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Spice and all that's nice

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

It’s time to spice up the season with our favourite holiday spices, and you’ll want to include them in your dishes this year after you read about their health benefits, says Pearl Mathias

Spices have been an integral part of our meals, so much that our palates seem dissatisfied with bland food. Apart from adding them to our meals, we’ve also used them in home remedies. And, come the holiday season, it isn’t only turmeric and cloves that we find in our kitchens; a dash of nutmeg and a sprinkle of cinnamon will soon feature in our dishes and desserts. But, apart from their warm, comforting flavour, do you know that these spices are packed with health benefits? Read on to know more.

Cue the cinnamon

The use of cinnamon can be traced back over 2,000 years. And back then, it was regarded as more valuable than gold! There are many types such as Ceylon cinnamon, Saigon cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon and Korintje cinnamon, with the Ceylon variety being referred to as ‘true cinnamon’.

The spice has antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties and is known to help with lung conditions and to clear up mucus. It also has anti-inflammatory effects and can be used to treat certain types of pain and headaches. Also, cinnamon is thought to help manage symptoms associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCO).

Next up, nutmeg

Known as ‘pala’ in Indonesia where it originated, nutmeg is now obtained from trees in South India too. This delicate spice is the perfect seasoning for the season with its sweet-spicy flavour. Its essential oils are used in herbal medicines, and although it is used sparingly, it has many health benefits.

Nutmeg is known for its natural pain-relieving properties. It stimulates the digestive process and helps reduce the occurrence of abdominal discomfort and constipation. It also helps to get rid of toxins that have accumulated in the body. Nutmeg extract is commonly found in toothpastes and mouth washes because it helps tackle bad breath.

Spotlight on star anise

This star-shaped spice has its origins in China, and unlike the Japanese star anise that is considered toxic, this variant has many health benefits. Known as chakra phool in India, this strong, fragrant spice is used in many Indian as well as Chinese food preparations. The licorice-like spice is also one of the ingredients in masala chai.

Rich in antioxidants and vitamins A and C, star anise helps tackle free radicals. It is also known to improve digestion, ease nausea and alleviate cramps. Drinking tea with star anise after meals helps treat bloating, gas, constipation and indigestion. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese medicine prescribe star anise to pregnant women and new mothers to increase milk production.

The glory of ginger

Our list of holiday treats would be incomplete without a hint of ginger. Known today for its many health benefits, ginger was recognised as a healing root by ancient Chinese pharmacists around five centuries ago. From then on, we’ve been using the spice in several preparations other than the delightful gingerbread man.

Ginger helps not only with motion sickness and an upset stomach, but it can even boost digestive health. Because ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, it helps tackle post-workout fatigue and ease joint pain. It not only soothes throat irritation, but reduces menstrual cramping too.

A cardamom cure

If you’re a fan of biryani, you’ve definitely relished the flavour of cardamom in it, even if you’re quick to push the spice to the side of your plate. The Greeks and the Romans used this spice in their perfumes, and the Egyptians used it as a mouth freshener. The black (or dark brown) variety has a strong aroma, while the pale green one has a delicate aroma. However, don’t be tricked by the white variety, which is actually just a bleached pale green one, devoid of any flavour and aroma.

Cardamom increases blood circulation and acts as a remedy for many respiratory conditions. It also helps to boost metabolism. It is rich in manganese and it is thought to help control blood sugar levels too. If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, inhale the vapours of cardamom essential oil before going to bed.

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