by Divya Alter
I meet a lot of people at my cooking classes who tell me that when it comes to seasoning, they mostly use salt and pepper. By the end if the class, I introduce them to at least ten other spices, and if our guests pass by my kitchen, they will see 30 more spice jars on the shelf! Let’s say you decide to expand on your salt and pepper collection and you go to an Indian grocery store. Yes, it could get overwhelming when you stand in front of shelves and shelves full with seasonings you’ve never heard of—where do you start?
Well, there are four essential spices you could start with. But before I tell you which they are, let me elaborate a little bit on why to use spices in your cooking.
The art of seasoning foods is one of the most essential and subtle aspects of every cuisine. You could tell if a tomato was prepared Italian or Mexican by the different condiments a cook has used.
Ayurvedic cooking takes seasoning to a whole new level. It teaches us how to utilize herbs and spices not only for adding exquisite flavors, but for promoting health-enhancing effects, such as balancing your body type, kindling the digestive fire, eliminating impurities, and adding the six tastes to your meal.
Ayurveda explains that spices and herbs are little packets of intelligence, equipped with the blueprints for healing. The minute they enter the body, they start to clean up the channels, paving their way to their destination, carrying nutrients to where they are meant to go for further processing. They make sure unwanted byproducts are evacuated through the proper pathways and discarded from the body in a timely manner.
Years ago, before I was introduced to Ayurvedic healing, I was experiencing a deficiency I was not aware of—I was spice deficient. Being too lazy to cook, I was satisfied with the salt and pepper in my kitchen. Later on, I realized that my spice deficiency was one of the reasons I experienced poor digestion.
You might be spice deficient if you:
- Feel tired after completing a meal;
- Overeat because of not feeling satiated;
- Have digestive issue;
- Experience acidity or heartburn;
- Feel sluggishness in the liver;
- Get constipated;
- Crave sweets excessively after completing a meal.
These are signals of some imbalance in your digestive system, and adding a proper mixture of spices can help correct it.
So here are the four essentials: turmeric, cumin, coriander and fennel. These four spices are basic in their balancing and targeted benefits. You can safely consume them every day by cooking with them (do not eat them raw!). Some of the healing benefits are:
Coriander Seed: a pro-diuretic spice, calming, blood cleansing, cools the mind, helps evacuate ama-visha (stagnated toxins) from the body. Binds toxins in the blood and cools the organs and cellular systems.
Cumin: A digestive spice, burns ama, provides good environment for the friendly bacteria in the colon; enhances absorption.
Fennel Seed: Harmonizes ingredients & systems, carminative (relieves gas & bloating); cooling for the digestive system. Balances the warming effect of turmeric.
Turmeric: an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, immune-modulator; supports liver detox and restores the intelligence of the liver. It is excellent for preventing diabetes, high cholesterol, senile dementia & Alzheimer’s. It detoxifies and repairs the body. Start with pinches when adding this spice. A sign of an overdose is constipation and diarrhea. Turmeric must be cooked for at least 10 minutes, with oil or ghee, so add it in the first stage of cooking. Turmeric should be cooked with vegetables or lentils, not taken raw. It should be used in moderation and cut back if you show signs of detox crisis: diarrhea, skin rash, etc.
If you are starting from scratch, get the above four spices and build up your spice rack gradually. Please make sure to use spices daily and I guarantee you—you will experience and enjoy food and its benefits like never before.
Divya Alter, a highly experienced expert in Ayurvedic nutrition and cuisine (which she studied during a five-year stay in India) cooked at yoga ashrams and temples in India, Europe and the U.S. for 20 years. She subsequently studied at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, where she deepened her knowledge of nutrition, the energetic vibration of foods and how diet can be used to balance one’s energy fields. http://www.bvtlife.com