29 july 2011
Just a pinch
Spices are like little wonders in our kitchen. Just a little bit of them is all it takes to bring that zing into our food. And let’s not forget the immense health benefits they come with.
Cinnamon sticks kept together.
Cinnamon or Dalchini
This popular aromatic spice is a piece of the dried bark of the cinnamon tree and is used to flavour rice preparations like Pulao and Biryani. But not many know that it has proven benefits for diabetics. It has antioxidants that not only reduce inflammation in the body but also lessen the blood glucose concentrations.
One-and-a-half teaspoons is all what it takes to make a difference. Add the powder to coffee, cocoa, sandwich fillings, curry or honey and feel the magic.
Green chillies arranged in a circle.
The hot spice is a part of most of our curries and dishes. While green chillies are preferred in some dishes, dried red ones are used in some others. And on many occasions it is the powder of the red chillies that is a preferred ingredient in many dishes. In some parts of India like Andhra and Rajasthan, chillies are added in greater proportion than usual.
You will be surprised to know that research has proved that chilli contains a compound called dihydrocapsiate that is a fat buster.
Chillies are rich in vitamins A, B, C and E and also manganese, potassium and copper – excellent for negating the effects of harmful free radicals in the body. The capsaicin in the chillies is also known to reduce inflammation in the body and has cancer-fighting properties. Chillies also offer great pain relief and thanks to the burning sensation associated with them are a great help in relieving nasal congestion.
It is recommended that you consume chillies three times a day to enjoy their complete health benefits. Needless to say this shouldn’t be a problem given that green and red luscious chillies are present in almost everything we eat.
Too much of chillies could be harmful so do not go overboard when consuming them.
Turmeric or Haldi
This yellow powder, which is a normally used to impart colour to dishes, is another of those wondrous spices with a plethora of benefits. It has antiseptic properties which is why it is applied over cuts and abrasions in the skin. Turmeric also promotes digestion, hastens fat metabolism, it also has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a liver detoxifier and also an anti-depressant.
It is a good idea to have a glass of milk with a pinch of turmeric stirred in it before retiring to bed.
Turmeric is also a beauty aid especially in cases of pigmentation. A mixture of turmeric and lemon juice left on pigmented areas of the skin for 15-20 minutes is known to lighten the skin. Application of turmeric all over the body has been a pre-wedding ritual in many parts of the country especially the south.
A tulsi plant.
Holy Basil or Tulsi
The holy basil or the tulsi leaves as they are popularly called are a memory booster, considered to bring relief to those with fever and common cold, a medicine for sore throat, an anti-depressant and much more.
The leaves (around 12 of them) can be simply chewed. Even a leaf a day is known to help. Tulsi leaves boiled with water are effective in bringing relief to sore throat. You could drink this water or just gargle with it. Throughout India, tulsi leaves are consumed as part of a decoction to bring relief to those afflicted with cold, cough or fever.
Ginger or Adrak
The spice with a pungent aroma can be had fresh or dry, chopped or in paste form, depending on the preparation. Besides the peppery taste it imbues in the food, ginger is a great aid in digestion, relieves feelings of nausea, and like tulsi is used in indigenous decoctions to gain relief from cold, cough and fever. Ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties.
A simple measure to combat symptoms of cold is to add a small piece of fresh ginger in hot tea. Sometimes chewing a piece of ginger for half an hour could help you get rid of a headache. Chopped ginger added to a glass of lime juice can bring immediate relief from irritation caused by flatulence.
A single clove.
Cloves or Laung
The little buds of the clove tree or cloves as we call them are consumed as is or in powder form. Records show that as far back as 2000 years ago, people were using cloves to reduce bad breath and relieve toothache. They have other benefits too. Besides helping in reducing flatulence and promoting digestion, cloves have antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic properties.
Craving for alcohol can sometimes be suppressed by chewing cloves.
A good way to have cloves is in a grounded form in tea, sandwich fillings, salads, curries and the like.
Curry leaves in corn-cob curry.
Curry Leaves or Kadi Patta
These dark green aromatic leaves are one of the most popular flavouring ingredients in the country, especially in the south. In fact down south, there is hardly a seasoning without curry leaves. The leaves are also used to make chutney. Not surprisingly, many Indians grow curry leaves in their gardens.
Though curry leaves are mainly used to flavour food, and kept aside when eating, it isn’t a bad idea to consume them because they are rich in vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, folic acid and among other things prevent cataract and aid in digestion. Curry leaves are believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties and research is currently on to reinforce on initial findings.
Curry leaves have also been known to arrest premature greying of the hair and hair loss. Try this simple home remedy before you oil your hair: boil a few curry leaves in coconut oil till they turn black and apply this mixture on your scalp and hair.
Coriander or Dhania
Another popular spice found on Indian kitchen shelves is the aromatic coriander, both in powdered as well as seed form. And like the good old curry leaves, coriander leaves also find a pride of place in Indian food. While coriander powder is an ingredient in most curries and dishes, the leaves are an important ingredient in garnishing.
Coriander has many medicinal and therapeutic properties. For one, coriander leaves are good appetisers and can be consumed to reduce flatulence. Acids like linoleic, oleic, palmitic, stearic and ascorbic found in coriander help lessen the levels of cholesterol in the blood. Coriander has essential oils like Borneol and Linalool that aid in digestion. Coriander is also rich in iron and hence good for those suffering from anaemia.
Methi leaves in Aloo Methi.
Fenugreek or Methi
Like coriander, fenugreek is widely consumed in India in seed and leaf form. Fenugreek helps prevent constipation and is a good blood purifier. Research has also shown that fenugreek is a great memory booster and has anti-diabetic properties because it can lower the level of blood sugar.
An age-old manner of consuming fenugreek is by soaking the seeds in water overnight and chewing them the next morning.
Likewise, other spices like asfoetida, cardamom, pepper, cumin, mint, mustard, aniseed have an abundance of benefits and a must-have in your diet. But then it is important to remember that spices have to be consumed in moderation and not in excess to avoid negative effects.
Some of us could also be allergic to certain spices. Always consult a doctor should symptoms of allergies arise.