Sunday, January 16, 2011

Friday, October 29, 2010

Indian Spices - Used in Cooking and in Medicine

Spices and Indian cuisine go hand in hand. The traditional Indian curry is seasoned with an array of delicious spices. Some of these flavors appear in desserts too, which goes to confirm that `spicy` isn`t always `hot` in the usual sense. It`s no wonder that in per capita consumption of spices, India is at the top.

Indian cooks use lots of seasonings in varied colors and shapes. Black mustard seeds; cinnamon; cardamom; golden turmeric; gingerroot; chilies are among the most common. In many countries the closest you can get to all these spices comes in the form of curry powder, which is a poor substitute for the combinations of spices - called masalas - used in India.
Depending on the particular dish of foods such as vegetables, fish, chicken, and red meat, individual spices are combined right at cooking time. Even different flavors can be extracted from the same spice by roasting it, grinding it, dropping it whole into hot oil, or combining it with other seasonings.

Garam masala is a warm and versatile mix of spices used in a range of Indian dishes. It isn`t all that hot (in the chilli sense), but consists of spices that warm the body, such as cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.
Besides the major division of North Indian and South Indian cuisine, the country's regional cultures, such as Bengali, Goan, Gujarati, and Punjabi, have their own unique preparations. Religious beliefs also affect the taste of the food. Thus, in the state of Gujarat, a person might have a traditional Hindu vegetarian meal, but in the northern part of India he might enjoy a meaty Mogul meal. You could dine on different nights with Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, and Christian families may result in no duplication of meals.

Well Suited to Spices
India produces more spices than any other country-over 60 different kinds. And it exports spices and spice products whole and in powder form to more than 160 countries. South India leads in the country's spice production. Cochin, on the Arabian Sea, provides direct access to the spices that have long thrived in the lush, tropical climate along the Malabar coast.
In the past, black pepper, known as the "king of spices," was the initial prize sought by traders. It originated in the monsoon forests of the Malabar coast in southwest India. Not only was it a food seasoning but it was also a vital preservative for meats and other perishable foods. By adding spices, foods that would otherwise spoil and be useless could be preserved for a year or more without refrigeration.

More Than Just For Food Flavorings
Generations of Indian girls have utilized the bright golden root of a plant related to ginger, called turmeric. A turmeric paste is rubbed on the skin for improving its condition. Today, the perfume and cosmetics industries use oils from allspice, caraway, cinnamon, cassia, cloves, nutmeg, mace, rosemary, and cardamom in the blending of volatile and fixed oils to make dozens of alluring perfumes. These ingredients are also added to soaps, talcum powders, after-shave lotions, colognes, mouth fresheners, and countless other items.
In medicine, spices are also used. Ginger, turmeric, garlic, cardamom, chili, cloves, and saffron are among the spices recommended by Ayurveda, the science of medicine propounded in the Hindu Sanskrit writings, the Vedas. In many Western lands, Ayurveda is viewed as an 'alternative medicine' today. An Indian pharmacy today will likely stock a turmeric salve for cuts and burns, and many other spice products for varying ailments.