Spices – The True Cooking Spirit

For those of us who are accustomed to the richness of flavour, vibrancy of colour and the delicacy of aroma of the food we eat, it is impossible to imagine cooking without spices. Cooking with spices is ‘the way’ to serve delicious food. The availability of spices in the market freely today enhances our enthusiasm of trying different foods and flavours. Spices have played a major role in the development of Civilization, and it is said that wars were fought and lands explored and colonised in an attempt to find new ways of obtaining spices from the Orient and gaining control of established routes. Spices enrich our food and give a distinctive flavour to them. The spices are also very healthy, and aid in digestion too. They also make the food last longer.

Spices are great in flavour and yet low in sodium and fat. All spices used in cuisines carry some or the other dietary as well as medicinal properties. Spices add to the creativity in cooking. Spices are easy to store and are not affected by bacterial contamination and they have a longer shelf life. One can mix them as per their individual tastes. To enjoy long-term health benefits, spices must be included in one’s diet to enhance the flavour of food and make it more interesting. Each spice has its own merit and enhances the flavour and aroma to the dish it is added to. Spices are generally dried leaves, roots, bark, nuts or fruit of a plant. Apart from the seasoning the dishes, spices add medicinal and preservative value to the dish they are added to. The Ayurveda practice of medicine lists several spices for treatment of various ailments.  Spices and herbs are incorporated into our foods and beverages for better health.

The dish is well cooked when the spices blend properly in its gravy or even when sprinkled on dry dishes for seasoning. Spices maintain and enhance the character of the dish. Spices like asafoetida counteract flatulence and colic, and are added to lentils to help digest them. Turmeric is used for burns, stomach ulcers and for glow of the skin. Indians use fragrant fennel, cardamom or cloves and mix them with sugar for helping to digest the food. Not only are they great mouth fresheners, but they aid digestion, prevent heartburn. Some spices help to break up food particles and enable the digestive process to function effectively. Adding spices in our daily cooking not only keeps us healthy but also adds taste to the food we eat. Some spices are believed to reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in our blood. Certain spices also prevent skin diseases. Turmeric is included in many lotions and creams because it adds shine to the face and prevents pimples. Coriander is a very rich source of iron, manganese and magnesium. Cinnamon reduces inflammation and is also good for the heart.  Cumin is also a vital ingredient in curry preparation for its anti-carminative properties. It is well known for its cooling effect on the body.  All the wonderful  and exotic spices make cooking a pleasure.

Black Pepper / Kali Mirch – Most Popular Spice in India

Black PepperBlack pepper or Kali Mirch is one of the most popular spices in India. Native to the west coast (Malabar), its cultivation has now spread in many parts of the world. The main black pepper growing areas in Kerala are Cannanore, Kozhikode, Kottayam, Trivandrum, Ernakulum, and Quilon. Almost every homestead in Kerala grows pepper. The other important black pepper growing states are Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Union territory of Pondicherry. On a limited scale, it also grows in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and the Andaman. Pepper cultivation is also being tried in the north eastern region. Outside India it is also grown in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Thailand, and in some other tropical countries. Pepper is used for a variety of purposes.

The ancient Aryans considered it a powerful remedy for various disorders of the anatomical system and prescribed it for dyspepsia, malaria, delirium, tremors, haemorrhoids, etc. The Egyptians used it for embalming. The Asians are said to have used it as an aphrodisiac. Dutch and French housewives use it as an insect-repellent and moth killer! However, its value as an essential preservative for meats and other perishable foods has been known for centuries. It is, therefore, largely used by meat packers and in canning, pickling, baking, confectioneries and preparation of beverages. One of the principle values of pepper is its ability to correct the seasoning of dishes. Just before the end of cooking, a final dash of pepper can be used effectively to adjust the flavour. Oil of pepper is a valuable adjunct in the flavouring of sausages, canned meats, soups, table sauces and certain beverages and liquors. It is used in perfumery, particularly in bouquets of the oriental type to which it imparts spicy notes difficult to identify.

The oil is also used in carnation compound for soaps. It finds uses in medicines. Black pepper constitutes an important component of culinary seasonings of universal use and essential ingredient of numerous commercial foodstuffs. It is an important constituent of whole pickling spice and many ground spice formulae of seasonings, etc. for poultry dressings, sausages, and hamburger and frankfurter seasonings. Eating black pepper increases the antioxidants that you get from your diet. Black pepper possibly alleviates haemorrhoids, alleviates gas and alleviates constipation. Black pepper stimulates the taste buds, alerting your stomach to increase its hydrochloric acid secretion and improves digestion. Pepper is a source of manganese, iron, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin K and dietary fibre. It is also an anti-inflammatory agent. Inclusion of pepper in our diet promotes sweating and urination. Pepper helps you shed weight. Pepper is added in tonics for cold and cough in the practice of the ancient Indian medicine of Ayurveda. It gives relief from sinusitis and nasal congestion. Adding pepper to our diet helps to keep your arteries clean. Pepper is good for conditions of hernia, hoarseness and insect bites. It relieves joint pain. Pepper is beneficial for respiratory conditions like asthma and whooping cough. Black pepper helps to improve taste and digestion. It also improves our overall health and well-being.

Turmeric – The Golden Glory: Widely Used Spice in Indian Cooking

The scientific name of turmeric is Curcuma longa. The turmeric powder is prepared by the roots of this plant. The powder has a yellow colour and a very good aroma. Turmeric has the first place in any puja, wedding or thread ceremony; house-warming etc. turmeric is the most important ingredient in the Indian kitchen. It gives colour, taste and aroma to the dishes. Turmeric has blood purifying, anti-septic and digestive properties. These days, we see an increase in the usage of artificial ingredients in various food and food products, which may affect our health adversely. With the intake of turmeric, the adverse effects on health can be controlled. Turmeric is also a very safe and an effective beauty aid. Applying a paste of turmeric and sandal wood to the face and washing it after 15 minutes makes the face glow and is believed to cure pimples.

Turmeric is also full of medicinal values. It has anti-cancer properties. For cuts, turmeric is applied to the cut to stop the bleeding and avoid infection. The intake of turmeric keeps pregnant women healthy. It helps to increase the anti-biotic properties in babies. Turmeric is a spice widely used in India in cooking various curries. It has also been used since ancient times as a traditional medicine and also for beauty care. In Ayurveda, the system of Indian medicine, it is an important herbal product prescribed for various ailments. It is very commonly used throughout India as an ingredient for traditional beauty care treatments. Some reputed health benefits of turmeric include a reputation for supporting healthy skin care, healthy cholesterol levels, liver and gall bladder health, and possible joint-pain relief through anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. The antioxidant power of turmeric is so effective that it actually helps to preserve the shelf-life of foods that it is added to. Turmeric has antiseptic properties. Putting its powder over the cuts, bruises or scrapes helps in stopping blood loss as well as healing the wounds.

The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric powder help in alleviating the pain associated with arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Turmeric is alterative, analgesic, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-allergic, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, appetizer, astringent, cardio-vascular, carminative, digestive, diuretic and stimulant. Natural plant products like turmeric have been formulated to heal and prevent dry skin, treat skin conditions such as eczema and acne, and retard the aging process. Traditionally, women rub turmeric on their cheeks to produce a natural golden glow, extract of turmeric has been added to creams for use. Washing with turmeric improves skin complexion. Natural cleansers like milk and turmeric powder are effective natural cosmetics in themselves; they bring a healthy glow to the skin and make the skin beautiful. They also help to restore youth by controlling wrinkles on the face. Effective healing properties of turmeric have made it sought after ingredient in cosmetics and drugs, as the leaf oil of turmeric and extract can also be used as bio-pesticides and sunscreens. Turmeric is also very effective tonic and a blood purifier. It is skin-friendly and constitutes an important ingredient in many creams and lotions.

Pinch of Amchur that Creates a Tangy Taste to Dishes

Amchur is the dried or dehydrated product prepared from unripe mangoes to be mostly used in curries. The unripe fruits are peeled and the flesh is cut into thin slices. The slices are then dried in the sun and packed in gunny bags for sale. Amchur is also marketed in the form of powder by crushing or powdering the dried peeled mango slices. Amchur is used as an accidulant or souring agent for curries. It is also used in chutneys, soups and certain specific curries. The rind is astringent, stimulating, tonic in debility of stomach. Also it is one of the most flavoured and popular masala used in Indian dishes. Amchur is the best substitute of tamarind and lemon.

A pinch of amchur can enhance the taste and flavour of chicken, fish, meat, prawns, pork, etc. It improves the taste of paneer, biryani, pulao, kachumber, salads and several dry vegetables and vegetables with the gravy. It is good for digestion and has a cooling effect. It is acidic and astringent and has high Vitamin A and Vitamin C content. It has high iron content and so is beneficial to people suffering from anaemia and pregnant women. It aids digestion and eases acidity. Amchur lends a citrusy acidic taste that is somewhat sweet to spicy.

It improves the taste of curries, chutneys, marinades, dipping sauces, soups, stews, fish, poultry, and meats. Formerly, the spice was rarely used outside of Indian cooking. Now, it has grown in popularity as an addition to vegetarian dishes both in the whole or powdered forms for its tart, sharp spiciness.  In India, mangoes are used fresh or preserved. As Amchur is highly concentrated and has a very potent flavour, it can be used instead of lemon in recipes. You can also substitute amchur for tamarind as amchur won’t change the colour of a lighter dish the way tamarind does. It is a natural foodstuff and thus scores much above the synthetic additives. In India, the mango is known as king of fruits due to the delicious fruit as well as being rich in vitamins and minerals. Amchur has a high citric acid content that is integral to the prevention of scurvy.

It has a high concentration of phenols, and phenolic compound have powerful antioxidant and anti-cancer abilities. Mangoes are low in carbohydrates and rich in anti-oxidants. Mangoes provide a pharmacologically active flavonoid, a natural xanthine, which has a number of pharmacological actions and possible health benefits. These include ant diabetic, antioxidant, antifungal, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, hepatic-protective, hypoglycaemic, anti-allergic and anticancer activity. It is also an excellent tenderizer and mainly used in Indian cooking as a souring agent in many curries and other dishes.  Try adding a pinch of amchur on steamed vegetables and fold in for a tangy taste. Sprinkle it on fresh cucumbers and fresh slices of onions. It is an excellent seasoning for grilled dishes. It is difficult to imagine many dishes without their distinctive spices and seasonings. Spices lend magical flavours to the dishes they are added to.