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12 Spices and Herbs That Are Not Just Taste Enhancers, But Also Health Boosters

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

Can you think of a dal without its Tadka (Mustard seeds) or a Veg Kolhapuri without its Lal Mirchi (Red chilli powder) or Rasam without its kalimiri (Black pepper)? Indian cuisine is considered to be one with its spices. After all, India has been historically known as the ‘Land of Spices’. The dictionary meaning of spice is an aromatic or pungent vegetable used for adding flavor to food. The parts of the spice that can be used for flavouring are barks, roots, seeds. India is known to be the highest producer, exporter and consumer of spices in the world. Infact, there is even a Research Lab dedicated to study spices in India. Some of the most well-known spices are turmeric (haldi), cinnamon bark (dalchini), all spice leaves, black pepper (kalimiri), carom seeds (ajwain), cumin (jeera), mustard (rai), coriander seeds (dhaniya), bay leaf (tej patta) and varieties of chilies.

Spices are not just flavouring agents, they often have health benefits hidden in them that we tend to underestimate. Most of them have been a part of the ancient Ayurvedic remedies to cure illnesses. Some of them are extremely powerful, and may be prescribed in limited dosages to avoid side effects. Spices are good for controlling blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels. Some are super-rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Spices like turmeric help improve gut flora functions and maintain a healthy bowel. And the list continues …

History Fact: Black Pepper was the most valuable spice in India in 4th century B.C. It was popularly known as ‘Black Gold’. Salt may have produced approximately 5000 years ago in India. It was so commonly available that it was paid as salary to Roman soldiers.

One can find the earliest recorded evidences of spices from the Indian, Egyptian and Chinese cultures. Spice trade forms an important part of the history of spices in 2000 B.C. when spices like cinnamon and black pepper from India were highly in demand. It is popularly believed that when Vasco da Gama was on his way back from India, carrying spices, pirates raided his ship because spices were considered to be equivalent to gold. Charaka (1st century) and Sushruta II (2nd century), popularly known medicine practitioners referenced to the use of spices and herbs like cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric and pepper for healing purposes.

So, here’s the list of 12 spices and herbs that are a must have in your kitchen –

1. Turmeric: The bright yellow spice of Asia, Turmeric is a multi-purpose herb that is used in cooking, dyeing and also medicine making. A natural anti-inflammatory and a powerful anti-oxidant, turmeric is curcumin rich. It is used to counteract the effects of depression, high cholesterol and heartburn. Its anti-cancer and skin healing properties makes it a spice popularly in demand. It is most commonly used in haldi milk, herbal teas, sambhars, dals, rasam, vegetable curries and with salt and water to clean raw vegetables.

2. Cinnamon: Used in Ancient Egypt since 2000 B.C., cinnamon was traditionally used as a medicine to treat cough, sore throat and arthritis. It contains antioxidant, antidiabetic and antimicrobial properties which helps repair tissue damage and reduce the risk of heart diseases. It is said to protect against Alzheimer’s and HIV. It is often sprinkled on toasts and lattes, as a flavourant in desserts and cakes, in buns, breads, cookies and oatmeal.

Taru Products - Cinnamon Bark

3. All-Spice Leaves: Popularly known as the ‘combination of all the spices’, Allspice leaves were used as folk medicine in the Caribbean for stomach upsets, colds and menstrual cramps. Containing carminative properties that helps deal with gas or a bad stomach, it is supposed to be used to treat cancer and hypertension. It is an anti-inflammatory, used to reduce aches and spasms. It is an essential ingredient in teas, sauces, stews, soups, stir fried vegetables, desserts and is also used to store liquor.

Taru Products - Allspice leaves

4. Black Pepper: Called the ‘King of Spices’, Black pepper aids body detox and weight loss. Historically, it was called ‘black gold’ owing to its popularity and the benefits that it provides. Black pepper is an excellent digestant and prevents constipation, colon cancer and diarrhea. People suffering from flu or cold also have black pepper boiled in their milk or water. As a spice, it is sprinkled on salads, omelets, soups, sauces, vegetables, burgers, pastas and add a slight spice to sweet drinks like strawberry or watermelon juices.

Taru Products - Black Pepper

5. Ajwain: Often added for enhancing the fragrance of the dish, Ajwain is super rich in minerals, vitamins, fibre and anti-oxidants, providing relief from indigestion, acidity, cold and tooth and ear pains. Used as an infection cleaner to clean wounds, ajwain in water also helps pregnant women or women with irregular menstrual cycles. It is also consired to be a natural mosquito repellent. Ajwain seeds can be eaten raw, roasted or fried and added to biscuits, cakes, soups, pickles, sauces and dals and curries.

Taru Products – Ajwain

6. Cumin: A spice often used in the continents of Asia and Africa, cumin, also known as jeera, contains antioxidants and aids in the treatment of diarrhea and maintain blood sugar levels. It is an antibacterial and antiseptic that boosts memory and helps reduce cholesterol levels. A heart healthy spice, it is found in some cheeses, jeera paani and in blend with other spices in dals, curries, parathas and chaas.

Taru Products – Cumin

7. Mustard: An anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, mustard is rich source of nutrients like calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorous. While it lowers blood sugar levels, it is also an excellent immunity and energy booster, and helps relieve cold. It is a low calorie seed that helps reduce joint pains, cholesterol and arthritis. Mustard happens to be a common ingredient in sauces, mayonnaise, marinades and barbeque sauces and as a topping in pizzas, pastas, salads and sandwiches.

Taru Products – Mustard

8. Coriander seeds: An anti-diabetic, high fibre seed, coriander seeds are known for their medicinal properties to cure allergies and eye infections. It improves digestion, skin and hair quality, heart health; helps relieve nausea and boosts immunity. It also fights bacteria like salmonella that is the major cause of food poisoning. It is used to make pickles, sauces, in salsas and soups, and to add spice to boiled vegetables, dips and dals.

Taru Products – Coriander (seeds)

9. Bay Leaf: A rich source of Vitamin A, C, iron, calcium, magnesium and folic acid, bay leaves (aka our very own Tej patta), helps reduce the effects of migraine. It also improves digestion with enzymes that breakdown the protein faster. Heart healthy and diabetic friendly, it acts as a stress buster. Traditionally, it was also used to treat small cuts and wounds. It happens to be a part of the age-old Indian culinary tradition and can be added to vegetable stocks, curries, rice dishes, and in teas and water for detox.

Taru Products – Bay Leaf

10. Red Chilli Powder: The reddest of them all, red chilli powder aids digestion and weight loss. The capsaicin in it also acts as a natural pain reliever for the muscles and joints. Used as a preventive for cholesterol and blood clots, it improves heart health. It helps fight sinus as it possesses the quality of clearing up nasal congestion. In your everyday diet, add it to your food to make it hotter and tastier in rolls, tikkas, pasta sauces, sandwiches, farsans, vegetables, dals and dhoklis.

Taru Products – Red Chilli Powder

11. Bhut Jolokia Chilli: The hottest chilli of them all, Bhut Jolokia chilli is also known as ghost pepper, Naga Jolokia and Raja Mircha. It is so spicy that it is used by DRDO of India as a spice bomb. It is a mood enhancer and helps unclog nasal tracts. Bhut Jolokia improves heart health, digestion, blood circulation and helps in weight reduction. It can be used in fresh and dry forms in pickles, sauces, salsa, mayonnaise and chutney. The people of Naga tribe used to use this whenever they had to cook in bulk.

Taru Products – Bhut Jolokia Naga Chilli

12. U-Morok Chilli: Popularly known as a chilli with a fiery flavor, U-Morok Chilli is said to be a rich source of Vitamin C that boosts the metabolism rate. It is used to fight scurvy, malaria, asthma and epilepsy. As it works as a pain reliever, it is also fat-free and sodium-free. It is believed that the spice of 1 U-Morok is equal to that of 10 regular red chillies. That being said, it is used to make super-hot sauces and pickles and are added to meals for those who havean extremely high spice tolerance.

Taru Products – Dried Smoked U-Morok Chilli

So, let’s set raid the spice store, add culinary delight to our dishes and set our flavor senses ablaze!

- Shruthi Narayan

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