“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”― Jim Rohn
Spices are invariably used in all countries in food and drinks. The use of spices differs depending upon the various cultures and climatic conditions. But for sure, spices are used. They are used for flavouring foods and beverages. Besides spices, herbs are also used to enhance the flavour and aroma.
We initially learnt to cook at home and recipes have been handed down through generations. Cook books normally mention the spices to be used in a recipe. But I have always been curious as to why certain spices or herbs are used in a particular recipe. What is the role of spice in food besides contributing to taste and smell.
I started experimenting with spices and studying the reasons behind the purpose of spice in a various preparations. For this we need to understand their properties.
Spices help to inhibit bacteria that lead to food borne diseases, which contaminate food. Variety of spices used in preparations varies in different countries. Their use depends mainly because of the temperatures in different regions. Warmer regions use more spices than those with moderate climate. Bacteria build up faster in warm temperature, which explains, why a variety of spices are used in preparation in regions with hot climatic conditions. So higher the temperature, the variety of spices used also increase, such as chillies, garlic, onion ginger as well as cinnamon, coriander, cumin, turmeric, basil, bay leaf, cloves, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, etc. Thus they also help in preserving food.
Spices like onion, garlic, ginger, which form the base for most of our Indian recipes are employed in the beginning stage of cooking, as they inhibit bacteria, thus help in preserving food. While coriander leaves, parsley, dried fenugreek leaves are used near the end, as their flavours would be destroyed by heat and to maintain their anti-microbial properties.
We also use blends (a mixture of different spices) like our garam masala, curry powder, pickling spices, the French quatre epics a combination of pepper, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. These combinations have greater antibacterial potential. Our very own chai masala, a combination of cinnamon, dry ginger and pepper. You can also blend your chai with cardomom or dried mint leaves
We also use spices in food for medicinal purposes for example, to protect us from common cold. Black pepper itself helps to relieve cold and cough. Turmeric is a common ingredient used for its antioxidant content and capability to work as an anti-inflammatory agent. Black pepper is often used with turmeric as it is believed to increase the affects of turmeric. Similarly, garlic, ginger, cinnamon also counteract different ailments. Therefore the right quantities and not too much, will work towards a balanced food preparation that will support your system. Too much of a good thing is bad.
Each spice has a property that complements the flavour and aroma, more importantly; it contributes to our overall well being. Accordingly, we use certain spices in the right proportions to augment the taste of vegetables, pulses, meats, and drinks, while also serving as preservatives and our good health. Fruits and vegetables have their own beneficial properties. So let's enjoy cooking daily, complementing them with the benefits of spices in our food.