These are just a handful of my favorite dried spices. I began to embrace spices while living in India. A spice box with a rainbow of colors and flavors was always beside the stove of the best Home Cooks and Chefs. My Southern Indian landlord taught me how and why to use each spice while considering both the taste and the medicinal effects; much like a doctor might prescribe medication. A world of possibilities was now open for me in the spice cabinet.
When you add a spice to your food, you escalate its nutritional value. I call them Super Enhanced Foods, and you are creating them yourself.
This spice is a miracle worker. Cayenne aids in digestion—it is said to speed up the metabolism and even suppress the appetite. Cayenne has anti-fungal properties, regulates blood flow, and is beneficial for circulation. One of my favorite pick-me-ups is a shot of lemon juice, ginger and cayenne pepper—this is better than a double espresso!
I use this spice in just about everything I cook. It has a remarkable way of lifting the flavor out of even the blandest of foods. In terms of health, it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as speeding up your metabolic rate.
Another miracle spice, cinnamon is a natural food preservative, and has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon can help with arthritis and swelling, help to prevent yeast infections and help to balance blood sugar. Indians often eat cinnamon with any carbohydrate as it aids in digestion. I even put a pinch in my tomato sauce. I find that it balances out the acid.
I love Turmeric. The taste is smooth and its medicinal properties are astounding. It is antiseptic, helps speed up the metabolism, and has been used as a natural pain reliever for its anti-inflammatory properties. This is reported to have been healing to many diseased bodies.
I take a teaspoon in some water with lemon every morning. It’s an excellent way to get the stomach moving and begin the day. I love adding turmeric to omelets or any egg dish – the color is stunning and the flavor is richer than your standard omelet.
Cumin adds depth and strength to a dish, as well as some fascinating nutritional benefits. It is said to increase breast size, promote lactation and decrease nausea in pregnancy. It is also fantastic for relieving gas and colic, and acts as a mild diuretic. It is used in many Indian and Moroccan dishes, but I often just add a pinch to quinoa with sweet peas, or add a bit to my homemade chocolate. I find it to be an underappreciated spice.
Crushed, toasted, raw, and chopped—I love my Garlic. My favorite way to eat it is roasted for about an hour on high heat, wrapped in foil or a small ceramic dish. After you cut the top off of the Garlic, you can spread it like butter . . . or even just eat it with a spoon. The healing benefits of garlic are extraordinary. It is a natural anti-microbe and can help keep parasites and bugs at bay. Garlic’s anti-inflammatory properties will help with arthritis and if you are have a cold or even an allergic reaction, garlic is an inexpensive and quick cure. Some of the vitamins and minerals found in the garlic bulb are manganese, vitamin C, tryptophan, and protein.
Pepper fascinates me. It is found on almost everyone’s table and is offered as a fresh ingredient in most good restaurants. However, its health benefits are not widely publicized. Black pepper actually stimulates the taste buds and stimulates secretion of the hydrochloric acid needed for the digestion of proteins and other food. Without this acid, food sits in the stomach, heartburn, indigestion, gas, and other stomach irritations can occur. Black pepper is also an antioxidant and stimulates the breakdown of fat cells. I find it interesting that we often take herbs and spices for granted. Yet when we embrace them with a bit of knowledge, we can elevate our food to entirely new levels of nutrition.
Ginger is the king of cures—this is one spice that I cannot live without. Most people remember ginger ale as a childhood cure-all for nausea, and a go-to for flu or carsickness symptoms. Ginger can combat almost any bodily ailment. When my clients are sick, I instruct them to brew a strong tea with fresh ginger root and lemon. When mixed with cayenne and lemon, ginger also acts as an appetite suppressant.
Interesting factoid: Ginger is served alongside sushi to act as an anti-bacterial agent against the raw fish.
This is a love-or-hate kind of Spice. I love it. The smell brings me back to India and the overly-sweet sweets that they serve with milky chai. My friend Vishal used to chew the pods to promote digestion—cardamom is excellent for that. The spice has many benefits for the digestive system. It reduces gas, counteracts acidity and can even help halitosis. In Ayurveda Medicine, cardamom is used to treat asthma and calm a fiery “Pita” personality. Sipping warm nut milk with cardamom before bed is quite soothing. Try it some time!
I discovered vanilla in its purest form in Bali. The beans are huge and plentiful. Because it is so inexpensive in Asia, I had the opportunity to use it in copious amounts with unusual savory partners like rice and vegetables. I recently read of vanilla’s aphrodisiac properties—apparently, the bean was recommended to men to maintain potency. Vanilla can also help with insomnia and soothe stomach ulcers. When I have trouble sleeping, I make nut milk with cinnamon, honey and lots of freshly ground vanilla powder, blended on high to warm it up. This usually calms me down and puts me to sleep pretty quickly.