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The Indian cuisine is synonymous with the varied inclusion of spices and one cannot wonder why, as it is the land of spices. A pinch of spicy powder in the food takes you to a different world of ethnic Indian food. It..

20 Jun 2012

By Archana R Nair
KOCHI (Commodity Online): Black pepper, coriander, ginger,mustard,cumin,canola oil, chilli,turmeric,asafetida...It goes on but do not expect it to be an ordinary list of spices. Together it makes the lip smacking, tangy south Indian dish, 'rasam' or spice soup may be a better name, and when served hot enough, even the spicy aroma would energize the taste buds. This spice mixture, an inevitable part of South Indian cuisine, is known for its health benefits, more nutritious, also have good digestive values.

Rasam is one among the wide and delicious Indian dishes, known for its creative use of spices. The Indian cuisine is synonymous with the varied inclusion of spices and one cannot wonder why, as it is the land of spices. A pinch of spicy powder in the food takes you to a different world of ethnic Indian food. It gives an assault to the senses also adds flavor and aroma to the food items. The Indian Garam masala is another example of spice mixture, which is getting international acceptance now. It is the most important blend masala and an absolute essential to north Indian preparations, added just before serving the dish to enhance its flavor. The rational garam masala is a blend of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper.

The spices provide a three-fold function in the traditional food that includes medicinal, seasonal and preservative. The modern chefs and nutritionists agree the fact that the it was a wise decision of our ancestors to include spice in the diet for better health. The spice blended Indian curries is sure to improve health, according to Ayurveda too.

Anitha Issac who runs Manna Catering School in Cochin, says,”Any food prepared in Indian home is sure to have a spice in it. North Indian kitchens may stick to jeera, but when going towards south pepper, coriander etc is used widely. The Bengalis cannot leave behind mustard oil while they cook. The Eastern ghats and Western ghats make maximum use of the available spice for preparing the daily food. Chilli, garlic, nutmeg, coriander etc form the essentials ingredients of a normal Indian Kitchen. Every Indian state has got a spice heritage.”

Spices adds to the popularity of Indian food among the foreign countries. The foreigners love to taste the spicy chutneys and have a sip of 'rasam', when it is made less spicy. Even they are interested to learn more about the use of spices in Indian food. Anitha Issac shared her experience about a Japanese woman who came to her school recently, to study more about spices in food. She was eager to know about how these spices are grown and their essential role in the country's cuisine.

Noushad, the celebrity chef and the founder of the restaurant chain 'Naushad The Big Chef(NBC)', which gives exotic flavors through its outlets in India and Middle East, says,”It is the abundant availability of spices that formed the Indian cuisine, and made it synonymous with the food here. Before, the foreign tourists did not have much options to taste the ethnic food during their visit to India, although they were familiar with our spicy cuisine. But now, more traditional and hygienic restaurants have come up which gives them an opportunity to taste our food. This is a reason behind global acceptance, although they cannot include much spicy taste in their food.”

He says that according to modern concept when much spices are added, it decreases the real taste of dish, but an ethnic dish without spice is not practical. So he is careful in using the spices in a moderate way without missing its real taste.

Spicy food keeps you healthy too

More than serving culinary purposes, the health benefits of spicy food cannot be forgotten. A little intake of spice in the diet daily, makes you more resistant towards diseases.

“I think there was some logic in using spices in Indian cuisine by our ancestors. They did not know so much as we do since they did not have the means to investigate, but with experience they must have realized that the spices do have varied health benefits. It not only added a lot of flavor and color but also plenty of health benefits. Now Indian cuisine is not only famous for its mouth watering cuisine, but also for some of the health benefits it offers. The benefits range from curing an indigestion to the prevention of cancer”, says Jyothi Prasad, Chief Dietician, Manipal Hospital, Bangalore.

Take some widely used spices in Indian food for instance Turmeric, which is a popular spice powder in Indian kitchens. The world has now discovered the anti-inflammatory and anti-septic property of turmeric, which can even resist malignancy. Turmeric is the world's best natural miracle drug, it is believed. It is used for wound healing, rheumatic disorders, gastrointestinal symptoms, deworming, rhinitis and as a cosmetic.

Cinnamon is known to lower blood sugar levels though more studies are required to validate it. In addition is helps flatulence and aids in digestion. “Cinnamon, a popular member in the spice family, is very positive towards health. It is good for people suffering from diabetes mellitus and controls blood sugar. Also it has the ability to increase HDL cholesterol level which has got a positive effect in cholesterol patients too.” says Bulbin Jose, Head of the Department of Clinical Nutrition in Lakeshore Hospital. She continues, “ when pepper, nutmeg etc is added to fatty non vegetarian dishes it helps to reduce the excess fat content in it. In short the use of spices in our daily food is highly beneficial for health.”

Ginger is known for its anti emetic properties. Its use is so well known that people use ginger instead of over the counter anti emetics while travelling. In addition it is also known to cure an upset stomach. Cloves is believed to an anti septic and antibacterial and since ages it has been used a local anesthetic in tooth ache. It is also used as a mouth fresheners with zero calories!!

Jyothi Prasad concludes,”Spicy Indian food has been attributed many good qualities – carminative, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti inflammatory etc. In addition it adds flavor and colour to food which is what makes Indian food sought after the world over.”

Excess use of spices may become harmful too. For instance high intake of chilli could create abdominal discomfort. But Jyothi Prasad says,”Spices in excess may irritate the gastric lining and cause heart burn to people who are susceptible to it. Other than that there are no other health problems.”

The secret of the expertise cooking of Indians hide behind the thorough knowledge about the use of spices and herbs. Each curry made in Indian homes relies upon the quantity of spice used, although local influences and availability matters. It cannot be left behind that the red chilli, yellow turmeric, black pepper and green coriander make an Indian kitchen colorful.

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