One spice that cannot be substituted with anything else in Indian cooking is turmeric. Turmeric, or haldi as it is called in Hindi, as a spice infuses Indian dishes with a rich golden colour and has long been revered by Ayurvedic healers for its diverse and powerful healing properties. It has been used since antiquity throughout the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia in religious rituals, as a dye for priestly robes, for its medicinal properties and as a culinary spice to give flavour and colour to a great variety of dishes. In most Asian countries it is used to flavour and colour butter, cheese, margarine, pickles, mustard, fruit drinks and what have you.
It is not only turmeric as a spice that is so important to Indian cooking. A variety of other spices too have always been dominating in Indian cooking. As time has progressed they have been segregated into three functions: medicinal, preservative and seasoning. Spices not only give taste but also better health. We will be looking at cumin seeds, mustard seeds, coriander in seed and powder form, red chilli, asafoetida, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamoms, fenugreek, etc. Food with spices looks good, smells good and tastes delicious! It also heals, soothes and rejuvenates.
The masterful use of spices in any regional cuisine provides synergy and balance in taste and flavour. Let us dwell on the benefits of a few of them to understand their medicinal prowess.
- Turmeric’s medicinal importance was recognized some 3000 years ago. It is a natural preservative, also being anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antibacterial. Turmeric contains iron and potassium. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, turmeric is applied in the paste form for itches and skin diseases. The turmeric root by itself is a good mouth freshener.
- Cumin and coriander provide cooling properties and also aid in digestion.
- Coriander is also considered helpful for promoting respiratory system, health and enhancing natural defense against allergens. It is also a detoxifying spice, helping to cleanse the body from the cell up.
- Eating a teaspoon of fennel seeds after a meal helps enhance digestion and freshens the breath. Fennel is also helpful for facilitating cleansing.
And this is just a curtain raiser!
Storing the spices correctly is very important. In general, spices need to be stored in glass air tight jars. Clean and pick the seeds and roast very lightly on heat. Let cool and place in jar. Seal and keep in a dry dark place. Powdered masalas can be stored with pieces of rock salt. The salt absorbs the extra moisture and keeps the masala from fungal growth.
Here are some recipes that use turmeric to give the food an attractive aura and flavour.