WHY DO SPICES PLAY SUCH AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN INDIAN COOKING?
There are several types of spices used in different cuisines and besides the flavor that it adds to the food, it also has a lot of health benefits. Food taste good because of the spices that are added to it. If you go back to history and the origin of certain foods, there is always a reason behind adding those spices. Modern kitchen has modified some of these recipes to suit the flavor profile of this generation.
However, let us look back and see how going back to our roots and the recipes that go down through generations have their own unsaid benefits.
I am of an Indian origin and being a nutritionist have always been curious about how my mother continued with some of the family heritage of cooking some foods the way she did and why those foods were specially cooked at certain times of the year. Being vegetarian, her cooking has always been plant-based and she is very sensitive of never hurting anyone, including animals.
Little things go a long way. My mother always made this simple chutney all through the summer. Summer is the time when children are out of school. It is time for them to have fun and for parents to worry about how to keep the kids occupied with fun activities that would interest them!
I never understood the purpose of cooking some foods only during summer. For example, this chutney was always part of our lunch. Raw mango with red onion and jaggery, spiced with turmeric and red chili powder, with a dash of cilantro. It is simply delicious. We never questioned it or as a matter of fact even realize that this chutney was only part of our summers and not prepared during other times of the year! As I grew up and got interested in nutrition and the impact that food had on our health. I started researching on the why certain foods were prepared at certain times of the year.
Raw mangoes prevent dehydration and reserves the sodium chloride in our bodies. With the high temperatures during summer, one tends to sweat a lot and if you are not well always hydrated, it could lead to dizziness and headaches. It also prevents diarrhea which could be caused if exposed to high temperatures for a long time. Onions on the other hand are packed with antioxidants and will boost digestive health. The curcumin found in turmeric has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, which protect everyone from catching a viral or bacterial infection. Therefore, this preparation was perfect for those hot summer lunches.
Spices which have always been part of our diet. Indian meals are known for its flavors and spices. The spices have a very rich origin. There is a very popular saying in Ayurveda which says – “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use; When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest healing system, and Indian cooking was originally based on the principles of Ayurveda. It categorizes foods bases on their tastes as - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Ayurveda recommends that each meal should have all these tastes in varying amounts (based on the body type) to make a complete and balanced meal.
Therefore, Indian meals a little more elaborate and take up more time in cooking than almost any other cuisine! Of course, it is gaining popularity because of all these spices and herbs mixed that add to the taste of the food.