The origin of the spice trade can be traced back to over four thousand years ago. But today, the antiquity of large caravans traveling from afar bearing exotic goods is no longer a spectacle.
The origin of the spice trade can be traced back to over four thousand years ago. But today, the antiquity of large caravans traveling from afar bearing exotic goods is no longer a spectacle. Instead, you can simply hop on over to your local Trader Joe’s and find a multifarious assortment of spices in their condiments section. To most people, spices are exactly that—a condiment used to flavor food and make it more “fun” or “exciting.” But for me, a person of Indian descent, the principal value of spices was always more than “it makes my food taste zesty!”
I grew up in a family that arguably could reinvent the spice trade if it wanted to—jars of cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, and mustard seeds flooded the shelves of my house. My friends would often walk into my kitchen dazed and confused at all the different smells that were infiltrating their nostrils. The confusing smells would have little bearing on their voracious appetite, which was clear from the way they devoured half the food in my fridge before they left. Clearly, you can’t judge a book by its cover. But what my friends and many others continue to misunderstand is that the potency of spices is not only in their taste but also in their overarching health value.
Turmeric, used both in raw and powdered form, made its way into every single vegetable dish in my family, without exception. Often referred to as the “king of spices,” this incredibly potent spice is exactly that; it is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antiseptic agent that can effectively treat various respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis, common colds, lung infections and fibromyalgia. Other uses include depression, Alzheimer’s disease, swelling in the middle layer of the eye (anterior uveitis), diabetes, water retention, worms, an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), tuberculosis, urinary bladder inflammation, and kidney problems. Topically, it is also a wonderful remedy for acne, hyperpigmentation, premature wrinkles, and blackheads. This super spice as a stand-alone flavor has a pretty unappealing taste. But when paired with other spices, such as cumin, is hardly noticeable. You’re not going to reap the full benefits of turmeric if you dust it on your salad, though. To optimize its full benefits, one must remember that turmeric is fat soluble, which means that it dissolves in fat such as oil, butter, or ghee.
Cumin was another spice that was rarely absent in my day-to-day “nourriture.” Though small and unassuming, this powerful spice is packed with health benefits. Cumin is a rich source of iron and also aids digestion. It facilitates liver function, which in turn helps to remove toxins from the body. From the perspective of Ayurveda, India’s ancient alternative medicine, cumin is heating in nature and thus an effective remedy for congestion, colds, and coughs. It also has many anti-carcinogenic properties, which are being studied for their cancer protective effect. Unlike turmeric, one needn’t worry about fat solubility with this spice. There are many ways of consuming it, including sautéing it with vegetables or boiling it with water and drinking it as a tea.
Fenugreek seeds were removed from the lazy Susan on more selective occasions, such as when we made dishes out of eggplant or butternut squash. According to Ayurveda, these vegetables produce excess “vatta” or gas in the body. To counter the effect of the “vatta,” we would always sauté them in fenugreek seeds. Aside from this, these small golden brown seeds are a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and are beneficial for joint pain. Additional benefits including lowering blood cholesterol, controlling blood sugar levels, chronic coughs, bronchitis and some kidney ailments. Like cumin, fenugreek seeds can be consumed in various different ways, depending on your intention. If you’re suffering from joint pain after a hard-core work out at the gym, you can soak a tablespoon of these seeds in a cupful of warm water overnight and drink it the next morning. It has incredible results after 4-5 days of routine use.
Turmeric, cumin, and fenugreek were just a few of the many spices that became a routine part of my diet. Of course, they added to the rich flavor in many of the dishes that I prepared, but even more than that, I credit them for giving me my health and immunity.
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