that prohibits the killing or injuring of living beings because violence entails negative karmic consequences, led some segments of the population to embrace vegetarianism. This practice gained more popularity following the advent of Buddhism in a cooperative climate where a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains could easily be grown throughout the year. A food classification system that categorized every item as saatvic (pure), raajsic (active and passionate) or taamsic (heavy, dull, slow, gluttonous) developed in Ayurveda; each was deemed to have a powerful effect on the body and the mind.
Later invasions from Central Asia, Arabia, the Mughal empire, and Persia, had a fundamental effect on Indian cooking. The Islamic conquest of medieval India introduced such fruits as apricots, melons, peaches, and plums, and rich gravies, pilafs and non-vegetarian fare such as kebabs, giving rise to Mughlai cuisine (Mughal in origin). The Mughals were great patrons of cooking; lavish dishes were prepared during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. A blending of Mughlai and Telangana cuisines took place in the kitchens of the Nizams, historic rulers of Hyderabad state, resulting in the creation of Hyderabadi biryani, a traditional celebratory meal made using mutton or goat meat, basmati rice, yoghurt, onions, and spices, considered by many connoisseurs to be the finest of the main dishes in India.
Influence from Arab and Portuguese traders resulted in diversified subcontinental tastes and meals. New-world vegetables such as tomato, chilies, squash, and potato, which were introduced during the sixteenth century, became staples of Indian cuisine. The British introduced European recipes and cooking techniques like baking.
The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, atta (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses, the most important of which are masoor (most often red lentil), chana (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or yellow gram), urad (black gram) and mung (green gram). Pulses may be used whole, dehusked, for example dhuli moong or dhuli urad, or split. Pulses are used extensively in the form of dal (split). Some of the pulses like chana and "Mung" are also processed into flour (besan).
Most Indian curries are fried in vegetable oil. In North and West India, groundnut oil has traditionally been most popular for frying, while in Eastern India, mustard oil is more commonly used. In South India, coconut oil and sesame (gingelly) oil are common. In recent decades, sunflower oil and soybean oil have gained popularity all over India. Hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee, is also a popular cooking medium that replaces Desi ghee (clarified butter).
The most important and most frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed (rai), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi, manjal), fenugreek (methi), asafoetida (hing, perungayam), ginger (adrak, inji), and garlic (lassan, poondu). Popular spice mixes are garam masala which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly comprised of cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Every region has its own blend of Garam Masala. Goda Masala is a popular spice mix in Maharashtra. Some leaves like tejpat (cassia leaf), coriander leaf, fenugreek leaf and mint leaf are commonly used. The use of curry leaves is typical of all South Indian cuisine. In sweet dishes, cardamom, nutmeg, saffron, and rose petal essence are used.