Knowing your cuisine: Importance of whole spices in Indian food

October 23, 2021 10:27 AM

Contrary to the popular belief that spices are not healthy, the whole spices widely used in Indian kitchens offer various health benefits.

There are spices that are used for special dishes, and then there are spices that are vital ingredients for everyday cooking.

By Dolly Kumar

An intoxicating aroma grips the kitchen and surroundings when whole spices are added to the oil during cooking. The fragrance of spices being roasted in oil can make anyone hungry. In Indian households, the crackling sound of roasting the whole spices followed by a strong aroma is a call that it’s time to have food.

Whole spices have been part of Indian cuisine since the beginning of time. No matter which state you are in and what you are having for the meal, veg or non-veg, it is impossible not to have whole spices’ flavour. The essence of all Indian food lies in the spices. However, the Indian spices go beyond the flavour and taste. Along with making food flavourful, Indian spices have several health benefits known worldwide.

Whole spices are perfect for health and building immunity

There are spices that are used for special dishes, and then there are spices that are vital ingredients for everyday cooking. For instance, turmeric, black pepper, and cumin are herbs used daily and in every dish, especially in north India. Now they are not just used for the flavour and colour that they bring to the dish. There are known benefits associated with these spices. Turmeric is also an anti-oxidant, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-carcinogenic and anti-bacterial. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and healing properties. During the pandemic, the spice has gained relevance for being the immunity booster.

Similarly, black pepper used in everyday food helps in weight loss and is an aid for recovering from cough and cold. When consumed with hot water in the morning, it also becomes an agent to increase metabolism. Lastly, cumin aids digestion, improves immunity and treats respiratory issues and skin issues. Most of the whole spices can be consumed with hot water in the morning or by drinking the water they are soaked in overnight for long-term benefits.

Builds a strong taste in food

For that additional flavour that adds zing to the meal, whole spices are the perfect ingredient, that also has benefits. Flower buds of the clove tree, cloves are anti-fungal, anti-sceptic and a rich source of Omega 3. Available and used in whole and ground form, cloves are intensely aromatic with a subtly sweet flavour and an undernote of bitterness and astringency. It brings plenty of warmth to the dishes and is mostly used during winters. The versatile spice can be paired well with other spices and also be added to beverages, cakes, cookies, etc.

Another extremely versatile whole spice is Cinnamon. It is found in the inner bark of different tree species, the reason why it has a sweet and woody flavour. Its citrusy note and spicy taste add a powerful punch to any food. Mainly used for its aromatic condiment and as an additional flavour, it is found in different cuisines ranging from savoury dishes, desserts, to breakfast cereals, snacks, and tea. Rich with anti-oxidants/anti-inflammatory properties, it reduces bloating.

Used as a seasoning in South Asian dishes and Scandinavian desserts, Cardamom is a rich spice found in the seed pods of the cardamom plant. You might cherish its complex aroma with a piney, fruity, and almost menthol-like flavour in your everyday tea. However, it has more uses in the kitchen than in tea. From halwa and kheer to kulfis, cardamom can be added to a variety of traditional Indian desserts. It is also used in different non-veg dishes as well for an added flavour. A rich source of Vitamin A and C, the tiny whole spice is rich in calcium, iron and zinc as well.

Conclusion

Contrary to the popular belief that spices are not healthy, the whole spices widely used in Indian kitchens offer various health benefits. They can either be consumed on their own or added to the food for their aroma and flavour. Traditionally, Indian households have been using these spices as ingredients because of their benefits but in the fast-paced lifestyle, we have begun to forget the roots. Here is a little recall of how the whole spices are used in meals and their multiple benefits to people.

(The author is Founder & Director at Cosmic Nutracos, parent company of Gaia. Views are personal.)

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