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Biryani is essentially a spiced and aromatic rice preparation involving the use of meat, fish, eggs or vegetables and at times certain combinations of these. Biryani is one of the most sought after dishes not only in the Indian sub-continent but across the globe.


It traces its origins back to Iran and it was the Persian merchants and travellers who introduced this dish to India many years ago. In fact Biryani derives its name from the Persian language wherein the word ‘beryan’ refers to fried or roasted. Since its inception this is one dish that has undergone innumerable changes and yet has managed to preserve its essence as a one of the tastiest blends of superior quality rice, vegetables, fish, eggs, meat or poultry along with some of the most flavourful spices and herbs.

How does Biryani differ from Pulao?

Depending on the chief ingredient used, one may prepare a chicken/meat/egg/vegetable or fish biryani. Likewise, one must be able to differentiate between a pulao and biryani. The basic difference between the two is that while in the former all the ingredients are cooked together, the biryani is more time consuming as it involves the preparation of spiced and flavoured rice and a rich non-vegetarian or vegetarian gravy separately and then assembling them in alternate layers before one final ‘dum’ or steam pressure cooking in a large sealed utensil over an indirect heat source.

Method of Preparation

Served at special occasions like festivals and weddings, the rice used for making biryani is usually basmati, which is mixed with a variety of spices and condiments and garnished with flavored leaves like coriander, bay leaves, mint leaves etc. The vegetables, meat or eggs used in the preparation are precooked or fried in a pan and later once more cooked along with the biryani rice for the perfect blend. While infinite biryani recipes have made their presence felt today because of regional variations and local influences, the more famous ones are - Hyderabadi biryani, Lucknow biryani and Malabari biryani among others.

The general method of preparation involves pre-preparation of ingredients- chopping of onions, hard boiling of eggs, soaking of rice, soaking of saffron stands in warm milk etc. The meat used may be marinated in yoghurt, spices etc. and set aside for a while or as long as possible, before using in the final dish. The vegetable biryani employs the use of a number of vegetables chiefly carrots, beans, cauliflower, peas.

The long grained basmati rice is fried lightly along with different spices in clarified butter (ghee) and then cooked in water until ¾ done. The gravy is prepared separately using the chopped onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and various spice powders including the authentic biryani masala. To this the marinated meat is finally added and cooked to create a rich flavourful gravy. The partially cooked rice is placed as the first layer, followed by the non-vegetarian gravy and this procedure is repeated until rice forms the top layer. The fried onion slivers, some fried nuts and saffron milk are spread on top as garnish before covering the dish, sealing it tight and allowing one final round of cooking by ‘dum’.

Nutritional Information

A serving size of 1 cup of mutton biryani with about 100g of rice and approximately the same quantity of meat would provide-

• 294 calories with 169 calories coming from fat

• Total fat content of 18.8 g of which saturated fat may be ~ 5.7 g, polyunsaturated fat ~ 3.9 g, monounsaturated fat ~ 4.3 g. Cholesterol content maybe ~ 61 mg.

• Sodium content of 515 mg,

• Total carbohydrate content is 23.7 g with only 0.4 g of dietary fibre, 0 g of sugar.

• Protein content is about 7.1 g only.

• Vitamin A ~ 52.8 and Vitamin C levels is ~12.6 while Calcium content is 75.1 mg and Iron 1.1 mg.

Biryani is basically a high calorie, nutrient dense dish. It can form a complete meal when served with a yoghurt based fresh vegetable salad consisting of chopped tomatoes, cucumber and onions termed ‘raita’. There are a number of ways in which the nutritional value of this dish may be enhanced.

1. By reducing the amount of fat/oil used in preparing the dish, it is possible to allow the meat to cook in its own juices and thus reduce the calorie-density of the dish. Braising or broiling the meat instead of frying it before adding it to the gravy is another way of cutting down unnecessary calories.

2. Brown rice may be used in place of polished white rice with no significant difference in the taste. Fibre and B-vitamin content may be enhanced in this manner. Similarly broken wheat or ‘dalia’ may be used to replace white rice to augment the biryani recipe.

3. By using only egg whites without the yolk, the cholesterol level in the dish can be reduced.

4. Using some green leafy additions like more of mint leaves or even spinach leaves can provide fibre as well as nutrients.

5. Soya chunks can be used to replace the meat to provide similar taste, texture and other sensory characteristics while improving the phytoestrogen content that has been shown to help women maintain healthy bones and overcome menopausal symptoms. Also it has been studied for anti-cancer and cardio protective benefits with the phytoestrogens LDL lowering effects, while proving to be a very good source of protein to the diet.

6. A mixed pulses or legumes biryani is high in protein, complex carbohydrates (fibre) and multiple vitamins and minerals, making it suitable for consumption in controlled portions by diabetics and obese persons. Even a small portion would make a person feel satiated. Such a biryani helps to provide some complete proteins with the combination of rice and legumes complementing the amino acid composition of one another. Also the fibre in legumes ensures that blood sugar levels are not elevated suddenly but more gradually over time which makes the dish suitable for diabetic persons.

7. A mixed vegetable biryani provides different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that afford protection to the body from free radical damage and inclusion of cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, lots of herbs and spices, ginger, garlic, and onions can deliver anti-cancer benefits.

8. Use of olive oil instead of clarified butter may be heart healthy by increasing mono-unsaturated fats and reducing saturated fat intake.

Suggested Accompaniments

• A raw vegetable salad (with tomato, cucumber, carrot and onion) as an accompaniment may be a good idea too for additional vitamin, mineral content.

• A herbal tea after biryani is a good way of washing out and unclogging the arteries and the digestive tract after the relatively high fat assault.

Thus we see how the iconic and ever popular biryani may be customized to suit the nutritional requirements of individuals with special concerns.