While writing about the Cooking Materials I spoke about the Spices. Now lets understand the different spices here. In Indian Cuisine, spices have been primarily used to enhance the flavors of the dishes, and impart an appetizing aroma. But besides that fact, the other purpose of spices in our food and culture has been there effect to our system. Each ingredient will have some kind of effect on the body after its consumption. The main effect spice create is acting as a digestive. Each one of them have some degree of digestive quality. Like for e.g. Fennel and Ajwain have higher degree of digestive nature than mustard.
Another important aspect is, the spices act as a preservative of the food. India generally has a hot climate and the southern half has more of a hot and humid climate. So preservation of cooked food is always a main concern for all. Spices act as a layer of preservative over the food, and keep it edible for certain hours without refrigeration.
Every spice that we use has some preservative quality, to some extent antiseptic value and some act as carminatives (i.e. they reduce flatulence or effects of intestinal gas / bloating effect on our system).
Indian homes are filled with wisdom about the therapeutic value of spices, and simple yet effective home remedies. No dependency on the medicines and Naturopathy is a way of living for most of the Indian homes. Researches in the recent times are proving the beneficial effects of some spices like Turmeric-that can cure Cancer to a certain extent, ajwain (Omum)can be effective irritable bowels syndrome, cloves have dental pain reliving quality. In the section below I am introducing you to the different spices with their Indian Names, along with a little intro and some commonly known physiological effects.
For an easy explanation, I divide spices into Ground Spices & Whole Spices. So lets see first some commonly used or essential ground spices in our kitchen.
The 3 essentials –Turmeric, Red Chilli powder and Coriander powder
Turmeric – Curcuma is used freely in India for its beautiful characteristic yellow color and its antiseptic value. Its flavor is not sharp, yet very strong and unpleasant if added more. So be careful, and add it in moderation. It has no aromatic value hence also it shouldn’t be used in more quantity. It has more aesthetic value to the food in terms of color. Turmeric has bleaching effect on skin and thus used in Ayurvedic beauty products. It has always been used as an antiseptic plaster in cases of cuts and bruises. In fact in food its antiseptic value is the main reason of its use, it also acts as an immunity booster and it is Detox in nature.
Red Chilli powder is derived from big bright red chillies like Kashmiri Mirch, Cayenne pepper. It is extensively used in North, North West, and central India. Though if you start travelling towards the extremities of India like towards East and south you will see its lesser and lesser usage in day to day spice mixes. The East is popular with different kind of chillies, they admire more sharp chilli flavor which is derived by usage of different kind of fresh green chillies. And so do the South of India where usage of whole chillies both red and green is abundant. The flavor of red chilli powder is hot, sharp and burning on your palate and once it reaches the digestive system it can create burning sensation in the colon. Its usage should also be regulated and moderated in dishes. It has some aromatic value, and definitely it makes the food aesthetically desirable by giving a bright red color.
Coriander Powder which is derived from coriander seeds is the mildest of the lot. It is like the cooling agent in your 3 Spice curry powder mix. It balances the heat flavor and lets your palate enjoy the flavors of chilli in the dish. There is a beautiful cooling aroma of coriander powder, but it is found more in whole coriander seed than ground. Ground coriander can be residual in nature hence you can see its presence even after its cooked, hence there can be certain recipes where I advice its absence just because of post cooking texture. The flavor reminds you of fresh coriander but not exactly the same. Not sharp at all.
All the spices that we will be seeing in the following section can be used as ground and whole. Grinding a spice makes it more stronger in flavor and thus need more attention in its usage.
Let’s see the different whole spices used in Indian Kitchens
- Ajwain seeds — Strong aroma and flavor, its a digestive, has weight control qualities, given to lactating mothers to relieve bloating state and thus it helps the new born to relieve colic pain. Once they are six months and above, infants are introduced with 1 tsp of Ajwain water to strengthen their gut. Ideal to add in filo pastry dough, pie crust, quiche, savory cookies, and breads of all sorts.
- Cumin Seeds — Mild aroma and mild flavor, medium qualities of a digestive. It is cooling in nature and hence it is used extensively. Ground Cumin (non-roasted) can be used in half proportion to whole cumin in any recipe. Roasted cumin can be more stronger in flavor, it has a distinctive flavor. Saute vegetables with cumin, sprinkle on yogurt or salads, use in baking savory dishes, pie crust, roast and breads.
- Mustard Seeds — Mild aroma and mild flavor. Mildly hot effect on our digestive system if used whole, if used as a ground paste or powder it needs more attention as will be more strong in flavor. Used in India extensively in pickles, ground paste is used in marination of fish.
- Aniseed / Fennel seeds — strong taste, pleasing cool aroma. It has great digestive qualities. Roasted aniseed with crystal sugar is served after meals in Indian homes, to cleanse the food pipe from greasy effect and create digestive juices in the stomach. Saute, or use in roast. Make fennel tea for your nausea
- Fenugreek seeds — these are ripe seeds derived from a seasonal green leafy veggie growing in India called Meathi. Good for seasoning your veggies, have a bitter flavor and thus becomes an interesting contrast for the sweet sauces.
Apart from these there are Aromatic Spices like
- Black Peper
- Cinnamon stick
- Green Cardamom
- Black Cardamom
- Bay Leaf
- Star Anise
All these together are called Garam Masala as these have a hot effect and together they make a Hot All Spice Mix.
So this is a little brief about our spices. We will see in the coming sections different kind of Spice Mixes which are called the Curry Powder mixes.