We Indians love our spices. We just cannot imagine eating food without a spicy flavorsome tadka that adds soul to our delicious dishes! What’s more, our huge variety of spices are highly popular around the world. It’s not only about taste though. Apart from adding their distinctive taste, these wonderful spices impart many health benefits too. Here are some must-have spices in your spice box for good health and great flavor.
Oh, the lovely Cinnamon! The sweet, woody taste of this spice is refreshing and warm. Cinnamon, or Dalchini, is available in the form of small brown sticks obtained from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree. Dalchini is an important part of garam masala and helps add intense aroma to our curries, and a warm sweetness to Western desserts too! Health: Cinnamon is known to reduce blood sugar levels and is loaded with antioxidants.
2. Fenugreek Seeds/ Methi:
Methi seeds are bitter, yet add a distinctive flavor to the dishes. These seeds are cubical and pale yellow in color, and add a slick texture to the dish they are added to. Methi seeds are widely used in India in pickles, kadhi, dals, and some vegetable dishes; Egyptians use it in their flat bread. Health: Methi seeds are packed with nutrients like vitamin C, iron, protein, and are a rich source of soluble fibre; they are extremely beneficial for weight loss, managing hair fall, indigestion, diabetes, and the common cold.
3.Star Anise/ Chakra Phool:
This beautiful brown spice, also called Chakra Phool, is star-shaped and tastes very unusual. Both sweet and a bit astringent, the spice has a lasting aromatic effect. Used widely in our garam masala, the Star Anise is an important part of the Chinese five spice blend. Health: It is known to have antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties; it aids digestion and helps cure sore throat and cough.
4. Asafoetida/ Hing:
This strong, pungent, pale yellow spice is used in powdered form and is an excellent taste enhancer. A pinch of hing can work wonders in a spicy Indian dish, balancing the other spices and enhancing their flavor. Most Indian households use it during the ‘tadka’ or tempering; the West uses it to create the Worcestershire sauce. Health: A well-known laxative, it relieves constipation and flatulence, and aids digestion as well as asthma.
5.Green Cardamom/ Elaichi:
The dainty Elaichi pods with black seeds within are very aromatic, and have a warm pungent taste. The covering as well as seeds are used widely in sweet and savory dishes. Indians use green cardamom for a variety of preparations – from sweets and tea, to spicy dishes; people in the Middle East use it in their coffee and desserts. Health: It is a natural mouth freshener, improves blood circulation and reduces acidity.
Cloves are dried flower buds with a spicy, sharp aroma. They are widely used to add flavor in various cuisines. Laung is an important component of garam masala and helps in adding a hot and sweet flavor to the spice mix. In India, Laung is widely used in curries, meat dishes and sweets; it is used as a flavoring agent for hot beverages like Clove tea and warm Orange clove drinks around the world. Health: Traditionally used in Chinese dentistry to relieve toothache, cloves promote oral health and when chewed slowly, relieve a sore throat.
The most popular spice of all, Cumin seeds possess a strong, bitter aroma. These seeds are fried, roasted or powdered after roasting. We use Jeera for flavoring and tempering most of our dishes; Portuguese and Spanish cuisines use it to flavor vegetables, sausages and rice. Health: It helps digestion and anemia, and improves metabolism.
8. Nigella Seeds/ Kalonji:
The little black Nigella seeds add a piquant flavor to the dishes. Grown widely in India, these seeds are known to possess healing properties that promptly cure diarrhea, lower diabetes and relieve toothache.We use it as a decorative spice for different kinds of breads, rotis and biscuits, as well as in pickles, dals and vegetable dishes. In the West, the seeds are used over salads and salsas and fried fish. Health: While the oil derived from Kalonji seeds is said to cure insomnia, hemorrhoids and heartburn; the seeds themselves are high in antioxidants and minerals.
9. Fennel/ Saunf:
The sweet-tasting Fennel seeds are fragrant and are widely used in Asian cuisine. Fennel is consumed both fresh, and dried, as seeds. While Asian cuisine uses Saunf in cooking, Lebanese cuisine uses it in omelets; Arabs use it in their tea and Italians, in their salads. Health: It helps reduce gas and maintains cholesterol levels.
10. Turmeric/ Haldi:
The highly medicinal spice, Turmeric, is a vibrant yellow rhizome, which is usually dried and powdered for use. Indians believe it to be auspicious and thus use Haldi in all religious ceremonies. This musky flavored spice lends Indian curries and dishes their distinctive yellow color. While Persians use it prominently in their brinjal and tomato starters the South Africans use it to add color to their rice, and the Vietnamese and Thai cuisines use it for soups and curries. Health: Revered for long in India both as a medicinal herb and a spice, turmeric contains curcumin which can fight a host of illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression and arthritis; it is widely used in home remedies for stomach and liver problems as well as cough and cold.
So many spices, so many flavors – and their umpteen uses! Have you loaded your Spice Box yet?