“ Bhande kalai kara lo”
“ Bhande kalai kara lo”
“ Bhande kalai kara lo” (get your utensils re-tinned)
This was one call that used to draw attention back to the streets. From each household some or the other person would come out rushing with their copper or brass utensils for re-tinning process. One could only wonder when they see the sparks flying in the air. Indeed, it was magical to watch the whole process and again utensils would glimmer back like silver. This process is called as ‘kalai‘ or white wash and the person who does it is known as ‘kalaiwala‘.
Ayurveda has said it all when it comes to using traditional metals for good health and well being. India’s culinary diversity is widely celebrated, but the diversity of the materials used in the kitchen utensils has remained relatively unsaid. Brass, copper, bronze, aluminium and stone are some such materials. These metals provide medicinal and nutritive properties to the food. For some decades, they were sidelined due to New Age materials such as steel, glass, teflon, but the traditional vessels are making a comeback as people have begun to realise that materials like teflon have adverse health effects!!
The use of different materials in Indian kitchens depends on what has to be cooked. It is very important to know that it’s not only about what do we eat rather how and where exactly the food is been cooked!! Cooking in brass and vessels is beneficial because it is a natural way to supplement them in food.
Earlier, people ensured that they consume at least one meal a day that was made in those vessels.
Copper utensils can be seen in households as copper is very efficient in retaining heat. However, copper cannot be directly used for cooking because the metal reacts with foods which are acidic or sour. It has to be lined with non-reactive metal like tin.
The practice of coating the inside surface of copper utensils with tin is called kalai and is an age-old craft which we have seen in our childhood.
Care has to be taken in this as there are reports of adulterated materials being used to coat vessels and this can have a harmful effect. But, the improved taste and nutrition are reasons enough to use them.
What is Kalai?
It is a traditional process of coating the alloy surface (brass or copper) by deposition of the metal tin on it. Brass and Copper kitchenware requires tin-plating after every six to eight.
Earlier, silver was used but that would become very expensive. Hence, since last 25-30 years tin is being used.
Now, why is re-tinning required every 6-8 months?
When any brass utensil is used for the cooking purpose, the metal copper present in the alloy reacts with organic acids present in the foodstuff to form products that may cause food poisoning. Therefore, kalai (white wash or tin) is important before the utensil is being used for cooking and it also protects the utensils and the food in it.
What is the process?
The process of ‘Kalai’ involves washing first the copper utensil with caustic soda to get rid of any surface impurities such as dust.
The next step is washing it with an acid that contains the gold purifying compound ‘Sufa’, a salt and another element. It is then immediately wiped clean otherwise it might bear a mark.
The Kalaiwalas dug a pit in the ground and prepared a temporary blast furnace, airing it with bellows. They then heated the utensil, blasting it off and on and sprinkled a miraculous component ‘Nausadar‘. The powder is rubbed onto the utensil with a cotton cloth, which gives out deep white smoke and a peculiar ammoniac smell. ‘Nausadar’ powder or ammonium chloride has some very beneficial properties
The final step of kalai is to dip the utensil is then dipped into a bucket full of cold water. A silvery lining appears on the vessel with a shine.
Benefits of Tin Coating
Tin coating protects brass from corrosion.
Tin layer works as a safe substance between the metal and the food
Tin helps utensils made of brass and copper increase its conductivity which also reduces the fuel cost.
With regular intervals re-tinning, it also maintains the taste of the food.
With the advancement in the technology and science we surely have progressed a lot yet we are missing out on such healthy benefits! Utensils made up of brass were used for cooking ages ago, why not continue the Indian authentic way which helps in improving your health! It’s time to get back to our roots and start using traditional cookware which you should make sure to do tinning in every two months. It is believed that these metals and its alloys attracts and transmit Chaitanya (a divine consciousness) as well. Such spiritual benefits are not obtained from the use of stainless steel or aluminium!
Let’s do our part to revive this old-age craft of kalai and brings them back to our streets just like old times…..
Hopefully, we shall soon hear “Bhande kalai karalo, Bhande” and everyone would rush to the streets to see the magic happening!