Geeta Khurana explores the health benefits of traditional Indian spices
Indian foods have evolved over thousands of years, taking on the flavors of various cultures yet maintaining the aroma and benefits of condiments and spices that are the hallmark of Indian cooking. These come in different colours and flavors and just brighten up the food palette. Just a pinch here and there can make a big difference in our cooking. The word ‘spice’ comes from Latin species meaning a commodity of value and distinction. Traditional Indian cooking almost always uses fresh ingredients and involves making dishes from scratch using spices such as turmeric, cloves, cardamom, cumin seeds…all of which have medicinal and healing properties. Bark, leaves, roots, seeds, and bulbs of plants are used to create innumerable flavors and combinations. The beneficial properties of a few of the spices are listed below:
1. Ginger (Adarak)
Ginger has been used for more than 2500 years as a flavoring to the food as well as a medicine and herb. Ginger has been used in many herbal decongestants and can help in minimising the symptoms of respiratory conditions such as cough, cold, and allergies. Ginger root is fast becoming a medicinal herb. Ginger is packed with many active compounds, including gingerols and zingibain. It helps in treating morning sickness nausea and nausea related to motion sickness without any side effects. The anti-inflammatory properties in ginger help ease muscle and joint pain.
2. Garlic (Lahusun)
Garlic has been used in Ancient India and Eastern Medicine. Garlic is commonly used around the world for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It has been used as an antibiotic and as well as a cooking ingredient. It has generally been thought to stimulate the immune system.
3. Turmeric (Haldi)
Turmeric has been used in Indian cuisine for centuries. The most interesting nutrient in turmeric is curcumin. This is the nutrient that has received attention in the media because researchers are interested in curcumin’s possibilities in fighting cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. The curcumin in Turmeric is thought to have anti inflammatory properties. Apart from curcumin, turmeric contains high levels of iron and manganese and moderate levels of vitamin B6 and potassium – all these are part of a healthy, balanced diet.
4. Mace or nutmeg (Supari)
Nutmeg is one of the highly prized spices known since antiquity for its aromatic, aphrodisiac, and curative properties. Nutmeg spice as well as mace contains many plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have antioxidant, disease-preventing, and health-promoting properties. Nutmeg has many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines for its anti-fungal, anti-depressant, aphrodisiac, and digestive properties. It is also rich in many vital B-complex vitamins including vitamin C, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A and many flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta carotene and cryptoxanthins that are essential for optimum health.
5. Asafoetida (Hing)
Asafoetida is a resin taken from a plant from the Parsley family. It has a distinctive pungent aroma. It is used mainly for its digestive properties, especially in the cooking of beans and lentils. It is also known to have antiflatulence properties.
6. Cumin Seeds (Zeera)
Cumin seeds help to keep the immune system healthy. Water boiled in cumin seeds helps improve digestion and prevent diarrhea. Cumin seeds are also known to relieve flatulence and colic.
7. Carom seeds (Ajwain)
Carom seeds have thyme oil and thus give the fragrance of thyme. It is very effective in reducing occasional pain of the intestines and the stomach. Infections, indigestion, and flatulence can also be alleviated by taking 2 pinches of salt along with one spoonful of Ajwain seeds in warm water.
8. Bay Leaf (Tejpatta)
Aromatic bay leaf is one of the revered spices since ancient times. This legendry bay tree was regarded as the tree of the Sun God. These are mainly used in slow-cooked meats, soups, curries and rice. Bay leaf has essential oil, tannins, and flavonoids and is helpful in treating diarrhea, flatulence, and indigestion. It is also used for treating scabies and itchy skin.
9. Cloves (Laung)
Clove oil is well known as a treatment for toothache, and its antiseptic properties make it an excellent mouthwash. The main ingredient in the oil is eugenol which is anti-inflammatory and can help ease the stiffness and pain associated with arthritis. It is a warming spice which can help reduce congestion and stimulate digestion. Whole cloves are used as a flavoring in curries, meat dishes, and soups.
10. Cardamom (Illaichi)
Cardamom is a seed of a tropical fruit in the ginger family. This versatile spice is included in a wide range of dishes, from Indian curries to desserts, custards, savory, and teas. It is often combined with almonds and saffron. It’s believed to counteract stomach acidity, stimulate appetite, ease nausea, cure bad breath, and relieve gas and bloating. It contains the antioxidant cineole. These aromatic seeds contain oil that helps to stimulate digestion and relieve flatulence. It is thought to contain potent antioxidants and often used as a detox for the liver.
In addition to delivering antioxidant and other benefits, condiments and spices can be used in recipes to partially or wholly replace less desirable ingredients such as salt, sugar and added saturated fat in, for example, marinades and dressings, stir-fry dishes, casseroles, soups, curries and Mediterranean-style cooking. Vegetable dishes and vegetarian options may be more appetising when prepared with herbs and spices.