Spices have been a part of our cuisine for centuries and come with an impressive list of health benefits. Many of us cook using these spices but aren’t completely aware of everything else they bring to the plate apart from just taste. The Week talked to Ganesh Kumal, chef at Bawarchi, to find out more about the spices we use every day and their benefits.
With curcumin as its most active, turmeric is an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric has been known to be beneficial for people with arthritis. There have also been studies which show that it helps people who have depression as well. “In order to get the most out of it, you should certainly expose turmeric to heat,” says Kumal.
Most of us throw in a pinch of besar on oil without giving it much thought, without realizing that 100 degrees in oil increases the bioavailability of curcumin. You basically can’t go wrong with turmeric, even if it overcooks and darkens, the degraded curcumin still has medicinal properties. If you think cooking it for too long will strip it of its properties, just drizzle hot oil with cooked turmeric over your vegetables as ‘tadka’ and mix it thoroughly.
Curcumin isn’t absorbed by the bloodstream that well and thus we always use black pepper along with turmeric. Black pepper has piperine, which makes it spicy but also enhances curcumin absorption. Black pepper is armed with health benefits as it helps fight common cold, coughs, indigestion, constipation etc. It is rich in potassium, vitamin C and vitamin K as well. It has also been known to increase your metabolism rate and mobilize the fat that is being stored in your body. You can sprinkle some powdered black pepper over any of your meals to enjoy the added health benefits it provides.
Sichuan pepper (Timur)
Sichuan pepper or timur aids digestion by increasing the production of gastrointestinal juices. It is a good source of iron, potassium, zinc and vitamin A. People have also been known to successfully use it when they have toothaches. Most of us use powdered timur while making the traditional mortar and pestle tomato chutney. Although using it like this will give you all the benefits, you can also dry roast the timur for a little while in low heat before turning it into a powder in order to get a more pungent flavor out of it. It should, however, be avoided by people with stomach ulcers as the little spicy heat might irritate it.
No meal in the household is cooked without first dropping a few methi seeds into the hot oil. It too has more benefits than just providing the food with a pungent, aromatic flavor. It is widely used by the mother-in-laws when their daughter-in-laws are breastfeeding for it is said to enhance milk production and secretion. It is also said to cure digestive problems. The bitter taste of fenugreek improves when gently roasted in a low heat. These seed are packed with phytonutrients and dietary fiber. These seed also help regulate the blood sugar level by slowing down the rate of glucose absorption in the intestines. It is one of the most recommended dietary supplements for a diabetic patient. “Sprout some methi and add them in your lentil soup or vegetables to give your digestive system a boost,” says Kumal. However, he advises pregnant women to consume as little of it as possible as it may result in premature birth.
A versatile plant, coriander (also known as cilantro) has many health benefits. Its seeds as well as its leaves have many useful properties. The seeds have antioxidants and even omega 3 acids, which is why it tastes the way it does. The seed is rich in iron, potassium, and copper. Iron is an essential part of the diet as it is required for cell metabolism and helps in the production of red blood cells, and the potassium helps regulate the heart rate and blood pressure. Roast the seeds before using them as the heat triggers some of the essential oil in the seed. The leaves themselves have no cholesterol and are packed with vitamins, dietary fibers, antioxidants and essential oils. “Its roots, stems and leaves also have been found to have antiseptic properties,” explains Kumal. Clean the leaves thoroughly, chop and put it over your cooked meal and close the lid. The heat of the food will slightly cook the leaves and make it ready to eat.
Ginger is anti-inflammatory and contains many essential oils in its roots. Studies have suggested that it can even fight against the E-coli bacteria which causes diarrhea. It has been shown to decrease nausea induced by motion sickness and a small scale study even showed that it could help soothe migraine headaches a little. Ginger, boiled with lemon and honey, have forever been used to combat common cold and coughing bouts. Dried ginger can be used in curries, or boiled and consumed. To retain all of its properties, don’t deep fry it, rather add it when your food is almost cooked.
Garlic is one of the best herbs out there, having been proven to have important ingredients that have anti-inflammatory properties and has also been proven to help battle cancer. It contains many phytonutrients, minerals and vital vitamins. Research has also shown that garlic helps combat cardiovascular diseases by limiting cholesterol production. The tops of the garlic plant is also used in many cuisines and used similar to onions in dishes. You can add them when your food has almost finished cooking, or chop them up finely and sprinkle on top of your dish and let the steam cook it for you. Use it in chutneys to elevate their taste and keep yourself healthy and fit as well.