By Seyed Hossein Hosseiniseddiq

Tanour: A traditional bread baking system in Iran

July 4, 2020 - 23:5

Bread is known as the blessing of the table and is the predominant food of most Iranians. The aroma of fresh bread will multiply the human appetite. In Islam, the value of this divine blessing is so great that even its crumbs are respectable.

From time immemorial, adults have taught their children that if you see a piece of bread on the way, be sure to pick it up, and if it is clean, eat it, or put it aside so that it will not be trampled. Meanwhile, the quality of the Tanour (a kind of oven) used to bake bread is also very influential. Clay Tanour that are made by hand; undoubtedly, the spirit of nature will be transferred to bread. Previously, in urban and especially rural houses, next to the living room, there was a special room for Tanour and baking bread, and usually once a week bread and cookies were baked in this Tanour.

Of course, it should be noted that the location of the Tanour in all regions of Iran was different depending on the geographical situation under the influence of heat, cold and rainfall. The Tanour room has a special architecture with a hole in the roof to let the smoke of the burning wood out, and also the bottom of the Tanour has a small hole that regulates the entry and exit of air.

It is interesting to know that after baking the bread, they used the fire left over from baking lunch or dinner, which is called Komajdan in Shahroudi dialect. Thus, some rice, some mutton or beef, a few medium-sized potatoes, beets and some spinach as well as spices are poured into the copper pot and finally the copper pot is placed in the hot ashes of the fire left over from the bakery. They even pour ashes on the lid, and after a few hours, they take the cooked food out from under the ashes. In general, it can be said that Komajdan is a copper pot with a lid in which the pastry dough is put with oil and its lid is fixed then it is put under the fire to cook and also the stews can be cooked in it.

But with the expansion of industrial breads produced by the machine. People were deprived of these traditional and healthy breads.

What is Iranian traditional Tanour? And how is it made?

The English word comes from Hindi or Urdu tandoor, which came from Persian Tanour and also Avestan language Tanoura which all mean clay oven.

A Tanuor also known as is a cylindrical clay used in baking bread and cooking. The heat for a Tanour was traditionally generated by a wood fire or dried Dermaneh (a plant entitled Silver Mound) or dried feces of cows which was common among Turkmen people in north of Iran, Gorgan plain. And perhaps are used charcoal in other area.

To make a traditional Tanour, the soil must be well sifted and dried so that future moisture does not cause the Tanour to crack; after the soil is completely dry, water is added to it and mixed. After the mud is made, goat hair is added to it by hand and mud cylinders are made of it; goat's hair makes the clay more durable, and prevents it from cracking. The clay cylinders are then cut into equal halves and, after combining with each other, form a complete circle. The circles are stacked one by one, and after the height of the Tanour reaches the appropriate size, the inside and outside of it are smoothed with a putty knife; when the work is done, the Tanour should be well dried so that it can be used for many years to bake traditional bread.

Fresh baked Sangak bread

It can be said that it is the only triangular tanour in the world and the oldest triangular bread in the world, Sangak. It is a type of bread that is baked on a bed of gravel in a flat oven. Sangak is cooked only in Iran, so it can be called the national bread of Iran. The history and origin of bakery and Sangak bread in Iran are as follows:

Shah Abbas the Great, the most powerful king of the Safavid Empire, for the well-being of the poor and their troops, who often needed temporary and immediate bread and stew during their travels and had to reach every city, there were bakers who could make as much bread for the soldiers as they could, and it was the food they put in the stew. He came up with a solution and asked Sheikh Bahaei to solve this problem. Sheikh Bahaei one of the scholars and scientists of the tenth century AH (1495 CE – 1591 CE), should be considered the inventor of Sangak bread and its Tanour shape. In fact, he invented the Sangak Tanour with thought and contemplation. This invention, which has been carefully designed and implemented, is so complete and accurate that after a few hundred years, it is still used in its original form.

There is another view that the baking of Sangak bread was common before the arrival of Islam in Iran and during the Sassanid kings. Several years ago, in the basement of a very old castle near the city of Varamin, the remains of a Sangak bakery were discovered, the oven of which remained intact, and the veins inside it were also present.

Sangak is one of the traditional types of bread that can be sprinkled with seeds such as sesame seeds, black seeds (Nigella seeds) or a mixture of both to flavor it. In the past, poppy seeds were used to do this, but they are now banned. Sangak is also used as a wedding table bread, which is cooked in a large way and decorated with honey and sesame seeds. Probably, Sangak bread, as it is today, evolved from a nomadic method of throwing large numbers of stones and pebbles on a fire and spreading the dough thinly on it to bake it.

 (Dr. Seyed Hossein Hosseiniseddiq is a faculty member at the Islamic Azad University)

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