Indian cooking stands apart from every other cuisine in the world because of an important element – the spices. Spices of India are legendary in their history, use and benefits. They are highly important ingredients in Indian cooking as they impart flavor, taste and aroma to any dish.
Indian cooking is a balance of spices in the right quantity. It is this balanced use of spices that lends to the tasty and healthy recipes of Indian food.
Use of spices in cooking is common knowledge in every household in India. Every kid knows the importance of turmeric or ‘haldi’. Every nook and corner of India not only uses spices but also has a blend of spices that is uniquely their own. The secret measures of using these spices are handed over from one generation to the other adding to the multitude of flavors that are a part of Indian food print. It is said that the flavors of food change in every 100 kilometers in India even when the same set of spices are used. Naturally, the measures of the spices have a deep impact on the taste buds. Plus, the blend of spices is linked to the knowledge of using them for health too. A hot and arid climate will go easy on the use of ginger whereas a cold climate uses it generously. In most Indian houses of the yore, grandmothers could handle all common health issues like cold, fever, cough, indigestion, constipation, irritation, headaches and body pains with the use of spices available at home. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have all this knowledge handy even now!?
The earliest mention of spices in written text dates back to 300 BC, when Kautilya also famously known as Chanakya of the Mauryan Era, penned a treatise on political economy. It is none other than the world renowned ‘Artha Shastra’.
He has dedicated a chapter of this gem of a book to diets where spices are mentioned.Apparently,he mentioned the uses of spices and its great benefits. There are other mentions of spices across various other pieces of literature even during the reign of the East India Company in India. Trade ships loaded with Indian spices were sent overseas to Europe to be part of the gourmet dishes made for the nobles of those times.Indian spices were put to extensive use to add flavor and preserve dishes made by people all over the world.
For instance, the clove was and is used for Christmas cakes.Any idea why? It was used because the clove has eugenol which inhibits growth of bacteria while adding a unique flavor to the cake.This way the Christmas cake remained fresh and tasty for a minimum of 15 days. Similarly mustard too has preservative qualities and is extensively used to make pickles in Northern India.
You would be amazed to know that spices were extremely valuable. Back in those days, ½ kg of Pepper corn was worth a man, ½ kg ginger was worthy of a fully grown sheep, ½ kg Jaiphal (mace) was worth 3 fully grown sheep. A story goes that Vasco Da Gama set out for a sea voyage with 4 ships to reach Malabar coast of India.
After 2 years and unimaginable challenges on the sea, he landed with 2 of the 4 ships. Luckily for him the ships that survived carried spices worth 60 times the cost of the voyage, so he didn’t go bankrupt! We are lucky that spices are easily available to us and are not as expensive as they were back then. Imagine if you had to shell out a month’s pay check to get home a packet of Elaichi!! ☺
So, my dear friends, lets learn from history and preserve this amazing knowledge of spices unique to us Indians. To help you with that, here are two recipes using spices that will instantl
y add flavor, aroma, taste and health to your food.
Panchphoran (five spices)
- 50 gm Cumin (Jeera)
- 50 gm Mustard seed (Sarso Dana)
- 50 gm Fenugreek seed (Methi Dana)
- 50 gm Black cumin seed (Mangraila)
- 50 gm Fenugreek seed (Saunf)
How to use Panchphoran?
Mix all the ingredients mentioned above and store it an airtight jar. A teaspoon of this amazing mix can be used in the initial tempering of any gravy based sabji to add a unique flavor.
Sabji masala (From my mother’s kitchen)
- 2 tsp Blackpepper corn.
- 6 tsp Cumin seed.
- 6 tsp Coriander seed.
How to use Sabji Masala?
Dry roast the ingredients in a thick bottomed pan on low heat. Ensure they are not burnt. You will know that the raw flavor is gone when a gentle aroma wafts through. Switch off the gas, cool this mix, grind it to a fine powder. Use it to pep up a dry curry or a stir fry.
Make these recipes your own, use them in your cooking, reap the amazing benefits these spices bring to you. I’ll wait for your comments to know your personal experience with Indian Spices.