The age-old culinary technique of cooking food wrapped in leaves

It helps elevate a dish by accentuating its flavours and sealing it in

Updated - August 16, 2019 03:05 pm IST

Published - August 15, 2019 05:28 pm IST

If you are a fan of healthy, traditional foods, there is no denying the fact that few foods are more aromatic and delicious than a piping hot patole (rice and coconut dumplings) steamed in turmeric leaves or the traditional kotte kadabu (savoury rice cakes) steamed in screwpine leaves. Replete with earthy, natural flavours, these steamed foods literally ‘pack’ a punch when it comes to wholesome goodness.


An age-old culinary technique, food has been wrapped in leaves and then cooked by way of roasting, grilling, frying or steaming. Using leaves was a natural and eco-friendly way of cooking. The leaves are a great casing that protects the food from direct heat, dirt and fluids. They also trap steam and seal in flavours, while allowing the food to cook slowly in mellow heat and in its own juices; and sometimes soaking in the flavour of the leaf as well.

“Leaves were probably one of the earliest culinary tools. They would have made logical receptacles to store and transfer foods. Using them to then cook in would have been the next step for our hunter-gatherer ancestors who discovered that some leaves make a good wrapping or covering to protect foods from exposure to direct flame or heat sources,” says Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, culinary chronicler and founder APB Cook Studio.

As it turns out, cooking with leaves finds favour across several tropical countries and even in the West. Banana, colocasia, turmeric, jackfruit and screwpine leaves are quite indispensable in coastal south Indian kitchens.

“Cooking in leaves is popular mainly because it locks in flavour, as well as the moisture, and makes the food more palatable.” The leaves themselves impart a natural, indigenous flavour to the food, making it unique,” says Rajeswari Vijayanand, food blogger at Raks Kitchen.

Usually, foods that need to be held together, such as mashes, batters or mixtures are amenable for cooking in leaves. “While idlis are commonly steamed in leaves in South India, in Gujarati cuisine, there is panki (delicate rice pancakes in banana leaves), and in Garhwal, a sweetmeat made of khoya is made in mallu ka patta , a local leaf that is folded into cones. Patra ni macchi made by the Parsi community and Bengali macher paturi (bhetki paturi), both of which involve fish wrapped in banana leaves, are other traditional dishes,” adds Rushina.

Not to forget foods such as the karimeen porichathu from Kerala, Kancheepuram idlis , ponsache patholi from Mangaluru and the damni dhokla from Gujarat.

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