Indian Spices: Indian cuisine is characterized by the extensive use of numerous spices.
Indian cuisine is known for not only its refined layers of spices, but for being healthy and tasty as well. The people of Punjab used to gather herbs and spices that were locally available to them as a way to flavour their dishes. The results were not only delicious but also a way to ingest medicinal herbs to cure a number of ailments.
Some of the more common spices are available just about everywhere now, while others have taken awhile to make their way around the world and into your kitchen pantry. The following list includes some commonly used spices and some of their health benefits:
- Black pepper – Aids in digestion and prevents the formation of intestinal gas; also used as an antioxidant and antibiotic in some areas, as well as a diuretic.
- Cumin – Great source of iron and aids in proper digestion; can also help prevent some types of diseases like asthma, allergies and certain types of cancers.
- Coriander – Helps reduce skin inflammation and can clear up other skin disorders like eczema; lowers bad levels of cholesterol and high blood pressure; helps treat diarrhea and other stomach irritations; also used as a viral disinfectant.
- Turmeric – Contains potent anti-inflammatory properties that can help with menstrual issues, bruises, toothaches and joint inflammation stemming from arthritis; can prevent certain types of cancers from forming, and aids in fighting cells that are already infected. For a delicious and healthy turmeric shake recipe get our free recipe ebook.
- Cayenne – Can be used as a topical skin treatment for ailments such as snake bites, sores and open wounds; powerful anti-inflammatory agent that can soothe arthritic joints; promotes proper digestion and can sooth heartburn.
- Garam masala – See below.
- Cardamom – Aids in digestion and acts as a diuretic for cleansing purposes; lowers high blood pressure; can relieve symptoms of depression; helps eliminate waste in the kidneys and can act as an antioxidant and aphrodisiac.
- Cinnamon – A tree bark that became a spice several centuries ago, and has effortlessly worked its way into our cooking and baking repertoires with good reason. Daily doses can lower bad levels of cholesterol over time, as well as regulate blood sugar – good news for those with diabetes or those trying to lose weight. Cinnamon also has anti-inflammatory qualities that can stem the pain of arthritis and headaches.
- Saffron – Improves memory function and can alleviate symptoms of depression; can prevent age-related eye ailments and poor eyesight; used as a digestive aid for stomach issues; contains high levels of potassium for heart health and positive cell formation.
There are a multitude of other spices involved in Indian and Punjabi cuisine, but these are some of the more purposeful and plentiful spices available. With all of the incredible health benefits blended together in a variety of dishes, East Indians are some of the healthiest people alive simply because of how they eat. By incorporating Indian spices into your daily meal regimen you will notice a positive change in your overall health, as well as enjoy a wider range of tastes and flavours.
Garam Masala vs. Masala
When cooking traditional Indian dishes or experimenting with new ones, garam masala is the best way to experience centuries of flavour combined into one convenient mix. The dry spices used to make garam masala are considered “heating”, in the sense of raising body metabolism. This concept is ascribed to Ayurveda (see Ayurvedic Diet) and is further proof of how much garam masala is a part of Indian tradition. In the Hindi language, garam means “hot” and masala refers to a mixture of spices. It can be purchased at your local Indian supermarket or even at most grocery stores. Garam masala is golden brown or ochre in colour and is very aromatic with strong coriander, cumin and cardamom flavours. The exact combination of spices used in grinding the garam masala spice mixture varies widely across India.
When making garam masala, all of the spices involved are usually toasted before being ground together into a mixture. Toasting releases the flavour and creates a delicious aroma while keeping all of the crucial medicinal qualities intact. Depending on the dish being made, garam masala sometimes calls for being mixed with coconut milk or water to make a thick cooking paste. But mostly it is used as a seasoning in all kinds of dishes featuring meats, vegetables, lentils and rice. It is even used in familiar savoury delicacies such as pakoras and samosas.
As for “masala”, which is primarily the base for most Punjabi dishes, the recipe may vary from one dish to another but the core ingredients such as garlic, ginger, onion, cumin, turmeric, cayenne/chili powder and garam masala generally stay the same. Minced garlic, ginger and onion are first caramelized along with cumin seed, and then spices such as turmeric, salt, cayenne and garam masala are added according to the particular dish. Quite often, fresh tomato, tomato sauce or tomato paste are cooked in the masala after it has caramelized.
Spices and Weight Loss
In addition to the great taste of various Indian spices and their cumulative health benefits, there is one other area in which they are beneficial – weight loss. Cumin works to impact your body’s total weight by increasing your natural body heat, which raises your metabolic rate. When your metabolism is stabilized, you are more likely to shed unwanted pounds.
Cayenne is effective in this area, as well. When added to your regular diet, this incredible spice helps decrease appetite and speed up your metabolism, two things that are essential to weight loss success.