Most Paneer is not real

In the last two months there has been a major crisis in Punjab -on the front page of every local paper. Paneer, the state dish, has disappeared from the market. For the uninitiated, Paneer is an un-aged, fresh, non-melting cheese made by curdling milk with a vegetable-derived acid, such as lemon juice/lactic acid/citric acid/tartaric acid/alum or sour whey. It is eaten all over North India (and, alas ,has spread its tentacles into the south as well), but Punjab is its home and every house feels compelled to eat and serve it. Personally, I have find it disgusting and I would rather starve than eat it – and I frequently do that when travelling in planes where vegetarians are only given the paneer option.

For years I have been cautioning people not to eat milk, or any of its products. Here is another reason why.

Because it is not paneer. Unless you make it in your own house and with milk that you have taken from trusted sources – since most milk is not milk.

Let’s start with the math and then the empirical evidence.

According to government data, India produces roughly 15 crore tonnes of milk annually. If all of it were only to be used to make paneer, India would produce 7 lakh tonnes. Obviously that is not possible, since only a small percentage of this is turned into paneer. But 5 lakh tonnes of paneer are sold annually. So where do they come from?

They come from an odious mixture of maida, palm oil, baking powder, old discarded skimmed milk, detergent, bicarbonate of soda and Suphuric Acid. The same sulfuric acid that is found in lead-acid batteries, metal cleaners, drain cleaners and anti-rust products. The same sulphuric acid that is thrown on women. This is boiled till it becomes a semi solid product. Then it is poured into vessels , flattened  and left for a few hours. Finally it is cut into 5 kg bricks of “paneer” and sold.  The residue is secretly drained into illegal bore wells within the premises, polluting underground water for miles around. On an average 5 kilos of “paneer” cost the maker Rs 30 or Rs 150 . This is sold for Rs 150-200 a kilo wholesale and Rs 300+ retail.

This is the modus operandi : the factory owners make the paneer in dirty shanties in industrial areas and sell the products to ghost “dairies” owned by themselves, or to “legitimate” dairies which have a few standing cows/buffaloes, and perhaps even extract some milk from them. The dairies then sell them to prominent sweetshops and bakeries. Most of the paneer factories work at night, dispatch the product at dawn and then  shut up for the rest of the day. In order to avoid being stopped at tolls, or be inspected, the paneer is often brought in the dicky of a car/SUV, instead of a tempo.

Just as the forest is cut with the active collusion of the forest department, the spurious food industry is run by food inspectors and the dairy department. Every now and then a Minister orders raids. Some people go to jail, the food item disappears, and then everything comes back to normal. According to the factory owners, the local health officer charged Rs 5000 a month on “principle” and Rs 10,000 – Rs 15,000 to clear each food sample from the lab. It is extraordinary that a small state like Punjab should have so many spurious factories. None of them are near dairies – which itself should have sounded a warning bell a long time ago. Most of them are in industrial areas, or in small villages. While dozens of people have been sent to jail, not a single health official has had any action taken against him.

Throughout August 2018, there has been a statewise  “crackdown” over a thousand spurious milk product/paneer factories in Punjab (out of many thousand). Chilling centres, creameries, milk establishments in remote areas, interception of tankers at  toll barriers : all these have revealed acids and illegal colouring agents. Even the dairies that were legitimately making paneer were found to be so unhygienic – unwashed workers, rusted implements – that the paneer is unsafe to eat.

Paneer has vanished in the market – which means most, or all, of it was spurious. Most sweetmeats made from it have vanished from the mithai shops. Shopkeepers and “dairy” owners have refused all bulk orders.

Here are some examples to show you how large this illegal industry is :

* The Mohali health department raided a paneer manufacturing unit in Ballomajra Village, Mohali. 20.6 quintals of spurious  paneer, 33 quintals of skimmed milk powder , sulphuric acid and other chemicals were found. The owner has been supplying this paneer daily to  restaurants and dhabas at Chandigarh, Pinjore, Kalka, Rajpura and Panchkula, and some local colonies. While the factory owners claimed that they made cheese, ghee, butter and other dairy products from 5,000 litres of milk collected daily from Lehragaga in Sangrur village, no dairy was found. The owner had no licence for any food product. The premises were filthy

* A raid by a joint team of the health department, food safety department, dairy development department and police, on two factories at Khokh Village, Nabha, Patiala, turned up 8 quintal spurious milk, 12 quintal fake paneer, skimmed milk and boxes of caustic soda.

*A raid at Gonsawal village, Amritsar has  led to the seizure of 58 bags of 25 kg each of skimmed low quality milk powder, 20 kg paneer and 30 kg adulterated milk.

*A raid on a dairy on Ram Tirath Road, Amritsar, found 74 bags of skimmed milk powder, 35 kg of paneer, and 150 of kg adulterated milk.  

* Paneer and khoya manufacturing units at Neem Wala Mor village in Barnala, Fatehgarh Sahib district's Chandila village, Pathankot, Gurdaspur, found huge quantities of fake paneer and khoya. Sweetshops in Mansa were found selling quintals of fake patisa made from this paneer.

* A food safety team raided paneer manufacturing units in Samrala and 
Baghapurana, Ludhiana and found 3 quintals of spurious paneer, 90 litres of palm oil, 39 empty Palm oil tins of 15 litres each, and 17 bags of 25 kg each of skimmed milk powder.

* In Rajpura, Patiala district, a vehicle carrying 160 kg of fake paneer, coming from Narwana, in Jind district of Haryana, was intercepted by the food safety team. The vehicle was bound for a Dairy in Rajpura. The Narwana owner confessed that he sold spurious paneer at Rs 160 /kg to the dairy who further sold it.

* A raid in village Sangatpur Bhonki yielded 90 kg paneer, 1,400 kg milk, 18 empty bags of 25 kg Skimmed Milk Powder(SMP), 2 full bags of SMP were found.

* At Boor Majra, Ropar, 12 quintal  paneer were found. The hygiene conditions of the dairy were very poor and the dairy owners did not possess any licence.

* The Jalandhar Food Team intercepted a car delivering paneer to a sweetshop in Adampur. The car was carrying paneer in rear storage and on the back seat. While the paneer was being inspected the driver fled with the car .

* A vehicle carrying 300 kgs of spurious Khoya Burfi, Milk Cake, Ladoo, Patisa was intercepted at Jandiala Road, Tarntaran.

* The shop of a khoya barfi supplier at Jaito, Faridkot was inspected and 1.5 Quintals of spurious barfi and dhoda sweets were found.  The khoya burfi was brought from Fazilka and dhoda burfi from village Daria in Chandigarh and then resold to small shops. 

* Checking and sampling at a sweetshop at Garhshankar revealed approximately 100 kg of adulterated khoya.

Is Punjab the only place where this is happening? Of course not. The entire country is awash with spurious paneer, and almost every week there is a report from some local TV channel or newspaper about an illegal factory.

Here are some samples in the last month:

* News 24: A Mahindra pickup was found with 120 kilos of spurious paneer going to Dehradun from Panipat. The bill of lading said it was plywood.

* Bansal News: a  raid in Morena, Madhya Pradesh delivered 1,500 kilos of fake paneer. The factory is in an industrial area, and filthy, cockroach ridden with paneer was being made and thrown on the floor. It has been raided several times. The owner hides out for a few days and then restarts the business. 

* NNI:  A raid in a Mathura paneer factory shows dirty vats, dirty handlers, rusted implements. The place is full of milk powder and refined oil. The owner runs as soon as he sees the police. The paneer is supplied to Delhi.

* TOI Bangalore: Paneer made of urea and chemicals has flooded the market. 5 tonnes of adulterated paneer, brought from Dharmapur in Tamil Nadu, sent to the chemical lab for testing was reported to be full of chemicals and not fit for human consumption. Police said 100 tonnes of chemical paneer arrives in vans from Tamil Nadu every month. Salem milk/paneer is the common name for fake dairy products.

* Patna: Raids found that even posh hotels and big sweet shops were selling fake or adulterated paneer which contained corn starch mixed with chemicals, urea and maida. They buy at Rs 40-50 a kg and sell at Rs 300 a kg. A report by the food safety wing of the health department has revealed that 95% of the samples of paneer, collected from 60 shops and eateries in the city, have been found to be adulterated. Starch is added to cottage cheese to increase its quantity. When questioned, the team said that they only had the ability to look for starch adulteration as they were not competent to check for acids and chemicals in paneer, and their lab in Agamkuan was shut!!

How do you make out real from fake paneer? Pure paneer is soft in texture. Synthetic one is rubbery. Pure has a milky taste. Synthetic has a bland /no taste. Put a drop of iodine solution on raw paneer. If it changes colour to blue black it is spurious.

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