Madhya Pradesh
Showcase 30 Apr 2014

Colour Palate - Part one

The first part of Colour Palate explores the colours of food in Eastern-Maharashtra & Madhya Pradesh.

Colour Palate is a new series that travels through India, exploring the colour quotient of food traditions across geographical regions of Central, East, West, and South India. Based on exclusive Asian Paints research, the series presents a snapshot of each region and the medley of core ingredients which contribute to a unique colour palette per region.

The Colour of Food

Colour is a central part of the experience of choosing and enjoying food, from picking the ripest fruit, to knowing when food has gone bad. Certain colour preferences helped our ancestors survive in the wild, and over millennia, they have changed from simple preferences to basic instincts. An example of this can be seen in the contrasting perception of common colours in food. Red, a colour commonly associated with food in nature, stimulates the appetite and is an often used colour in restaurants and food packaging. Blue, black, and purple, colours commonly associated with poisonous berries in the wild, are much less common. 

Colour plays an enormous role in our enjoyment of food. Cuisine in India is known for its range and character, differing from place to place, and as a result it becomes vital to understand colour and food in its regional contexts. In this series, we explore the interdependency between the culture, colour, and food of India. By studying this relationship, we hope to understand the implications it has on the use of colour and texture in contemporary Indian spaces. 

We begin our journey in the heart of India, in Eastern-Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, two regions whose rich cultural histories have created unique cuisines.



Maharashtra has long been an important hub of commercial activity in India. Its port towns such as Satara have seen the rise and fall of many dynasties, from the Vakatakas to the Delhi Sultanate, the Marathas, the Peshwas and finally the British. This history of cultural intermingling is seen in many aspects of Maharashtrian culture, from arts and craft to cuisine. After Independence, the state was re-organised into six administrative districts, the eastern-most of which, Vidarbha, is situated in Central India. 

The region is abundant with natural resources, from mineral wealth to fertile alluvial soil and many rivers, making it the largest orange growing district in India.  This natural wealth has attracted people to the region from all across the country, from the tribal groups of Chhattisgarh to Telugites from the South. Vidarbha’s distance from the sea, unique blend of natural resources and its location in Central India make it a melting pot of cultures which has lead to the development of a unique cuisine. 

The food of the region, known as Varadi, is distinct from the rest of Maharashtra and also from much of Central India. Gram flour or besan is used extensively, and mutton and chicken replace fish as the most common non-vegetarian ingredient. Spices like black pepper and cardamom are used in plenty, as is powdered coconut. Quail is a local speciality, as is the use of earthenware pots for cooking, which help retain the flavour of the spices. The district of Nagpur is known in particular for the unique use of clove and pepper paste to add spice and heat, as opposed to using red-chilly. 

The colours from the ingredients form the core of the Varadi palette, which is simple and pure. A balanced mix of neutral colours, powerful accents and both pastel and saturated colours leads to a harmonious palette that is reflective of Varadi cuisine. 

Using these colours guarantees a look that is understated, yet distinctly Indian. The palette is well suited to retail and hospitality spaces, dining areas, or nurseries within the home. The balanced nature of this palette also lends itself to being used in fashion. 

The stark brown of earthenware, pale yellow of besan, green of cardamom, and pure-white of coconuts form the palette of Eastern Maharashtra, accompanied by the sunset orange of tangerines and dark black of peppercorns as accent colours.


Madhya Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh is India’s second largest state and one of its most populous. Called the ‘Heart of India’ due to its geographic location, the state has been the centre of governance for many of India’s ruling dynasties, from the Mauryas to the Mughals, the Marathas and eventually the British. 

This common history of foreign occupation is not the only thing that Madhya Pradesh shares with its neighbour, Eastern Maharashtra—it also shares a rich variety of geographic features and climatic conditions. 

The rivers flowing through Madhya Pradesh have resulted in fertile soil and heavy mineral deposits, which have drawn people to the region for many centuries. The effect of this heterogeneity is seen in the many heritage sites of the region, with Khajuraho being the most famous. 

Madhya Pradesh’s cultural history is also evident in its Malwa cuisine, which reflects a blend of food cultures from the neighbouring Rajasthan and Gujarat. Jowar is an important cereal, though it is being overshadowed by wheat, which is rapidly growing in popularity. Maize is another cereal which is commonly found in the region. 

Pulses are a staple in dry parts of the state, while the dishes of wetter regions feature fresh, green vegetables as well as meat and fish. Dairy is a key ingredient in much of Malwa cooking and almost all dishes use ghee or yoghurt in some way. Sulfi, the local liquor derived from Mahua flowers is another important part of the region’s cuisine. 

These are the colours from which the palette of the region is derived. The light, airy colours are largely pastel, but with splashes of bright, intense colours. This palette is well suited to bedrooms and living rooms, as well as hospitality spaces looking to create a peaceful, sophisticated atmosphere. The intense reds and browns act as accent colours to the softer colours  in the remainder of the palette.

The colours of Madhya Pradesh are derived from the buttery yellow of ghee, the subtle cream of Mahua flowers, and the bright yellow of maize. The deep reds and browns of meat dishes serve as accent colours to the predominantly pastel palette.

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