Spice it up: A healthy, flavourful way to enjoy good food
Good cooks will swear by their spices right down to the last pinch. And food lovers will turn up their noses at dishes that don’t have that little bit of dalchini or garam masala.
The latest to join the spice bandwagon are food scientists and nutritionists, who are acknowledging the fact that spices have a whole lot more than taste and tang. They possess medicinal qualities and micro nutrients that can make a difference to body health.
Cardamom: A steaming mug of elaichi tea works wonders for the sagging spirit, especially on a dull, rainy day. A native of southern India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, it is an international favourite. Use the seeds powdered or whole, it lends a distinct flavour to milk, tea, curries, Indian sweets and desserts. It is even used for its fragrance in cosmetics like soap lotions and perfumes.
Health Benefits: It works as a carminative (relieves flatulence) and digestant (aids digestion). It stimulates the stomach to produce more acids, which in turn improves digestion. And of course after a meal of garlics and onions, it works as a wonderful mouth freshener!
Cloves: Hand in glove with cardamom, the innocuous looking laung is a native of India, Indonesia, Brazil, Madagascar and Philippines. These unopened flower buds are used to spice up curries. They are also used in dental products and cosmetics like soaps, perfumes and body lotions.
Health Benefits: Dadimaa was right! Clove oil is a great pain reliever, especially for toothaches. This tiny spice packs in a load of benefits. It combats nausea and when taken at tea it eases digestion problems and parasitic infections. Clove oil is also a potent antibiotic. When you have a toothache, apply a few crushed cloves to the aching tooth.
Pepper: Kali Mirchi, ground or whole, can pep up a bland meal in a jiffy. Grown extensively in India have it in salads, sprinkle it over freshly cut fruits, add it to soups, fruits shakes and curries.
Health Benefits: These tiny balls are an incredible powerhouse of medicinal qualities. Pepper works as a diaphoretic (induces sweating), diuretic (Prevents water retention) and carminative. It stimulates the taste buds which in turn increases the production of stomach acids. All this improves digestion. It also has antioxidant and antibacterial properties. The outer layer of peppercorn helps in breaking down of fat cells. So make sure that the pepper cellar is full and within hands reach at meal times!
Cinnamon: Dalchini is the dried inner bark of an evergreen tree native to South West India, South Asia and Srilanka. This aromatic spice is used to flavour vegetables, curries and desserts. It is also used in incense and pharmaceutical, cosmetic and health products.
Health Benefits : Research has confirmed that cinnamon has the following qualities:- sedative anticonvulsant(reduces the severity of fits as in epilepsy) antibiotic, diaphoretic, diuretic and antiulcerative. It is useful in treating common colds. When you feel you have a cold coming up make sure you have a cup of cinnamon and ginger tea with a dash of lime. It will warm you up and make you feel good.
Saffron: The queen of spices, kesar doesn’t come cheap by any standards. And certainly not when it takes nearly 70,000 saffron flowers to produce a mere kilo of saffron! These delicate dried threads of the saffron flower are found in the cooler climates of northern India. A natural food colorant, it imparts a typical flavour to rice dishes, Indian sweets, vegetables and curries.
Health Benefits: Saffron is the only spice known to contain water soluble carotene. It is an antioxidant and anticancerous. It also has sedative and diaphoretic effects. Though there are some who believe that it is a potent aphrodisiac – this probably explains the kesar milk on the suhaag raat ritual.
So stock up your spices. They add flavour, fragrance and good health to food. Follow your grandmother’s century old recipe, right down to the last spice!