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Monday, October 19, 2009

Spices

Spices

The History of Indian Spices is more than 7000 years old, Centuries before the Greek and Roman Empires.

Though it were the Dark Ages, but there were rich people who had gold to exchange for pepper and cinnamon. It was in the year 1492 A.D., that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. Five years later, four tiny ships sailed southward from the port of Lisbon, Portugal, under the guidance of Captain Vasco Da Gama. Like Columbus, Vasco Da Gama too was searching for a new route to the spice lands of Asia. While Columbus failed to achieve the goal, Da Gama succeeded.

In a two year, 24,000 miles round trip, he took his ships around the continent of Africa to India and back to Lisbon. Only two of the four ships survived to reach their homeport. These two ships brought back a cargo of spices and other products worth 60 times the cost of the said voyage.

This only proves that even in those ages spices were for the affluent, while today spices are used in our daily food and Cuisine. We will look into the history of spices in another chapter and Post dedicated to the History of spices, however at present let us look in the various types of spices that we use in our daily use.

Broadly, there are two main subdivisions of spices one being the major spices and the other is minor spices. For example the spices like pepper, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, chilies etc., comes under major category. The important minor spices grown in India are ajowan, aniseed, caraway, celery, coriander, cumin, dill seed, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, onion, saffron, vanilla etc.

We will try and look into each of these spices in a bit of detail, supported by images of the spice and wherever possible the powder of that spice or paste so that it will be easier for the reader to identify the spice. We have also made an effort to publish the common Indian names of the spice so that it can be easily identified. Many a times the Indian name is more used than the actual name of the Spice. We are trying our best to cover the most important and commonly used spices, however we will appreciate if the reader comments or sends us details of any other spice they would like to know about so we can research on the same and publish the details for the common good. Indian names are Initialized in Bold.

Here are some of the most commonly used Indian Spices!

Bishops weed - (Ajowan) – or locally called as (Ajwain) (Tymol Seeds), or Lovage are seeds of Trachyspermumn ammi. and native to India and the Middle East. It has an extremely strong flavor of thyme which, unless used in moderation, will provide a bitter taste. Whole seeds may be bought in Indian specialty shops and should be ground immediately before cooking. It is used in many breads, pastries, and fried snacks throughout India, Pakistan, and as far west as Ethiopia.


Celery seeds- (Shalari, Ajmud, Randhuni) seeds of Apium graveolens have an intense celery flavor with overtones of citrus and parsley, and may leave a bitter, burning aftertaste if used indiscriminately. The seeds of lovage (Levisticum officinale), a closely related plant, are also often sold as celery seeds. In India they can frequently be found in curries.

Mango Powder - (Amchoor)- in India, the dried fruit of the evergreen Mango - Mangifera indica is used give a tart tang to many dishes including stews, fillings, and tandoori meats. Only unripe mangoes are used for this purpose, and the dried fruit is available both in sliced and powdered form. It is available in Indian specialty shops where it may be labeled “mango powder,” a direct translation of the Hindi name “am-choor.” A single teaspoon of amchoor provides the equivalent acidity of three tablespoons of lemon juice.


Anise – (Sanuf) -The seeds of Pimpinella anisum, a relative of caraway, cumin, and Dill, are native to the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. The ancient Romans believed anise seed to have medicinal properties so it was added to cakes served at the end of a meal to aid in digestion, and it is still used primarily in baked goods and sweets where its licorice-like flavor is always welcome. The seeds, which will retain their flavor for at least two years if stored properly, are similar yet milder in flavor to fennel and star anise.


Fennel – (Saunf) - Foeniculum vulgare - Foeniculum (Latin for "little hay") refers to the aroma of fennel and is the source of the name of fennel in many contemporary European languages. In India fennel is called saunf and is the traditional spice of the region.

Fennel is the dried aromatic ripe fruit of herbaceous plant and grows well in mild climates. Throughout Asia and Europe fennel fruits or seeds are used but there is no region where extensive fennel usage were especially typical. Even in many Mediterranean, Arabic, Iranian, Indian and Central European dishes fennel is needed in small quantities. It is a component of the Chinese five-spice powder and the Bengali panch phoron in India.


Star Anise – (BarDan) - which literally means "spice with twelve seeds". The dried fruit of the Illicium verum tree, a type of magnolia native to China and Japan, definitely takes the prize as the most attractive spice with its star-shaped seed pods. It has a sweet, warm flavor with notes of anise, fennel, and licorice, and is used in the West primarily as a flavoring ingredient in liqueurs such as pastis and anisette, and in chewing gum and pastries. Although it is sometimes available in ground form, buy only the whole pods and add them whole to soups and stews or grind them yourself in a spice mill.


Asafoetida- (Hing) - The dried resinous gum of several types of giant fennel (genus Ferula), asafetida is available either in small pieces called “tears,” “lumps” which have been processed into larger, uniform pieces, and in powdered form. It has a strong bitter, musky, acrid, and frankly unpleasant odor, but when fried briefly in hot oil it lends a much more appealing onion-like flavor. It is used primarily in Indian cooking and is particularly appreciated among the Brahmin and Jain sects whose beliefs forbid the use of garlic and onions.


Basil – (Pudina) – some times also called Mint or even Tulsi, Ocimum basilicum L - The name basil has been derived from the Greek word basileús meaning "king" because of the royal fragrance of this herb. In Indian and South- East Asia basil is considered to be sacred and is mainly used for religious (dedicated to Vishnu) purposes apart from its culinary usage. Genus Ocimum has a widespread growth all over Asia, Africa and Central and Southern America but was probably first put to cultivation in India. Today, basil is cultivated in many Asian and Mediterranean countries; main exporters (for the European market) are France, Italy, Morocco and Egypt.


Bay Leaves – (Tej Patta) - Laurus nobilis L - Popularly known across the globe for its versatile and irresistible aroma and taste, bay is the leaf of an evergreen tree that is recognized by names as, 'Sweet bay', 'Bay laurel', 'Noble laurel' and 'True laurel'. Originating in the South slopes of the Himalayas, the bay leaves have essential oil from the leaves containing cinnamic aldehyde and traces of eugenol as its main constituents.


Cardamom-(Green Elaichi) The seeds and seed pods of Elettaria cardamomum are sometimes called green cardamom in order to distinguish it from the closely related black cardamom. Native to southern India, it is now grown commercially in Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Guatemala. Indians also use it to flavor ice cream (kulfi) and tea, and Arabs use it to flavor coffee. It is also available in ground form which usually includes the hulls, so for best results, buy the whole pods and grind the seeds yourself.


Black Cardamom- (Elaichi – Black) The seeds of several species of the Amomum and Aframomum genera are sometimes sold as a cheap substitute for green cardamom, although they play a distinct role in the cuisine of the Himalayan region. The seeds may be used ground, whole, or encased in the woody pods in which they grow. They impart an astringent, earthy flavor and are used in just about every type of dish, from meats to pickles to confectionery. Black cardamom is one of the essential spices in garam masala, one of India’s most widely used spice mixtures.


Caraway seeds-(It is called Shia Jira or Siya Zira in Hind)i. The dried seeds of Carum carvi have an unmistakable flavor all their own, which no doubt accounts for the widespread popularity of this spice. It is used in breads, crackers, cakes, sausages, soups, and stews all over Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and India. Although it is available in ground form, it is most often found as whole seeds which will retain their flavor for at least six months if properly stored.


Cinnamon- (Dalchini) The dried bark of the Cinnamomum zelanicum tree native to Sri Lanka, true cinnamon is more subtle in flavor than cassia, but it also has a hint of cloves from the oil eugenol which cassia lacks. As with cassia, its primary use in the West is in sweets and baked goods, but it is also used in savory meat and vegetable dishes in North Africa, the Middle East, India, China, and Latin America. It is available as sticks (aka quills) and in ground form. When ground it loses its potency quickly, so buy it in small quantities. In stick form it will retain its flavor for several years.


Cassia-The dried bark of the Cinnamomum cassia tree native to Southeast Asia, it is usually sold as cinnamon in the USA. Sticks (aka quills) of dried bark are widely available, and since they are difficult to grind, a powdered form is available almost everywhere. The sticks will retain their flavor for over two years if stored in an airtight container, while the ground version will lose its potency in just a few months, so it is best to buy it in small quantities. It is very similar to Cinnamon- (Dalchini).


Chillies – (Lal Mirch) - Capsicum annum L Capsicum frutescens L - Unlike most other tropical spices, chilies are easy to cultivate and hence are cultivated in almost all the parts of the world, especially in the regions with tropic climate. Among the main producers of chilies India has an important standing.
Chilies were first brought to Europe during one of Columbus' expeditions but they did not meet much interest because black pepper seemed a much more promising culinary. However in Spanish and Portuguese colonies chilies did find a place Chilies were and within a few decades chilies became a fixed part in the daily diet of nearly all peoples in South and South East Asia.


Cloves- (Lavang) - The dried, unopened flower buds of Syzyium aromaticum, a small tropical evergreen tree native to the Moluccas in Indonesia, were known to ancient Romans thanks to an overland trade in spices dating back thousands of years. Eugenol is the essential oil that gives cloves their unique flavor which is appreciated in virtually all parts of the world. In India they are one of the basic ingredients of garam masala, in China they are essential to the five-spice mixture.


Coriander seeds- (Dhania) The dried seeds of the Cariandrum sativum plant, which also gives us the herb cilantro, have a sweet, spicy fragrance with hints of pepper and orange peel. They are widely used throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and India as a flavoring for meat and vegetable dishes, stews, and sausages. The whole seeds are easily crushed or ground and retain their flavor much longer than the pre-ground form available on the market.


Cumin – (Jeera) - Cuminum cyminum L - Cumin is the dried fruit of a small herbaceous plant and was popular even during the Biblical times as an efficient digestive food flavor for ceremonial feasting. From Latin America to North Africa and all over Asia cumin is the most popular spice used. Not just today but history also has experienced the flavor of cumin during the Roman Empire and in the ancient India where cumin has its mention as the sugandhan "well-smelling".

Cumin is one of the most typical spices for India and is fried or roasted before usage. Legumes, especially lentils are normally flavored by cumin fried in butterfat. Cumin also forms an essential part of the curry powder and of the Bengali spice mixture, panch phoron, besides being used in Northern Indian tandoori dishes. In imperial North Indian cuisine (Mughal or Mughlai) the mixture of cumin is prepared to relish sweet and aromatic flavor. This spice mixture is sometimes used for cooking, but more frequently sprinkled over the dishes before serving.

Dill – (Sowa / Suva) - Anethum graveoluns L - There are a number of versions related to the name "dill ". In most part of the world it is thought that the word dill is associated to the Old Norse dilla that means "calm", "soothe" as it was used to relieve babies from stomach pain due to its anti flatulent power. The genus name Anethum is derived from Greek áneeson or áneeton, which means "strongly smelling".The sweet taste of dill has made it popular all over Europe, Western, Central and Southern Asia. In Europe it is mostly used for bread, vegetable, pickles and fish. Among the components of sour vinegar also dill is an essential ingredient.


Fenugreek – (Methi) - Trigonella foenum-graecum L - Trigonella is a Latin byname of Greek trígonon "triangle" and refers to the small, three- cornered flowers. The Latin species name foenum graecum means "Greek hay", which is a dried plant's (leaves or seeds) and has a strong hay-like scent.Fenugreek has a strong, pleasant and a peculiar odor and grows best in well-drained soils with a low rainfall into brownish- yellow rhombic shape seeds. Indians like the fresh leaves, which are eaten as tasty vegetable and prepared like spinach and sometimes found in Indian yeast bread. Commercially known as 'Methi', Indian fenugreek comes in several well-known varieties such as 'Desi' and 'Champa' and is grown in the Indian states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The spice is exported in its whole and powdered forms and as oil that is extensively used in perfumery.


Galanga – (Kulinjan, Punnagchampa) - Alpinia galanga - Indigenous to India, galanga grows perfectly along the eastern Himalayas and in South- West India. The ginger like rootstock is built from cylindrical sub units whose pale-reddish surface is characteristically cross-striped by reddish-brown, small rings. Greater galangale is mostly referred to as galangale or galanga and is a very popular spice in whole South East Asia and especially typical for the cuisine of Thailand. The interior has about the same color as the skin and is hard and woody in texture. Although galanga leaves and seeds are aromatic but are not used very often for flavoring purposes.Galanga has been a valued spice since the early Middle- ages. Used fresh or dried, an exotic flavor with distinct aroma and taste is experienced. In almost all-Thai food has as its flavoring ingredient, the galanga. Dried and powdered galanga is less fresh but more spicy and is also sold in form of slices that are to be reconstituted in warm water for proper flavoring.


Ginger – (Adrak) - Zingiber officinale - Serving the purpose of a taste- maker, an appetizer and a drug, ginger is known as one of the earliest Oriental spice in Europe and has been cultivated in India as a fresh vegetable and marketed as a dried spice since time immemorial. Ginger was an important spice during the Roman times. During the last centuries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ginger was used to flavor true beer i.e. the alcoholic beverage obtained by fermenting malt.Originally from Central Asia, today ginger is cultivated in all the tropical and subtropical Asian regions, Brazil, Jamaica and Nigeria. Raw ginger is popular in South East Asia. In India ginger tea prepared by cooking slices of fresh ginger for a few minutes, is taken as a spicy and healthy drink to get relieved form cold and cough.

The fresh, dried or powdered rhizome of a slender perennial herb, Indian ginger is acclaimed worldwide for its characteristic taste, flavor & texture. Ginger is cultivated as a cash crop in Africa and Latin America and its drink known as Ginger ale is very popular in USA. Like root beer the ginger soft drink is not fermented beer but simply sugar, ginger extract and carbonated water.


Garlic – (Lahsoon) - Allium sativum - Originated in central Asia, garlic is today one of the famous spice of the world and after being cultivated all over the world it met enthusiastic approval. Garlic finds its mention in the Bible and in the ancient Egyptian times when they were fed to the pyramid builders daily and as food for the Hebrews during their sojourn in Egypt. Even the Roman period had garlic as a common spice and it was extensively used from India to East Asia even before the Europeans arrived there. After the Age of Exploration, garlic spread rapidly to Africa and both Americas.

Garlic is a hardy bulbous annual, with narrow flat leaves a pungent and acid flavor and acknowledged medicinal value. The entire bulb ('cloves') is without odor but once cut or bruised, they produce an intensely strong odor.


(Kokum) - Garcinia indica - With an agreeable flavor and sweet, acidic taste Kokam is an Indian spice specialty for culinary and medical purposes.
Indian kokam is a versatile spice. Its oils, seeds, fruits, bark and the young leaves are all of extensive culinary and therapeutic value. The kokam fruit is cholagogue, cooling, demulcent, emollient and antiseptic. The bark and young leaves are astringent. The oil is emollient and soothing. Among the major uses of kokam are, garnish for curries and in the preparation of cooling syrups.


Mustard Seeds – (Sarsaon) - Brassica juncea (L.) - Mustard is cultivated in most temperate climates. It is also now grown in certain tropical and sub-tropical regions as a cold-weather crop. Mustard is an erect, multi-branched herbaceous plant that is indigenous to the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. It is more famous in Northern India for preparation of the famed “Sarson Ka Saag”.

Mustard, usually used in seed, paste or powdered form is a known spice since ages. This spice was used as a medicinal plant by Pythagoras and Hippocrates, whilst the Romans ground the seeds with wine to produce a sauce not dissimilar to today's mustard. In Denmark and India, it's believed that spreading mustard seeds around the exterior of the home will keep out evil spirits. The ancient Chinese considered mustard an aphrodisiac.


Pepper – (Kali Mirch) - Piper nigrum L - The word pepper is derived from the Sanskrit name pippali or pippalii, which is only one of the many names of pepper in Sanskrit language and that was transferred via Greek péperi and Latin piper. The most important producer for pepper is India that accounts for about 50% of the whole production volume.
Black pepper is a native to Malabar, a region on the Western Coast of South India. This aromatic spice with an exotic flavor and a pungent odor is cultivated in the wilds of Burma apart from South India since millennia. Two thousand years ago pepper reached Southeast Asia and has been grown in the lands of Malaysia and Indonesia since then. In the last few decades of the 20.th century, pepper production increased as new plantations were founded in Thailand, Vietnam, China and Sri Lanka.

In India pepper is a known spice since ages. Even before the time of Alexander's conquest of India, Indians knew the flavor of pepper. This spice was prevalent in the biblical times as well. Later Arab traders established a pepper monopoly and transferred the spice via the spice route through the Arab peninsular and Egypt to European customers. Pepper was much used by the Romans and in the Early Middle Ages became a status symbol of fine cookery.


Poppy – (Post dana / Khuskhus) - Papaver somniferum L - Indigenous to the Mediterranean region and Central Asia, Poppy is the dried seed of an annual herb. Poppy is probably the earliest plant to be cultivated by men. In Europe poppy is being cultivated since the Neolithic era and is an ancient cultigen. The spice poppy has its mention in the Ilias, an epic ascribed to the legendary Greek poet Homeros.
Poppy seeds are not narcotic, however in Asia, poppy is much cultivated for culinary purposes and for the production of opium. Opium is obtained from the latex of the mature fruits by making incisions on them. Therefore, no opium reaches the seeds from the ovaries. Ground poppy seeds are common thickening agent in the Mughal cooking style of Northern India to obtain the sweet, mild, nutty flavor and aroma. Poppy's nutty taste is loved by the Japanese and used for the subtly flavored dishes typical for Japan.

Indian poppy seeds are popularly used in carrot, pea and tomato dishes and in several types of dips. They are frequently sprinkled over chilled soups, savory pastry crusts, rolls and other bakery products. Cultivation of poppy in India is confined to a few regions in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.


Safron – (Kesar) - Crocus sativus L - Often called 'The Golden Spice', saffron has a history rooted in antiquity. It has always held a very special place for its extraordinary medicinal and flavoring properties as well as for being a striking yellow dye. Indian saffron is cultivated on a large scale in the Jammu & Kashmir valley whose cool dry climate and rich soil with excellent drainage and organic content make the location an ideal thriving ground for this spice. By every standard, Indian saffron is considered superior to its foreign counterparts.

Like most of the European spices, Saffron derives from Arabic za'fran "be yellow". The Hindi and Sanskrit names have been derived from the Northern Indian region Kashmir, where old saffron was produced. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. In production countries the price is much lower, but so is the quality. Saffron's aroma is unique and there is no substitute for it. Saffron is the slender, dried, reddish-brown, flattened stigma of a small crocus of the iris family.

Saffron is cultivated from the Western Mediterranean (Spain) to India (Kashmir). In much smaller scale, saffron is also cultivated in Italy and Greece (Crete). Of the Western and Central Asian cultivation areas, Iran is most productive and together with Spain and Iran produces more than 80% of the world's production. The saffron grown in India- Kashmir has particularly high reputation, but is hardly available outside India.

Saffron is more important in Central Asia and Northern India and is used extensively for rice dishes. Even the North Indian biryanis are relished due to the fragrant and aromatic flavor added by the saffron. Indian sweets like, kheer, ras malai, Indian yogurt drink (lassi), butter lassi (makhaniya lassi) have an everlasting culinary impression due to the saffron added to it. The use of saffron in sweet dishes is famous in the desert regions of Jodhpur in Rajasthan in the Indian sub continent.

Saffron is unique among spices due to its aroma. It is water-soluble and when added to the dish, gives a pure and homogeneous color. In high dosage, saffron exhibits toxic qualities. However, due to its high price, saffron poisoning is very rare.


Tamarind – (Imli) - Tamarindus indica L - Literally meaning the Arabic tamr hindi or "date of India", this spice is originally from Eastern Africa, but now is being cultivated all over the tropics and is a much-valued food ingredient in many Asian or Latin American recipes. The fruit of a tropical tree, tamarind is an indispensable spice in most south Indian kitchens.

Tamarind is actually the fruit pod produced by tall, semi-evergreen tree grown primarily in India. The beans and pulp within the pod are virtually no smell, but is has an extremely sour taste. Tamarind is available in whole pods, a compressed block, paste or concentrates and is most likely to be found in Asian markets.

The pulp is sold dry and needs to be soaked before usage. Tamarind is taken as basis for spicy and sometimes sweet sauces used to marinade meat or soybean cheese before frying. In peninsular Southeast Asia (Vietnam and Thailand), the pods are preferred unripe and used in tart soups or stews. These cannot be dried without aroma change.

Available in the form of pulp and juice concentrates it is used mainly for the preparation of cool drinks, seafood and a range of sophisticated cuisine. Fresh tamarind can be stored at room temperature, but should be used within a few days of purchase. Tamarind concentrate can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several months.


Turmeric – (Haldi) - Curcuma longa L - The use of turmeric dates back nearly 4000 years, to the Vedic culture in India, when turmeric was the principal spice and also of religious significance. Turmeric is also sometimes called 'Indian saffron' because of its brilliant yellow color and Indian turmeric is considered the best in the world.

India alone produces nearly the whole world's crop of turmeric and uses 80% of it. In today's India, turmeric is added to nearly every dish be it non- vegetarian or vegetables. Turmeric is part of all Indian curry powders and due to Indian influence, turmeric made its way to the cuisine of Ethiopia. In South East Asia, the fresh spice is much preferred to the dried.

Turmeric root is very similar in appearance to gingerroot, except that, once peeled, is bright yellow in color. Turmeric is more commonly found and used in powdered form and is often used in place of saffron, more for it's color than flavor which is warm and peppery. Turmeric is most often used in curries, but is also used in chutneys, rice and vegetable dishes.

India today is the largest exporter of turmeric to countries like the Middle East, the UK, USA and Japan.

Some of the well-accepted varieties are 'Alleppey Finger' and 'Erode turmeric' (from Tamil Nadu), 'Rajapore' and 'Sangli turmeric' (from Maharashtra) and 'Nizamabad Bulb' (from Andhra Pradesh).


Vanilla – (Vanilla) - Vanilla planifolia - Over 50 species described, only three are important species as sources of natural vanillin, namely, Vanilla planifollia Andrews, Vanilla pompona Shiede and Vanilla tahitensis J.W. Moore. Of these, Vanilla planifolia is the most preferred and commercially cultivated.

Vanilla pods are the fruit of the vanilla planifolia and are the only orchid to produce an edible substance. Vanilla pods are long, thin and filled with beans that are virtually flavorless in their unripe state. The pods must be cured for several months until vanillin crystals are emitted. The fragrance from the vanillin permeates the inside of the pod that eventually turns dark brown. The beans are then scraped from the inside of the pod and are ready for use. The complicated processing of vanilla (because fresh vanilla pods do not have any taste) and the need of manual pollination makes vanilla one of the most expensive spices.

Native of México, vanilla was used to flavor famous chocolate drink. Together with chocolate, vanilla slowly became so popular in Europe that today, Western cooks use it for a variety of sweet dishes, cookies, cakes, drinks, sweet sauces and vanilla ice. Synthetic vanillin, made from wood wastes, is much cheaper in price, but lacks the subtle flavor of true vanilla. Pure vanilla extract is prepared by steeping cured vanilla beans in alcohol.


Nigella – (Kallonji) - Nigella (Nigella sativa L.) - There is a lot of confusion about the names of this spice: It is referred by a multitude of names which, in other sources, might mean something else entirely. In some English sources, it is called black cumin, but I think this is a poor choice, as the name black cumin is already reserved for another, somewhat obscure, spice from Central Asia and Northern India. I have also read the name black caraway (for its usage, together with caraway, in Jewish rye breads) and black onion seed (motivated by the similarity to the seeds of onion); but there is no botanical relation between nigella and any of these plants.

In the USA, nigella is often known as charnushka (deriving from the Russian name chernushka [чернушка] and probably introduced into American English by Armenian emigrants). The Hindi term kalonji is widely used by Indians even when speaking English.

Moreover, nigella is sometimes confused with black sesame seeds; occasonally, it is even named such. More rarely, there is confusion with ajwain, which in some languages bears similar names; ajwain itself is notorious for being confounded with numerous other plants.


Nutmeg – (Jaiphal) – Myristicaceae - Nutmeg is also used for flavoring various food stuffs. People often use it as a condiment particularly in sweet foods. Nutmeg is also used as a spice in the food processing industry. It is also used in the preparation of soups, meat products, sauces, puddings, seasoning of meat, baked foods, confectioneries, vegetable etc. In Eastern countries, people use it as a drug. Nutmeg oil is used in cosmetics and toiletries. Nutmeg is beneficial in the treatment of fever, asthma and heart disease. It is used exclusively in Indian sweets. Nutmeg oil is used to relax muscles and has a sedative capability. It can reduce flatulence, aid digestion, improve the appetite and treat diarrhea, vomiting and nausea.


Mace – (Javitri) - Myristica Fragrans - Mace is known to be aromatic product which is used for Medicinal purpose. It is used in tonics and electuaries and is recommended for the inflammatory treatment of the bladder and urinary tract. It carries a stimulating effect on stomach and intestines, increasing appetite and reducing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a helpful remedy for many other digestive problems. Mace is also applied externally and is beneficial in arthritis and chronic rheumatism. Mace is also used in savory dishes.


Hyssop – (Jufa) - Hyssopus officinalis - Hyssop belongs to the mint family. Hyssop and its oil are used to cure respiratory problems. Fresh and dried hyssop flowers are also used as decoration. Hyssop is used both as a medicine and also as a condiment. Hyssop leaves and flowering tops are used in flavoring of soups and salads. Hyssop is also used in the preparation of liquors and perfumes. It is considered as a stimulant, carminative and expectorant. It is also used in colds, coughs, and congestion and lung complaints. Hyssop oil is used as a flavoring agent in perfumery. This particular herb has multipurpose uses and hence widely demanded.


Juniper Berries – (Aaraar) - Juniperus communis - The Juniper is a small shrub, 4 to 6 feet high, widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The berries are used for the production of the volatile oil which is a prime ingredient in Geneva or Hollands Gin, upon which its flavor and diuretic properties depend. Sometimes it is used for the preparation of alcoholic beverages. The oil is used in flavoring liquors and cordial. Juniper berry is used both as a food flavourant and as a food. For the proper functioning of digestive system, the female reproductive system and the menstrual cycle, this fruit is beneficial, and stimulates the appetite, settles the stomach, and relieves gas.


Pomegranate –(Anar dana) - Punica Granatum - The pomegranate fresh seeds are used as a garnish on potatoes, apple sauce and rice dishes. We can also use its seeds on top waffles, pancakes, or ice cream sundaes . The fruit of pomegranate is useful in chronic dysentery and diarrhea. Pomegranate juice consists of vitamin C and is considered as a health drink. The juice can be used in a variety of of ways as a fresh juice, to make sorbets, jellies, cold or hot sauces, flavor cakes, baked apples, etc. Pomegranate juice can also be made into a wine. Dried pomegranate seeds are used as a spice in Indian and Iranian cooking. These seeds are usually collected from a wild, sour pomegranate and not from the sweeter pomegranate which is typically eaten fresh. The seeds are used to add a flavor to foods. All you need to crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle before using as a spice and add flavor to your cooking.

With so many Indian spices available, these above spices are the main ones that are used in combination to create specific type of Ready made Powders called as "Masala"...which have a proportionate quantity of each spice which has been carried down through tradition. My effort was to highlight some of the most commonly used spices. I am sure these would cover most of the day to day requirements of recipes. However as mentioned earlier, if any reader would like to include any new spice or herb, you are welcome to send me details through the comments column, and we will research on the same and publish the details with due credit to you.

Happy Cooking!

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