Between the 1500s and 1700s, the spices route describes a lengthy journey where spices were taken for trade from Asia to Europe in ships, caravans and on elephant back. The world’s most significant industry in ancient times, the spices trade defined commerce, provided remedies for ailments and even influenced worldwide culinary tradition and cuisine.
Spices were historically considered as important possession of the royalty. Kings in the past held a region ransom to gain ownership of spices they deemed to be precious. Rome, under siege in 410 AD, was released upon payment of 3000 pounds of pepper. Jewelers in India created delicate, miniature caskets with silver and gold to serve as cardamom containers for the nobleman of the royal court in Delhi and Agra.
Spices also have a special place in Ayurveda, an Indian system of medicine. Spices recognize their role as flavor enhancers, powerful healers of ailments, and as catalysts that transform all that they touch. Most common spices found in Indian kitchen are:
Black Pepper (Piper Nigrum): (काली मिर्च) “The Kings of Spices”, Black pepper was used as sacred offering in ancient times and is a popular ingredient in cuisines across the globe. This potent spice increases the bioavailability of other medicinal ingredients when present in a formulation and is an effective throat decongestant.
Ginger (Zingiber Officinale): (अदरक) Ginger ale, Ginger candy and Ginger tea bring comfort to those who enjoy this pungent, citrusy spice. Ginger is used to flavor both savory and sweet recipes. The root is a common cure for motion sickness, nausea and indigestion.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum): (दालचीनी) Cinnamon sticks add flavor to popular dishes worldwide, including savory and sweet preparations. Chewing cinnamon is the perfect breath freshener. The spice modulates immunity to fight allergies and infection, while it hypoglycemic and lipid- modifying properties help to manage diabetes and body weight.
Clove (Syzygium Aromaticum): (लौंग) In ancient times, Clove’s heady fragrance was the prize that wars were fought over. With its local anesthetic effect, the spice is an effective emergency cure for a toothache. Clove oil’s anti- inflammatory property improves blood circulation to quickly relieve pain.
Cumin (Cuminum Cyminum): (जीरा) Cumin has a strong, smoky fragrance, adding flavor to Mexican as well as in Indian cuisine. This spice helps to balance stomach secretions, alleviating discomfort due to hyperacidity and indigestion. Studies have revealed that the chemo protective effects of Cumin can play a role in preventing stomach tumors.
Nutmeg (Myristica Fragrans): (जायफल) Nutmeg can be added to milk for better night’s sleep and stirred into soup, coffee or tea for a flavor boost. Nutmeg’s aromatic compounds help strengthen cognitive function and memory. The spice’s strong disinfectant, antimicrobial properties help remedy digestive ailments.
Coriander (Coriandrum Sativum): (धनिया) Coriander leaves and seeds impart a delicate flavor to Asian and Latin American cuisines. The spice’s astringent quality is useful in treating diarrhea, while its antispasmodic property helps relieve abdominal discomfort in dysentery.
Black Cumin (Nigella Sativum): (काला जीरा) Black cumin seeds have an earthy and pungent aroma and are used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Cleopatra reportedly used Black Cumin seed oil for her hair and smooth skin. The seeds help to improve digestion, relieve abdominal gas and act as a laxative.
Fenugreek (Trigonella Foenum-Graecum): (मेथी) Fenugreek is used as a household remedy to reduce blood sugar and as a conditioner in hair care treatments. While the seeds have an earthy aroma, the dried leaves possess a bitter aftertaste used to balance flavor in Indian dishes. Scientific studies have established its use in alleviating painful menstruation.
Cardamom (Elettaria Cardamomum): (इलायची) Cardamom, “The Queen of Spices”, has a unique flavor, and is rich in oil content. The spice increases appetite and relieves heartburn, ingestion and flatulence. Cardamom has an anthelmintic property which helps fight parasitic worm infestation.
Caraway (Carum Caroi): (अजवाइन) Caraway seeds have a pungent aroma with citrusy notes. An antioxidant, the Caraway seed has an antispasmodic property which relieves abdominal pain. The seeds act as a digestive and carminative, relieving abdominal gas.
Turmeric (Carcuma Longa): (हल्दी) Pungent, earthy and fragrant, Turmeric, “The Golden Spice,” is a celebrity in the spice world. Turmeric adds a distinct yellow hue to dishes, and has a potent anti-allergic property which helps fight respiratory, skin and digestive system allergies.
Really, Spices are among the great gifts nature has bestowed upon us.
Dept of Biotechnology
A. N. College, Patna