The dictionary meaning for the term spice is – “a seed, fruit, root, bark, or other plant substance primarily used for flavouring, colouring, or preserving food.” Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are the leaves, flowers, or stems of plants used for flavouring or are used as a garnish. Many spices have several properties ranging from antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral.
Spices are synonymous with the Indian subcontinent. At one point, India was even known as the spice capital of the world. And aptly so as spices are part and parcel of Indian culture and cuisine. Not a day goes by where spices aren’t used in some shape or form.
Apart from culinary use, spices also have an important place in the field of medicine. They are known to have several properties which are beneficial for human health.
The use of spices in food, medicine, and cosmetics began as settlements organized in the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia from Judea to the Nile Valley in Egypt around 9000 BC. Humans initially used herbs and spices as food preservatives. Soon they found that many of these plants helped cure wounds, aches, and other common ailments.
Why do we add spices to our food? What is the importance of spices for us?
Well, here is a list of reasons why we add spices to our food:
1. Spices enhance the taste and flavour of food.
It’s well known that spices elevate the taste and flavour of food. Just a bit of spice can transform everyday ingredients into an appetizing and aromatic meal. Spices contribute rich flavour to food without adding any calories, fat, sugar or salt.
Herbs and spices also add flavours to dishes which, again, increases their complexity but also complements or plays counterpoint to other flavours already present.
2. Spices provide nutrition.
Derived from plants, spices have a multitude of properties which can positively impact human health. Many spices contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties which have health benefits and benefit the body.
For example, ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties and are widely used in recipes not only for their taste but for these health benefits. Another example is spices like cumin and cinnamon which play a role in digestion and can help with weight management.
Adding different spices to your meals can certainly help boost your nutrition. If you’re wondering which spices can be considered healthy spices, all of them are! Each with their own set of health benefits.
3. Spices help in preserving food.
In the days when there wasn’t refrigeration or better ways to preserve food, spices helped in the preservation process as many spices have microbial properties. For example, take the instance of smoked meats. The meats were rubbed or dredged in salt, herbs, and spices to preserve and store them for a longer period of time.
Up until the 18th century, spices were sought after for their flavour and preservation properties and if one had spices, they were wealthy since many spices came from the Far East and exotic locales. Hence the Spice Islands India, Indonesia, Africa and South America were colonized by the Dutch, English, Germans, Spanish and French, which led to more exploration for the spice and tea traders.
Here are some commonly used spices in not only in Indian cuisine but other cuisines all over the world:
- Black Pepper
- Black Cardamom
- Cumin seeds
- Chilli Pepper
- Coriander powder
- Curry Leaves
How to Use Spices in Cooking?
To use spices in cooking, whole spices or powdered spices may be used depending on the recipe. A spice mix blend such as garam masala may also be used for a rich, complex flavour.
Most spices are flavourful and strong in taste and aroma, so a little goes a long way. You want the spices in your food to enhance the dish you are preparing rather than overpowering it.
Spices are an integral part of our daily diet with a rich history. It’s hard to imagine a single meal without some spice in it. They have been in use for thousands of years not only for their taste enhancing properties, but also for their health benefits, and food preservation properties.
In short, spices are the essence of life – balancing flavours from everyday ingredients and elevating them to a whole new flavour profile while serving our dietary needs and promoting wellness.