In India every dish has its own method to be cooked, and different ingredients, but it's the combination of all the “masala” that makes it stand out. Spices are the most important and are the dearest ingredients of all the people who have a love for cooking. All the people who cook know exactly its importance in cooking as flavors, tastemakers and how it has the ability to turn the dish around. Similarly spices hold its importance in the column of nutrition and as functional food too. There are several spices around the world each having its own unique odor, taste and functions in the body.
Food substances that enhance flavor are classified as spices,herbs,and seasonings. Spices are dried roots,barks or seeds used as whole,crushed and powdered. Herbs are usually fresh leaves,stems or flowers of herbaceous plants. Seasonings are bulbous groups used fresh like onion,garlic and shallots.Spices are stronger than herbs but they can be used in combination without loss of flavour.Herbs are more difficult to mix.
Spices add flavor and color and make food palatable and add variety to the diet. Cereals,pulses,vegetables or meat can be cooked in a variety of forms due to the addition of different kinds of spices. It stimulates salivation,acid secretion and digestive enzymes. Spices increase the secretion of saliva containing more of ptyalin so that foods rich in carbohydrates can be easily digested. They are used for digestion and reduce flatulence. It has anti inflammatory,antibacterial and antioxidant properties. It helps in improving impared blood glucose levels in the body and helps diabetics. It also reduces cholesterol levels. Some spices are considered as antimutagenous or anticarcinogenic.
There are many spices used world wide.Some of the commonly used spices are;
Ajwain (omum) . It has an aromatic smell and a pungent taste. The essential oil is present in it is thymol, it is a remedy for indigestion and is antispasmodic, stimulant and has carminative ( relieving flatulence) effect.
Aniseed (saunf) is a dried herb. The flavoring is a volatile oil called anethole. It is also known as a sweet cumin. It can be used as a mouth freshener. It is used in cakes, cookies, breads, candies and gravies in Indian preparation. It helps in relieving flatulence and treating colic pain.
Asafoetida (hing) is a gum resin exuded from the root of the tree, it is mixed with starch to dilute its strong flavor. It acts as an antimicrobial agent. It is used in treating chronic bronchitis and whooping cough. It helps to counter intestinal flatulence. It also increases the levels of detoxification enzymes in the body.
Bay leaves are dried aromatic leaves and contain aromatic oil. It is used in preparation of pickling spice and flavoring of vinegar. The leaves are used in various preparations. It has anticancer, anti inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Caraway seeds are used to flavor cakes, biscuits, cheese, apple sauce and cookies. Oil from caraway seeds is used to flavor meats, sausages, soups, cakes, cheese, and confectionery. It is high in antioxidants,supports digestive health and promotes health.
Cardamom is used as flavoring agents. The fruit has brownish black seeds which have volatile oils. It is used as flavoring agents. It is mainly used for flavoring sweet preparations, cookies, biscuits, preserves and cake. It has antimicrobial ability, metabolic syndrome and diabetes
Chillies occur in different shapes, sizes and colors. The red coloring is due to carotenoid pigment. The pungency of chillies is expressed in terms of scoville value. Ground chili is used in gravy and vegetable dishes. Dry chillies are used for seasoning. Chinese cookery uses chili vinegar. Smaller the chili, the more the pungency. Chillies contain a substance called capsaicin which increases the gastric secretion and causes the destruction of the mucosal cells. Sometimes chili powder may be adulterated with saw dust, brick powder and coloring matter.
Cinnamon is a thin inner bark of the cinnamon tree. It is used as a stick in fruit preserves or in ground form in cakes, cookies, pudding, sauces, pickles, doughnuts. It has many health benefits like relieves inflammation, protects the heart and also stabilizes blood sugar.
Clove is a dried flower bud of the clove tree. The seed contains 15% essential oils- eugenol which is an antioxidant and prevents the food from going rancid. It forms a part of the garam masala. It is an anti mutagenic effect used for tooth pain. It has bactericidal and fungicidal properties and is used as anti-putrescent.
Information about other spices is provided in the next article...
This article is written and submitted to The E Today by Shrushti Mehta.
We thank her for her research and analysis and hope to see the awarenesses about health and nutrition being spread ahead to larger mass of our citizens.