Black is beautiful

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Zubin D’souza

You probably know what love at first sight is. To many it has been a member of the opposite sex. To the select few among us, it has been a car or a bike. I still remember when I first fell in love. She was beautiful and radiant and I was embarrassed that I couldn’t match up to her beauty and elegance. There she stood in front of me glistening like a goddess. I was ashamed of my hand-me-downs, tattered shorts and rubber slippers. I knew I would never match up to her unstated style and her beauty. I just wanted to say hello; I wanted her to smile once again for me. She wouldn’t because I wasn’t allowed to rewind the tape while the entire family watched Audrey Hepburn in her black dress in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ on our rented video player. But I was hooked onto the colour black. For years I continued in a quasi-Goth stage convinced that my teenage embellishments could be covered up by the mystical power of black. While the world cheered the Jedi, I knew that the true hero would be the all-black sporting Darth Vader! Not surprisingly my all-time favourite song is the Simon and Garfunkel hit ‘Sound of Silence’ with the opening line going ‘Hello darkness my old friend…’

It came as little surprise then that as I grew older and moved into the world of food that I would keep my love for the dark side of life alive. It started off rather simply with black crockery and cutlery but then the floodgates opened and a torrent flowed over that seemed to appeal more to my penchant for a blacker shade of things. Obviously I don’t want to count the simple stuff like soya sauce and balsamic vinegar since they are too commonplace to get me all excited.

And the modern twists like the black lemonade, black cupcakes, black coloured burger buns, black macaroons and dark sushi has done nothing to tickle my fancy.

Southeast Asian cuisine threw up my first love after Audrey Hepburn when I first drifted across black garlic. Black garlic is an aged form of garlic that is created under very specific conditions. The process involves the storage of whole garlic buds in a warm and humidity-controlled environment for up to three months till the cloves turn black, achieve a soft date like caramel texture and lose much of their characteristic sharpness.

The Italians probably knew that they had stumbled on a good thing when they used squid ink to make pasta. What is cooler than the flavour that hints of the sea is the fact that the pasta stands out on the plate in all its pristine black glory.

You know that a product is very good when Chinese royalty forbids the commoners from gaining access to it. Liquorice is a sweet root whose black-coloured extract has been used to create lozenges, syrups and alcohol. There was a time when its use was reserved for medical concoctions and recreationally for none other than the ruling family in China. Apparently death awaited those who were found breaking these rules.

Forbidden rice was named so because it was reserved for only the royalty and nobility. Although these black grains of rice are supremely healthy because of the presence of a huge amount of anthocyanin, they are reportedly very difficult to cultivate and harvest leading to their exorbitant rates.

In comparison, the black grained wild rice that grows in the swamplands of USA and Canada is actually a grass and commands a high price because the harvesting process is rather excruciating. It takes place whilst standing in a canoe.

The Japanese weren’t far off the trend when they decided to convert black sesame seeds into an ash coloured ice cream. They soon managed to get the jet black colour by infusing a bit of activated charcoal.

The minute someone realized that they could burn bamboo or coconut shells into ashes and then infuse them into food and give them a cool name like ‘activated charcoal’ was when they must have realized that they would be laughing all the way to the bank. The ashes have since gone on to colour everything from burger buns to pizza bases, ice creams and cupcakes.

If Audrey could only see all that I have managed to achieve with the colour black, I am sure that I could get her to smile for me again.