Indian Spices For Your Kitchen
10-15 Unique Indian Spices for Your Kitchen
Discovering Indian Cuisine and Spices
Like any ancient culture, India has long-standing cooking traditions. It is as unique as its history, and as vast and diverse as its territory. Although unique and self-consistent, Indian cuisine has undergone foreign influences in the past as well. In the article I will attempt to give a brief but very informative review of Indian cuisine. Besides I hope the article will lead you to discovering 10-15 unique Indian spices for your kitchen as well. Enjoy the world of unique Indian spices filled with numerous aromas and flavors. Apart from adding flavor and aroma to food, spices and herbs have various health benefits. Speaking about spices in the article, I will also make a special focus on their health benefits.
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Introduction to Indian Spice
There are many regions and union territories that constitute India as a state. Each region has its culinary traditions and preferences. Whatever diverse it could be there is something central and common throughout Indian cuisine. This something special are unique Indian spices. The spices have been discovered by Indians many thousands years ago. The influence of Aryan, Persian, Mongol, Arab, British, and Portuguese cooking traditions have added to what we now know as traditional Indian cuisine. Indian food is both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. As food Indians use meat, vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, herbs, nuts, and spices. Food preferences depend on the regions as well as family and personal preferences. The latter are based on religious traditions or just personal diet. Still if taking into broader category, Indian food can be divided into 4 groups, namely: Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western Indian cuisine.
What Makes Indian Spices Unique?
I will try to ground why I call Indian spices unique. Spices are classified as food additives. Normally spices are made of dried seeds, leaves, flowers, roots, fruits, bark, or other vegetative substances. The main quality of spices is to add extra flavor or color to food. Also some spices – likewise salt - are killing harmful bacteria become perfect natural preservatives.
Above I have said that spices and herbs have distinct positive effect on health. Besides, spices and herbs are believed to have magical qualities. Spices in India are amply used in religious ceremonies as incense, in medical practices (also as painkillers), cosmetics, and in perfumery as fragrances. Some spices have distinct effect as increasing sexual desire and are known as aphrodisiacs. Due to their exceptional qualities spices were highly in value (more than gold, gems, etc.) just some couple of centuries ago. Apart from general seasoning which is common in Western world, production and use of Indian spices have deep expertise and philosophy behind. So it all adds to admitting that Indian spices are a unique product.
Some spices are distinctly sweet, sharp, spicy, hot, sour, tart, fragrant, mild, pungent, or aromatic. For example the mechanism of the influence of hot spices on organism is that irritating tongue nerves (when hot spices taste burning) they stimulate the release of endorphin hormones in the body. In their turn endorphin is the body’s natural painkiller. Besides, it conveys pleasant sensations throughout the body.
Spices come pure or in spice mix. The spice combinations have been developed thousands of years ago. Flowers, leaves, roots, bark, seeds and bulbs (the simplest of natural ingredients) are used in endless combinations to produce an infinite variety of flavors: sweet, sharp, hot, sour, spicy, aromatic, tart, mild, fragrant or pungent. Noteworthy is that normally spices are without fat or calories, and on the contrary they may help burn calories. You can “upgrade” your favorite meals with some spices that you would find benefiting your health issues.
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List of Indian Spices and their Medicinal Qualities
Asafoetida (Hing) Powder also known as giant fennel - belongs to the family of parsley. Has pleasant pungent flavor. Medicinal value: has anti-flatulence properties. Is used especially with beans, lentils, and peas. Goes well with mashed garlic.
Dried Bay leaves are also used in the form of powder. Medicinal value: has insecticidal properties due to the plant’s lauric acid; its parthenolides compounds cure headaches. Also is good for digestion, gastric ulcers, fungal infections, decreases blood sugar, rheumatism, etc. Helps organism process insulin easier; is antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Cardamom (Elaichi) seeds - belong to the ginger family. Has pleasant sweetish-lemony aroma. Medicinal value: reduces fat, cures skin and urinary problems; is breath refreshing and teeth whitening. Has digestive benefits, is good for anorexia, debility, asthma, and as tonic.
Cayenne pepper (Lal Mirch) seeds – belong to capsicum family. This hot spice is rich in pro-vitamin A and beta-carotene. In this spice dried seeds and flesh are used. Medicinal value: kills cancer cells (especially in the prostate), cures heart attacks, adjusts blood pressure, helps to get rid of bad cholesterol and triglycerides; stimulates peristaltic motion, heals stomach tissue, warms the organism, and heals flesh damaged by frostbite.
Health benefits of Chilies (Mirchi) and Chili powder are close to that of Cayenne.
Cilantro (Hara Dhaniya) also known as Coriander. Has bitter-sweet taste. Medicinal value: is rich in dietary fiber and anti-oxidants, reduces bad cholesterol and stimulates good cholesterol, is rich in minerals and vitamins, reduces fat, is good for vision, skin, mucus membranes; stimulates bones building, etc.
Cinnamon (Dalchni) spice is made of dried ground bark of different laurel trees that belong to the cinnamomum family. Has woody, warm, sweetish aroma. Medicinal value: calms the nerves, stimulates the senses and immune system, is anti-fungal, also good for various stomach problems such as indigestion, stomach upset, diarrhea, bloating, gas, etc.
Cloves (Luong) – belong to the myrtle family. Medicinal value: relieves toothache, refreshes breath, has anesthetic properties.
Cokum (or Kokum, Garcinia Indica) the outer of this deep purple color fruit is used as the spice.
Medicinal value: Has soothing effect, treats skin ailments: rashes, allergic, burns, improves appetite and digestion, is good for heart, liver, gastric problems, burns fat, etc.
Coriander seeds (Dhaniya) - is a healthy alternative to salt. Medicinal value: good for digestion,
Cumin (Jeera) – belongs to the parsley group. Medicinal value: is good for diabetics, reduces triglycerides, cholesterol, and pancreatic inflammatory markers, is anti-osteoporotic, stimulates immune system, etc.
Curry leaves (Kari putha or Neem) and Curry Powder – are used fresh or dried. Medicinal value: are good for nausea, nourishes hair, stimulates hair growth, cures constipation and stomach disorders.
Fennel (Soonf) – belongs to the parsley family. Medicinal value: good for breath, digestion, is rich in iron and thus treats anemia, is good for blood, constipation, diarrhea, colic, menstrual disorders, eye care; is anti-flatulent and diuretic, etc.
Fenugreek (Kasuri Methi) - is also known as Greek Hay and Fenigreek. This spice is aphrodisiac due to its estrogen properties. Medicinal value: treats hormonal disorders, is good during menopause, increases libido, arthritis, bronchitis, asthma, regulates digestion, maintains healthy metabolism, increases male potency, cures wounds, rashes, and boils, treats sore throat, acid reflux, reproductive disorders, induces labor, helps enlarge breast, lowers blood glucose, helps rid of bad cholesterol, is also good for cardiovascular system (heart).
Garam Masala – this spice means “hot spices” and is a mix of spices. Normally it includes ground cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, and sometimes also nutmeg and bay leaves. Medicinal value: has anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, controls blood sugar, is good for brain functionality, is rich in iron, lowers bad cholesterol, etc.
Garlic (Lassan) – is a pungent flavor made from ground dehydrated garlic cloves. Medicinal value: lowers blood pressure, purifies the blood, cures heart ailments, cavities, harmful bacteria, etc.
Ginger (Adrak) – this is a sweet hot spice. Perfectly combines with garlic. It is aphrodisiac.
Medicinal value: treats cold, cough, settle stomach, stimulates appetite, has sedative and analgesic properties, gall stones, colic, is good for diabetics, heart problems, toothache, rids of bad cholesterol, helps pregnant with morning sickness, etc.
Mango powder (Amchur) – is made of ground unripe mango fruits. Tastes lemony sweetish, is very in iron and vitamin C. Medicinal value: is rich in A and E vitamins and thus regulates hormonal system, cures anemia (thus is good for pregnant women), combats acidity, regulates digestion, is anticancer and antioxidant, etc.
Mint (Pudina) – this is a type of Indian mint which, by the way, is more pungent and has a stronger flavor than the Western type mint; has slight lemony and cooling aftertaste. Medicinal value: reliefs stomach aches especially those caused by indigestion, good for morning sickness, cures dysmenorrheal, hyperacidity, worm infestation (in the stomach), prevents hiccups, treats migraine pains, ulcerated skin, etc.
Mustard seeds (Rai) – black or brown seeds are used in this spice. It has strong flavor; helps emulsify liquids, is good in blending vinegar with oil, adds spicy zip. Medicinal value: has distinct anti-bronchitis, anti-asthma, and anti-pneumonia properties, treats cough, headaches, and colds, alleviates appetite, reliefs intoxications, etc.
Oreango (Ajwain, Ajowan) – comes from the same family as cumin. Contains thymol oil. Medicinal value: is good during flatulence, indigestion, has antiseptic and antibacterial properties, reliefs muscle spasms, body aches, is a natural painkiller; treats kidney, liver, and respiratory disorders, removes pimples, etc.
Other staple Indian spices include: Nutmeg and mace, Onion Seeds, Peppercorns, Saffron, Tamarind, and many other.