Ayurveda Cooking - Ayurvedic Spices
Spices are pungent or aromatic substances obtained from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or stems of various plants and trees and used to season or flavor foods. In Ayurvedic cooking spices are more valued for their medicinal or healing properties. Ayurveda give emphasis to two factors of food preparation, quality of food and proper digestion of food. Our digestive capacity or the capacity to transforms food into healthy tissues is known as Agni or digestive fire in Ayurveda. The proper functioning of our body largely depends on the Agni. Spices play an important role in digestion and assimilation of food and maintain a balanced and healthy Agni. The more heavier the food the more importance of spices increased. If not spiced properly these foods quickly produce Ama (toxicity), that causes heaviness and blockages of the micro-circulatory channels (shrotas) and physiology. Spices are also believed to cleanse toxins from the body. Spices can be taken prior to, or during or after a meal. You can sauté them in ghee or olive oil for using in vegetables or poured them on dahl or curry, or can be simmered with grains and beans as they cook. Some spices such as mint and cilantro (coriander) can be used fresh for garnish. Spice powders can also be used for dressing salads or preparing health drinks. Thus, there are as many uses of spices as benefits.
Some Common Spices
Salt- Salt is perhaps the most commonly used spice. It is one of the six basic tastes and an essential substance for everyone. We all need a limited quantity of salt on a daily basis. Ayurveda consider the natural rock salt as the best. The black (red or pinkish color) varieties of salt are high in sulfur content and too heating for most people. The best way to use salt is to cook it rather than sprinkling it on the food afterwards. It should be added to the preparation near the end of cooking.
Pepper - Sharp, pungent in taste pepper is widely used culinary spice. It is known for stimulating the digestive process and relieving nausea. As it is very heating, only a very small amount is required in food. It is best to cook pepper into organic extra virgin olive oil or organic ghee as this allows it to be carried most efficiently into the tissues. Pepper encourages the absorption of other nutrients, spices, and herbs also. It passes thru the blood-brain barrier also and provide an excellent way for nourishment to the brain. There are many varieties of pepper like, white, black, green and red but the most popular among these is black pepper. It is used so extensively in almost all the region of world that it has acquired the name "the King of Spices". Black pepper helps to decrease kapha and vata, and increase pitta only slightly. It is used to seasoning the vegetables to enhance their flavor and sprinkled on cold foods like cucumbers, melons and bananas to neutralize their coldness.
Fresh Green Herbs – Many herbs are used for garnishing the foods and enhancing their nutritional or medicinal properties. Unlike the dried spices, these are used in their fresh form. As they are heat sensitive, it’s best to add them at the end of the cooking process and cook for only a minute or so.
Basil - Basil is an excellent healing herb. It has many medicinal properties and helps in promoting general health by supporting the body's natural defense against stress and diseases. It clears the lungs, and uplift the mind. Though it is used in many food preparations, its popular use is as tea. A tea made from the fresh leaves of basil made excellent remedy for chronic cough, cold, allergies, or asthma
Cilantro - Cilantro or coriander leaves are commonly used spice. It is used to garnish vegetables, making chutneys, or in drinks to enhance their taste and cooling effect as well. It has cooling properties hence, highly useful for Pitta types. It is good for hot summer months. It is also useful for all kinds of skin rashes, used both internally and externally. It is particularly helpful to detoxify heavy metals in the physiology.
Spices that are mainly used in sweet food preparations and desserts can be termed as sweet spices. As sweet foods are usually heavy and high in carbohydrates and fats, these spices are used to make as they help in digestion, assimilation and the metabolism. Some commonly used sweet spices are:
Cardamom- Cardamom contains fragrant seeds and used throughout the world in sweet dish. There are three kinds of cardamom black, green and white. Traditionally, Indian cooking uses only black and green cardamoms. It gives the preparation a distinct sweet and pleasing flavor. Mainly used in milk and milk desserts, it helps to reduce mucous production, and stimulates digestion and enhances fat metabolism. Cardamom reduces all three doshas and being sweet after digestion, it rejuvenates the system.
Cinnamon- Cinnamon means bark in Sanskrit. It is pungent, sweet and bitter in taste. It helps in the assimilation of nutrients into the tissues of the body. It also enhances sugar metabolism. According to Ayurveda, it controls both vata and kapha, without aggravating pitta unless it is consumed in excess
Clove- Clove is commonly used spice adds refreshing flavor to the food. It is considered best for increasing the digestive fire (Agni) without overheating the system. Hence it is widely used in both savory and sweet preparations. It is best used into stewed apples, and taken first thing in the morning. Clove is also used as mouth freshener.
Saffron- Saffron, which has for decades been the world’s most expensive spice by weight, is an aromatic spice. It gives food a rich golden-yellow hue to the food. It is a wonderful nourishing spice which helps in building and strengthening all the tissues of the body. It has many medicinal properties also. It is useful for anemia, heart, reproductive tissues, and enhancing fertility. It is used in very small quantity, only a few strands in each dish. It is mainly used in milk, milk preparations, sweets, rice, etc.
Traditional Indian Spices- Spices are widely used in Indian foods. Spices are mainly used to enhance the flavor and taster of food but they also help digestion, assimilation, metabolism, and decrease the heaviness (kapha) of foods.
Coriander- Coriander is the seed of the Cilantro plant. It is very useful spice as it stimulates the digestion without aggravating Pitta, due to its cool nature. It is highly useful for digestive, respiratory, and urinary systems of the body. The toasted coriander seeds are used in treating nausea, and are safe in pregnancy. Coriander is also used in spice mixture commonly used in Indian dishes.
Cumin - Cumin is known as the ‘digester’ in Sanskrit. It stimulates digestion, helps to reduce gas, and is diuretic. It is pungent and slightly hot in nature. It has antimicrobial qualities too. It is useful for diarrhea, abdominal pain, and distention. It is used in many food preparations, yogurt raita, salty lassi (yogurt drink) etc
Fennel- Fennel is also cool in nature and helps to stimulates digestion. It also helps to reduce gas, is diuretic, and calms the nervous system. Fennel also helps to increases fertility in women. It is highly estrogenic, stood second after licorice, which is the most estrogenic herb. It is contraindicated in pregnancy, and for those on any estrogen inhibitor medication. The estrogenic effect of the seeds can be reduced to 80% by toasting.
Fenugreek- Fenugreek is commonly used spice and highly valuable for its healing properties. It improves the digestive, respiratory and nervous systems, regulates the menses, purifies the skin and tones the whole organism. It is also helpful for weight loss. It is widely used in treating diabetes as it has quality to reduce the sugar level of the blood. It has beneficial effect on carbohydrate, and fat metabolism.
Ginger- Ginger is commonly used in various foods and beverages. Ginger is useful in so extensive range of ailments and diseases that Ayurveda referred it as “the universal medicine”. It is commonly used in fresh state as the dry powder is too heating. It is best cut or grated into small pieces and then sautéed into ghee or olive oil at the beginning of the cooking process. Ginger is an excellent remedy for digestive problems, such as flatulence, nausea, indigestion, intestinal infections and certain types of food poisoning. Gastrointestinal problems including heartburn and gas can also be treated with ginger. It also reduces nausea in motion sickness and pregnancy. It is safe in pregnancy, but best not to overdo it. It also relieves headaches, nausea, rheumatism, and colds and is analgesic. It is used both internally and topically.
Turmeric- Turmeric is bitter, astringent, hot and pungent after digestion. It is used externally and internally to purify both blood and mind. Turmeric has many useful therapeutic qualities, including, anti-oxidant, anti-tumoral, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-hepatotoxic, anti-hyperlipidemic, and insect repellent effects. It is very useful in cancer as it improves the anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties of nitric oxide and increases the anti-cancer properties of other phytonutrients. It also restrains the growth of leukemia in the stages of initiation, promotion, and progression. It inhibits precancerous colon growth, suppresses colon cancer, oral tumors, multiple lines of breast cancer, and inhibits skin cancer growth when applied topically. In general, it enhances metabolism and helps the body to reduce undesirable fatty deposits, and protect against heart disease by reducing inflammatory causing bacteria in the blood circulation. Turmeric also has anti septic action, and helps to slow bleeding when applied topically to wounds. Turmeric paste is used in bruises, bites, stings, open wounds, boils and breast disorders.
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