A beginner’s guide to Indian spices.
India has mastered the world of spice. With indigenous spices like turmeric and cardamom, Indian food and drink incorporates much of its natural bounty. But spices aren’t just for culinary purposes, there are dozens of medical applications as well which are often highlighted in Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda is a system of medicine that historically comes from the Indian subcontinent. This is a beginner’s guide to five popular Indian spices, how they came to be, and how you can use them.
Ah! Turmeric! Edible gold that manages to stain everything in its vicinity yellow- but it’s worth it. Turmeric is probably one of the most used Indian spices, and considering the recent health community’s support for this ‘superfood’, you really can’t go wrong. Turmeric dates back nearly 4,000 years and was first discovered in India where it was used in cooking and had religious significance. Turmeric is also one of the staples of Ayurvedic medicine. Turmeric is most often used in curry or chutney. And for a simple immune-boosting Ayurvedic beverage boil some water with ginger and turmeric and add a splash of honey if you would like it sweeter.
Ginger is an important base for a lot of Indian cooking. Ginger, whether fresh or ground, is often used in curries and vegetable dishes. While the spice originally came from the southern parts of ancient China it made its way into a lot of Southeast Asian cuisine during the spice trade. Other than the Ayurvedic recipe mentioned earlier a very popular use of ginger in Indian cuisine is making ginger garlic paste, which can be incorporated into a variety of recipes.
Cumin is an essential spice in Indian cuisine. Cumin is part of the parsley family and is native from the Mediterranean regions through to East India. Cumin is often mixed into Indian spice blends such as curry powder and the popular garam masala spice mix. Translated from Hindi garam masala means warming spice – garam masala is typically made up of roasted cinnamon, mace, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and cardamom pods which are then ground up. These spices are then used for curries and lentil dishes like dal.
Cardamom is another spice that originally came from India, specifically southern India. In Indian food whole cardamom pods are used to season basmati rice and it is also used to spice up curries. But because Cardamom is a sweet and warm spice it is often also used in a variety of desserts. In Ayurvedic medicine, cardamom is known for its digestive properties and its ability to reduce bloating. If you want to include cardamom in your cooking drop a cardamom pod into your boiling water next time you make rice!
Coriander powder or dhaniya powder is another very popular ingredient in Indian cuisine. Coriander is native to regions spanning from southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia. Coriander seeds, like the other spices mentioned before, are often ground and incorporated in curry dishes. Coriander seeds lend floral aromatic notes but the taste is described as earthy, lemony, and a little sweet. Coriander can be used in many different ways, with the fresh leaves often used as a garnish, and the dried seeds often being roasted and grounded to be incorporated into dishes.
Most Indian dishes use more than just five spices so you can imagine that there are plenty of other essential spices that weren’t included in this list. But this is a great start if you are curious about popular spices used in Indian cuisine and perhaps some of their Ayurvedic applications. Next time you are craving some Indian food or an immune-boosting beverage take a crack at including some of these spices!