With Indian markets popping up all over the US and Europe, those of us who have traveled to the continent can enjoy the medicinal and gastrological pleasures of a far away land. India’s spices contain the bright colors of the rainbow not unlike the colors of the Holi Festival celebrated as a means of honoring the triumph of good over evil. The many spices used in traditional Indian cooking and in Ayurvedic medicine are mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures, including the Vedas and on ancient Egyptian papyrus. Leaves, bark, roots, flowers, and ground seeds or bulbs are used as to help digestion, and make food more palatable. Indian herbs have both pharmacalogical and physiological properties. They also make for some of the most vibrant gourmet delicacies imaginable.
Who can mistake the bright orange color of Tumeric, known as a powerful means to destroy cancerous tumors? It is also used in numerous Indian rituals, including painting deities in shrines to indicate their divine nature. This one spice is used for a multiplicity of purposes, from healing rheumatic disorders, atherosclerosis, gastrointestinal issues, and rhinitis. It is also used as a cosmetic, anti-inflammatory, wound healer, detoxifier of the blood, anti-oxidant, and de-worming device. It prevents DNA damage, and repairs DNA that has already been damaged by free radicals. It also helps stop the excretion of mutagens (mal-formed cells) in people who smoke. This one root-derived herb is a seeming panacea of health, but there are 1000s of herbs used in the traditional Indian diet. Part of this widespread use of herbal substances in food is due to the science of Ayurveda, which translates from two Sanskrit words meaning ‘wisdom’ and ‘life.’ From the anti-inflammatory inducing curry powder to Fenugreek seeds, rich in soluble fiber, and even more commonly known herbs like onions, ginger and garlic, food is seen as medicine. No dish is bland. No dish is without a host of naturopathic vitality.
You can visit a traditional wholesale spice markets on the corner of every large city, from Jodhpur, Rajastan to Delhi and even in more remote locations across the more rural areas of the country. Khari Baoli, a street that runs from the famous Fatehpuri Mosque to the outer reaches of the city in Delhi, for example, has one of the oldest spice markets in the country. It has been around for centuries. You can wander rows and rows of huge sacks overflowing with herbs and spices, lentils and flowers, fruits and seeds. You can purchase specially concocted teas for any possible malady and inhale deeply, the scents of a thousand different herbal elixirs.
Other spice markets, like the quaint little shop run by an unassuming Indian woman in Jodhpur, called Spice Paradise, is less in-your-face and more simple in its offerings. She still has hundreds of spices and doesn’t try to bully you with big-city arm-twisting. There are spice markets in Chandi Chowk, in Sardar market, and Mangalore (Karnataka). In fact, every city in India has its ‘specialty spices” at least according to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry hosted by the government of India. Black pepper can be found in Kanjangad, Tellicherry, Calicut, and Bombay, just to name a few cities. Tumeric can be found in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra. Coriander seed can be found in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Varavakonda. Curry powders can be found in West Bengal and Madras, Bombay and Kerala. Whatever your spice dream, India can make it come true. For a complete listing of India’s spice districts check here.
There are spice auctions and spice fairs. Spice cooking parties and spice growing states divided up into main sections of India from Gujarat to Karnataka. You can find Saffron, Garlic, Celery Seed, Cloves, Ajowan, Fenugreek, Cumin, Coriander, Chili powders, Tejpat, Anise, Nutmeg and Mace, Tumeric, Cumin and Cardamom – just to name a partial list. India remains one of the biggest exporters of spices in the world. (They export 1200 tons of pepper and 30,00 tons of chilli in one month.) It is no wonder one of the biggest tourist attractions is the spice market. Aside from the glorious color and variety of spices available in India, there is the sheer brilliance of a culture who uses such a cornucopia of herbal knowledge to inform their cuisine.
Whether you develop a taste for Garam Masala or Tamarind, you can emblazon the tastes and smells on India on your brain with a short walk through any market and a few tastes of some of the most popular regional dishes. With influences from its history under Mughal rule, its relations to Europe and Asia and its Hindu and Jain encouragement toward vegetarianism, your food will never be without flavor. With over 5000 years of cultural exchange, and a food classification system that honors the difference in personality types, you can’t go wrong. Thanks to Ayurveda, you can eat either a saatvic, raajsic or taamsic diet. You can spice up your bajra (pearl miller) or rice, add some kick to your lentils or pigeon peas (toor) or eat mung beans (moong) drowned in tumeric, cumin and ground coriander. The novelty of Indian spice never ends, and your overall health will certainly be boosted from the myriad anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-carcinogenic affects of many of these herbs.
To start eating an Indian style dish today, try the following recipe for the traditional staple of mung beans:
- 1 ½ cups Mung beans
- 3 tsp Coconut or Vegetable oil
- 1 tsp Tumeric
- 1 tsp Cumin
- 1 tsp Black Mustard Seeds
- 3 tps ground coriander
- 1 medium sized chopped onion
- 1 chopped tomato (any variety, but Roma will hold their shape better)
- ½ cup of Reishi mushrooms Cook beans with 2 parts water (3 cups) after pre-soaking them over night.
Drain and bring to boil, then turn down heat and add spices, one at a time to taste. Serve on a bed of lettuce (India’s most common vegetable) or in a bowl with flat bread.
Health Benefits of this Recipe:
Mung beans are high in soluble fiber and low in cholesterol. They also have high protein content (more than 3 grams of protein per cup). They help to aid the body in detoxification and dispelling heat. They normalize bowel movements and have shown to inhibit certain types of breast cancer. They can also support people with diabetes since they have a very low glycemic index. Coconut oil helps the body fight yeast, fungus and candida. It helps to stabilize the insulin levels of the body and improve cholesterol levels (reducing bad cholesterol and boosting good cholesterol). They also contain healthy fats, which can help people maintain a consistent body weight by helping it to break down fats in the liver and burn energy.
Tumeric is a wonder drug in the shape of a brightly colored orange root. Tumeric has been shown to aid Alzheimer’s patients, and reduce tumors in cancer patients (both colon and breast cancer, specifically). It prevents melanoma and causes existing melanoma cells to destroy themselves. It detoxes the liver and is a natural painkiller. It treats depression and helps restore vibrancy to aging skin. It speeds up wound healing and has anti-inflammatory qualities.
Cumin, also called jeera in Indian kitchens has many great qualities. It boosts the immune system and is used to fight the common cold and flu. It is high in iron, and therefore a good aid for those who have anemia or iron-deficient blood. It also has anti-fungal properties and acts as a laxative, while also helping to stimulate a woman to menstruate. Black Mustard Seed has many medicinal properties. It is used to help with colds, arthritis, muscular pain, rheumatism, headaches and bronchitis. It helps with digestion and elimination as well as soothing bladder irritation.
Coriander is a blood sugar stabilizer (it lowers our glycemic index) and reduces oxidative stress on the body. It is thought to prevent neurodegenerative diseases and increase insulin production as well. It has also been shown to decrease cancerous cells. Onion is a flavorful little bulb from the lily family and is in the same group as garlic, leeks, scallions and shallots. It is wonderful for cardiovascular health and preventing atherosclerosis. It helps to prevent colds, bronchitis and flu symptoms. It prevents stomach cancers.
Onions also have very high flavonoid and phenolic compounds, which help to fight free radicals in the body. Tomatoes are often considered a vegetable but they are actually a citrus fruit. They prevent the damage of DNA, and help ward off cancer. They are full of Niacin, folate and vitamin B6. They prevent cardiovascular disease and Osteoperosis as well as reduce inflammation and all diseases associated with an inflammatory condition in the body.
Reishi Mushrooms are the royal mushroom. They fight cancer, herpes and cold sores. They boost the immune system and lower both blood pressure and cholesterol. They also help reduce and restore cells with radiation damage.
Enjoy some Indian spices in your home cooking today, and be sure to visit some of India’s mesmerizing Spice Markets that next time you visit.