The word is an amalgamation of MUKH meaning Mouth and WAS meaning Smell. Mukhwas is a colorful Indian and Pakistani after-meal snack or digestive aid widely used as a mouth freshener, especially after meals. It can be made of various seeds and nuts, but often found with fennel seeds, anise seeds, coconut, and sesame seeds. They are sweet in flavor and highly aromatic due to added sugar and the addition of various essential oils, including peppermint oil. The seeds can be savory or sweet-coated in sugar and brightly colored. Plain water drunk after chewing and consuming the fennel seeds contained therein tastes extremely sweet.
Occasionally, this is eaten for medicinal purposes.
O’Brien goes on: “Traditional Indian food practices are often tied to aiding digestion—indeed they often seem obsessed with it. Chewing fennel seeds, other spices, or tobacco or betel leaves and betel nuts is something most Indians will do after a meal.”
One such restaurant is Chicago’s Indian Garden, which features displays throughout the restaurant that shed some light on the granular details of Indian cuisine. These read like the notes you’d jot down on index cards to prep for an exam: “In India, [fennel seeds] are routinely chewed upon after meals to aid in digestion after a rich meal while acting as an herbal mouth freshener… They help to overcome gas, cramps, acid indigestions, and many other digestive tract maladies.”