Polyglot Vegetarian has another superb post, this one on the linguistic history of Persian پنیر panir ‘cheese,’ which like many Persian words has spread throughout Western Asia (it will be familiar to many as the “paneer” of Indian restaurants). I wasn’t going to blog it, because I could easily wind up just serving as a PV reprint service, since pretty much everything there is worth telling people about and I assume that anyone who reads LH will have bookmarked it by now anyway. But then I got to the part where he mentions the Etymological Dictionary of the Persian Language being prepared at Yerevan State University and the Этимологический словарь иранских языков [Etymological dictionary of the Iranian languages] that’s so far published two fascicles (up through d) and links to the 1890 Grundriss der neupersischen Etymologie by Paul Horn on Google Books, and I couldn’t resist passing that along. And of course there are the usual side trips into things like Armenian proverbs and the Bhagavata-purana (भागवत पुराण) and the egregious (in every sense) Sir Richard Burton:

Reading The Lake Regions of Central Africa, Burton of course has much to say about the native cuisine. But in particular for this topic, he mentions (p. 52),

The mutunguja (the Puneeria coagulans of Dr. Stocks,) a solanaceous plant, called … by the Baloch panír, or cheese, from the effect of the juice in curdling milk, …

and again (p. 464-5),

Milk is held in high esteem … mtindi (curded milk), the laban of Arabia, and the Indian dahi. … [T]hey consider cheese a miracle, and use against it their stock denunciation, the danger of bewitching cattle. The fresh produce, moreover, has few charms as a poculent among barbarous and milk-drinking races … On the other hand, the curded milk is every where a favorite … [They] do not … make their dahi …, like the Arabs, with kid’s rennet, nor like the Baloch with the solanaceous plant called panir.

Much of this is the usual Victorian racism, though the notion of milk-drinking races survives a bit in the conclusion that a difference between cheese and tofu cultures is genetic lactose intolerance in Asia. The observation here is that there is a plant called panīr used as a vegetable rennet. Vegetable rennet is important to lacto-ovo vegetarians. It can be tricky to discover how the cheese in prepared cheese foods was made and the conservative assumption always has to be that “enzymes” means animal rennet. Commercial vegetarian rennet is made from molds, but there are plant alternatives.

Keep up the tasty work, MMcM!


  1. Egregious, eminent and outstanding. I assume that’s what you meant.

  2. Cool stuff. It seems the botanically correct name for the plant is now Withania coagulans.

  3. I learnt to make paneer from my mother who must have learnt etc etc
    Boil whole cream milk till roiling – at least a gallon else you don’t get enough solid matter to make it useful – you can now use a tablespoon or two of white vinegar or lime juice to “break” the milk, which immediately [boiling continues but not roiling, turn heat down a bit] begins to seperate into whey and solid fresh curds. Turn off heat. Drain through clean muslin cloth [mom has used dad’s handkerchiefs on occasion] and then tie the curd into the cloth [you can tie a knot at the ends] and place in sink, on slanted cutting board to drain with heavy flat weight [paneer will be flat, firm, tofu like texture ] or hang from tap for a more “grits” like texture you can scramble like eggs – yum. [infini]

  4. Of course, that’s practically identical to the manner in which tofu is made from fresh soymilk. I usually use a colander to contain the curds for the pressing part, though.

  5. Could I just say, I love the word “roiling”.

Speak Your Mind