The Spicy Aromas of India


The quintessence of Indian cuisine lies in the aromatic spices used to give it that extra zing. Just as diversity characterizes India, so does it define the spice palette of different regions of India. For example, the world-famous curry powder was actually invented in Madras and exported to Europe. On the other hand, the masala powder in the western region of India consists of spices such as black pepper, clove, and cinnamon. In east India, at least 30 spices are ground together to prepare curry powder. No matter the variety of spices in each masala powder, there are some core spices that are ubiquitous in Indian cooking. Five such spices are:

  1. Coriander – While fresh coriander leaves are used for garnishing dishes world over, coriander seeds are roasted and ground into powder form to be used in Indian cooking. It forms an integral part of garam masala, which is used extensively in myriad Indian dishes. Besides imparting aroma that will leave you incensed, coriander benefits in improving digestion. Not only does it soothe the stomach but it also prevents certain stomach infections by killing unwanted fungi and bacteria. It even has some antiseptic qualities as coriander powder sprinkled on minor cuts and scrapes reduces inflammation.
  2. Cumin – These seeds are used as they are or as fine, ground powder. One should be careful while roasting these seeds as they turn bitter if heated for too long. Cumin, too, is good for digestion and has cooling properties. It relieves flatulence and colic. During pregnancy, women are given cumin to reduce nausea, while breast-feeding mothers are given cumin to increase lactation.
  3. Turmeric – This “yellow root” is the coloring agent present in any curry powder. It is a known fact that in the days of yore, turmeric was used as a dyeing agent as well as a condiment. It was even used in sacred ceremonies as tilak, a tradition which continues till today. It is essential to store this spice in a cool place in an airtight container or else it will lose its flavor. This spice has both digestive as well as antiseptic benefits.
  4. Fenugreek – Both the seeds and the powder form are used in Indian cooking, as fenugreek gives off a burnt, bitter taste, which adds to the flavor of several dishes. Fenugreek was even used by ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans for culinary as well as medicinal purposes. Fenugreek seeds are highly beneficial for patients with sugar problem. Consuming soaked fenugreek seeds also reduces menstrual pain. The seeds have a high content of iron in them, owing to which they are used in fresh salads.
  5. Cardamom – This spice comes in two varieties: black cardamom and green cardamom. The black cardamom has a strong flavor, all of which lies in its seeds. It is an essential part of the garam masala. It is even used in its whole form in pulaos (Indian rice dish) along with cinnamon and bay leaf (the other ingredients of garam masala). Green cardamom is crushed and used mostly in Indian desserts such as sevaiyan and kheer.

There are many more spices that are integral to Indian cuisine. But whichever spice you use in your cooking, it is sure to leave you salivating for more. So, if you enjoy experimenting with spices, go for a whiff of it!

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