Nutritional Information & Health Benefits of Indian Spices

Indian food surprises us not only with its incomparable flavors and scents thanks to the use of specific combination of spices. India's vast reservoir of spices made from its abundance of tropical herbs and plants contains medicinal and preservative properties. Health benefits of Indian Spices are tremendous.

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Discover the Magic of Indian Spices

Herbs and spices have traditionally been used to treat diseases for thousands of years. They were mentioned in the ancient Hindu scriptures called the Vedas, ancient Egyptian papyruses and the Old Testament. Although it was not until the Roman conquests that western counties discovered their culinary possibilities, spices have always been believed to have healing and magical qualities. They have been used to cast spells, as incense in religious rites, to embalm corpses, to add aroma to perfumes and as aphrodisiacs. The word spice comes from Latin species, meaning a commodity of value and distinction. During their long and fascinating history, spices have often been more valuable than gold or precious stones, and the trade of spices has been an extraordinarily influential factor in history.

The advantage of using of spices and herbs over commercial drugs is the decreased side effects. Indian spices are very popular not only in India but elsewhere also. They add flavor and nutrients to dishes without fat or calories!

Asafoetida - gets its name from the Persian aza, for mastic or resin, and the Latin foetidus, for stinking. It is a gum from the sap of the roots and stem of the ferula species, a giant fennel that exudes a vile odor. It is vital to keep asafoetida in airtight containers as its sulfurous odor will affect other foods and spices. This is a very powerful spice and even in its ground state lasts well over a year if stored properly, away from light and air. This is traditional powdered asafoetida, that is, the pure ground resin mixed with rice flour and gum arabic. It is much easier to use than the pure resin alone, and may be added directly to recipes (the unmixed resin requires preparatory frying). Asafoetida is used mostly in Indian vegetarian cooking, in which the strong onion-garlic flavor enhances many dishes, especially those of Brahmin and Jain castes where onions and garlic are traditionally prohibited. It is used in many lentil dishes (often to prevent flatulence), vegetarian soups and pickles. It is also suited to many fish dishes, and some pappadums (lentil-flour flatbreads) are seasoned with asafoetida. Cooking radically improves both the taste and smell of asafoetida powder.

Cardamom - its prime uses are similar to those of cinnamon and ginger - as carminative, digestion and stimulant. It is also a valuable flavoring agent for herbal medicinal preparations for indigestion and flatulence. Cardamom is also chewed as a breath and tooth cleaner. Chinese use powdered cardamom sprinkled on cooked cereal to correct gluten intolerance in children. The 1997 Commission E on Phytotherapy and Herbal Substances of the German Federal Institute for Drugs recommends Cardamom for Dyspepsia. The seeds are helpful in indigestion and flatulence, giving a grateful but not fiery warmth. When chewed singly in the mouth the flavor is not unpleasant, and they are said to be good for colic and disorders of the head. In flavorings they are combined with oils of Orange, Cinnamon, Cloves, and Caraway.' King's 1898 Dispensatory: 'Cardamom seeds are very warm, grateful, pungent and aromatic, and form an agreeable addition to bitter infusions, and other medicinal compounds. They are chiefly employed as a carminative in flatulency, and to flavor syrups, tinctures.

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Cayenne (Red) Pepper and Paprika: - The intense heat produced by cayenne pepper is produced by its high concentration of capsaicin. This compound is well recognized in clinical research as an effective pain reliever, as a digestive and antiulcer aid and for its cardiovascular benefits. In addition capsaicin has the ability to lower body temperature by stimulating the cooling center of the hypothalamus in the brain, helping to deal with the intense tropical heat. Capsaicin is also responsible for the irritating effect of red pepper when is applied to the skin or ingested via its ability to cause the release of substance P. But the repeated applications of capsaicin deplete substance P from small nerve fibers thereby eventually blocking the pain sensation. A similar occurrence happens with the ingestion of cayenne pepper in that the more frequently it is consumed, the greater the tolerance. Capsaicin containing creams and gels are available as FDA approved topical treatments for arthritis and pain such as that seen in diabetic neuropathy. Clinical studies demonstrate that capsaicin products applied topically can produce impressive result in cases of psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post herpetic neuralgia. Topical capsaicin preparations have been shown to be an effective treatment for cluster headaches and osteoarthritis pain. Perhaps most important are its effects of stimulating and enhancing digestion. Although people with active peptic ulcer may be bothered by spicy foods containing cayenne pepper, spicy foods do not cause ulcers in normal individuals. There is some evidence that supports the idea that spicy food contains cayenne pepper and turmeric may actually help to heal peptic ulcers. Red pepper consumption protects against aspirin - induced stomach damage and improved abdominal pain, fullness, and nausea scores in people with nonnuclear dyspepsia. Cayenne pepper also exerts a number of beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. Specifically, it reduces the likelihood of developing atherosclerosis by reducing blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and platelet aggregation, as well as increasing fibrinolytic activity, referring to the ability to prevent the formation of blood clots, which can lead to a heart attack, stroke or pulmonary embolism. Several studies has shown that increasing the intake of cayenne pepper may be an effective method of increasing the basal metabolic rate and the burning of fat for energy (lipid oxidation). Capsaicin also has a stimulating effect on mucus membranes of the nose and sinuses. Capsaicin stimulates blood flow through the membranes and causes mucus secretions to become thinner and more liquid. This action makes it beneficial in combating the common cold or sinus infection.

Cinnamon - has a long history of use in both Eastern and Western cultures as a medicine. Cinnamon's unique healing abilities come from three basic components in the essential oil found in its bark. These oil contain active components called cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate and cinnamyl alcohol, plus a wide range of other volatile substances. Some of its reported uses are in cases of arthritis, asthma, cancer, diarrhea, fever, heart problems, insomnia, menstrual problems, peptic ulcers, psoriasis, and spastic muscles. There are scientific studies to support some of these uses. Some of the confirmed effects of cinnamon are as a sedative for smooth muscle, circulatory stimulant, carminative, digestant, anticonvulsant, diaphoretic, diuretic, antibiotic, and ant ulcerative. One recent investigation of sixty people with type 2 diabetes demonstrated that 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon taken daily for 40 days reduced fasting blood glucose by 18 to 29 percent, triglycerides by 23 to 30 %, LDL (bad) cholesterol by 12 to 26 %. In contrast there were no clear changes for the subjects who did not take the cinnamon. Other clinical studies have shown cinnamon containing formulas to be useful in cases of the common cold, influenza, and frostbite.

Cloves - contain significant amount of an active component called eugenol, which has made them the subject of numerous health studies, including studies showing benefit for the prevention of toxicity from environmental pollutants, such as carbon tetrachloride, prevention of digestive tract cancers and treatment of joint inflammation. In USA eugenol extracts from clove have often been used in dentistry in conjunction with root canal therapy, temporary fillings and general gum pain, since eugenol and other components in cloves, including betacaryophyllene, combine to make clove a mild anesthetic as well as an antibacterial agent. For these beneficial effects, you will also find clove oil in some over the counter sore throat sprays and mouthwashes.

Coriander seeds - have a health supporting reputation that is high on the list of the healing spices. The essential oils in the seeds make it and effective carminative and digestive aid. In parts of Europe, coriander has traditionally been referred to as an anti diabetic plant. In parts of India, it has traditionally been used regarding to its anti-flammatory properties. Modern scientific investigations of coriander have focused on its antimicrobial properties., antanxiety action and cholesterol – lowering effects. Cumin - cumin seeds have traditionally been noted to be of benefit to the digestive system. Research on animals has indicated that cumin may stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes, important factors in proper digestion and nutrient assimilation. As with other carminative spices, cumin’s digestive stimulating effects are due to its content of volatile oils. Cumin seeds may also have anticancer properties. I one study, cumin was shown to protect laboratory animals from developing stomach for liver tumors. This cancer – protective effect may be due to cumin's potent free – radical scavenging abilities, as well as the ability it has shown to enhance the liver’s detoxification enzymes.

Fennel seeds are a common cooking spice worldwide, popular with fish and curries. Fennel is an element of Chinese five spice powder, and is part of innumerable traditional Mediterranean, Arabic, Iranian, Indian and European recipes. Fennel's sweet earthy taste enhances meat dishes, fish, breads, pickles and vinegar. The herb is also traditional in Chinese, Arab, Indian and Western pharmacopoeias. After meals, fennel seeds are used in several cultures to prevent gas and upset stomach. The 1997 Commission E on Phytotherapy and Herbal Substances of the German Federal Institute for Drugs recommends Fennel seed for 'Dyspepsias such as mild, spastic gastrointestinal afflictions, fullness, flatulence. Catarrh of the upper respiratory tract. Fennel syrup, fennel honey: catarrh of the upper respiratory tract in children.' 'Side Effects: In individual cases allergic reactions of skin and respiratory tract.' 'Daily dosage: 5 - 7 g herb; 10 - 20 g fennel syrup or honey (Erg. B. 6); 5 - 7.5 g compound fennel tincture; equivalent preparations. Mode of Administration: Crushed or ground seeds for teas, tea-like products, as well as other galenical preparations for internal use. Duration of Administration Fennel preparations should not be used on a prolonged basis (several weeks) without consulting a physician or pharmacist.' 'Actions: Promotes gastrointestinal motility, in higher concentrations acts as an antispasmodic. Experimentally, anethole and fenchone have been shown to have a secretolytic action in the respiratory tract; in the frog, aqueous fennel extracts raise the mucociliary activity of the ciliary epithelium.' The main active constituents, which include the terpenoid anethole, are found in the volatile oil. Anethole and other terpenoids may have mild estrogen-like activity, and inhibit spasms in smooth muscles, such as those in the intestinal tract. Recent studies have found fennel to possess diuretic, choleretic (bile-producing), pain-reducing, fever-reducing, and antimicrobial actions. Fennel was formerly an official drug in the United States and was listed as being used for indigestion and possibly for stimulating milk flow in women. Whole seeds may be chewed or used in tea. Grieve's classic 'A Modern Herbal': 'On account of its aromatic and carminative properties, Fennel fruit is chiefly used medicinally with purgatives to allay their tendency to griping and for this purpose forms one of the ingredients of the well-known compound Liquorice Powder.' 'Fennel water has properties similar to those of anise and dill water: mixed with sodium bicarbonate and syrup, these waters constitute the domestic 'Gripe Water,' used to correct the flatulence of infants.'

Fenugreek - Galactomannas, which have been found in fenugreek and glucomannas have been determined to have cholesterol-lowering activity and to help stabilize blood sugar.

Ginger – it is very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. In herbal medicine, ginger is regarded as excellent carminative, a substance that promotes the elimination of intestinal gas, and intestinal spasmolytic, a substance that relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract. Modern scientific research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties, including carminative and intestinal spasmolytic effects, antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inflammatory compounds, and direct anti-flammatory effects. A combination of ginger cardamom, cinnamon and coriander is carminative and stimulating to the digestion. Gingerroot appear to be equally effective for automobile, airplane, train or boat trips, It reduces all symptoms associated with motion sickness, including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and cold sweating. Ginger affects the gastrointestinal tract and slows the feedback interaction between the stomach and the nausea center in the brain by absorbing and neutralizing gastrointestinal hormones, toxins and acids. Ginger has also been used to treat the nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, including hyper emesis grvidarum, the most severe form of pregnancy – related nausea and vomiting. Ginger also contains very potent anti-flammatory compounds called gingerols. These substances are believed to explain why so many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reduction in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly. Gingererols inhibit the formation of inflammatory cytokines, chemical messengers of the immune system. Although most scientific studies have used powdered gingerroot. Fresh gingerroot at an equivalent dosage is believed to yield even better result because it contains active enzymes. In India, a knob of fresh ginger added to tea is believed to relieve sore throats and head colds, not to mention it’s aphrodisiacal properties!

Mint exerts a wide range of health benefits. Like their aromatic plants, their primary application has been as a carminative and digestent. The oil of the peppermint plant is an excellent example. It has been shown to relieve spasm of the gastrointestinal tract and gas. In fact a enteric coated peppermint oil capsule has been shown to be very effective in reliving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint oil relaxes smooth muscle. Once the smooth muscles surrounding the intestine are relaxed, there is less chance of spasm and the indigestion that can accompany it. Peppermint contains a compound known as perillyl alcohol that has been shown to inhibit the growth or formation of cancer. It also contains the substance rosmarinic acid, a powerful antioxidant that blocks the production of allergy – producing leukotrienes. The high content of rosmarinic acid may be the season extracts of peppermint have been shown to help relieve the nasal symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever)

Mustard seeds - like other cabbage - family vegetables mustard seeds contain plentiful amount of phytochemicals called glucosinolates and and isothiocyanates. These compounds have been repeatedly studied for their anticancer effects. Nutmeg - nutmeg as both a dried spice and an essential oil is used as a carminative (to lessen gas formation and prevent flatulence). An ointment made with nutmeg butter has also been used as a counterirritant to treat rheumatism. Nutmeg has been found to be an effective ant diarrhea agent, reducing the amount of stool, increasing the period between evacuations, and improving intestinal tone while inhibiting the contractions that would normally be stimulated by irritating agents. In addition, nutmeg's demonstrated sedative effects had no harmful effects on blood pressure. in various studies, nutmeg oil has expedited considerable antibacterial activity against 25 different species of bacteria, including animal and plant pathogens, and food poisoning and spoilage bacteria. The results of these studies provide scientific support for the traditional use of nutmeg as a food preservative, disinfectant, and antiseptic.

Pepper (black) - pepper is valued not only for culinary purposes but also for its medicinal applications for treatment of digestive disorders. Black pepper has diaphoretic, carminative and diuretic properties. It also stimulates the taste buds in a manner that causes an increase in stomach acid secretion, thereby improving digestion. Black pepper has demonstrated impressive antioxidant and antibacterial properties as well, and the outer layer of the peppercorn has been proven to stimulate the breakdown of fat cells. Many of the benefits of black pepper are due to the compound piperine. Piperine has been shown to dramatically increase the absorption of certain nutrients, such as selenium, B vitamins and beta-carotene. Also, it supports and assist the body's natural thermogenic activities and support and enhance the liver's detoxification process.

Saffron – has been used as and aphrodisiac, diaphoretic (to cause sweating), carminative (to prevent gas) and emmenagogue (to bring on menstruation). In Japan saffron is encapsulated and used as a sleep aid and in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Modern research suggests the spice may provide protection against cancer, memory loss, heart disease, and inflammation. Saffron contains a dark orange, water – soluble carotene called crocin, which is responsible for golden color. It has potent antioxidant and anticancer effects, which may help explain saffron’s historical use in cancer treatment. Crocin has been fount do trigger apoptosis (programmed cell death) in a number of different types of human cancer cells, including murine tumors, liver cancer and leukemia. In studies conducted in China, saffron has demonstrated anticancer activity against a wide spectrum of cancers, including leukemia, ovarian carcinoma, colon Aden carcinoma, papilloma, and soft tissue sarcoma, and has also been used to protect against coronary heart disease and hepatitis and to promote a healthy immunity. Researchers in Mexico discovered that saffron extract and several its active components display a dose – dependent ability to inhibit human malignant cells but also actually stimulates their formation and that of lymphocytes (immune cells that help destroy cancer cells) Recent studies have also demonstrated that saffron extract, specifically its crocin, promotes learning and memory retention in experimental animals. On the basis of the early research, scientist are hopeful that saffron may be useful as a treatment for age-related mental impairment. Saffron also has demonstrated protective effects against heart disease.

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Turmeric – is used as an anti-inflammatory agent and in the treatment of numerous conditions, including flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, bloody urine, hemorrhage, toothache, bruises, chest pain and colic. Turmeric poultices are often applied locally to relieve inflammation and pain. Turmeric is splendid against skin diseases. Curcumin, turmeric’s yellow pigment, has demonstrated significant anti-flamantory activity in a variety of experimental models. Other clinical studies have further substantiated curumin’s anti-inflammatory effects in rheumatoid arthritis. In the study curcumin was compared to phenylbutazone. The improvements in the duration of morning stiffness, walking time, and joint swelling were comparable in both groups. Curcumin helps the body to destroy mutated cancer cells, so the cannot spared through the body and cause more harm. Some of curcumin’s benefits come from its know activity as an antioxidant but curcumin also:

  • Inhibits the formation of cancer causing nitrosamines
  • Promotes the liver’s properdetoxification of cancer-causing compounds
  • Prevents overproduction cyclooxygenase 2 (COX – 2), an enzyme that may contribute to the development of tumors. Regarding the heart disease turmeric not only helps to lower cholesterol it also prevents the oxidation of cholesterol.
  • Since oxidized cholesterol is what damages blood vessels and builds up in the plaques that can lead to heart attack or stroke, preventing the oxidation of new cholesterol may help to reduce the progression of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease.

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