For time immemorial, the region of South Asia has produced a rich variety of tastes through it’s spices and exquisite recipes. Over the years, the region has been subject to invasion from a wide range of different invaders. The fourteenth century saw the invasion of the moguls, who conquered and ruled the region that is today the Indian subcontinent. Their reign lasted for more than 300 years! Then came the exploits of Christopher Columbus and Vasco De Gama of Portugal, the lure of the rich variety of asian spice and drawing them on.
Vast fortunes have been made and squandered, powerful rulers seduced, ailments cured and nations have been discovered. All in the name of spices. Spices have always cast a spell on our imaginations. Spices flatter our senses; our sight with their vibrant colors, our smell with their enticing fragrances and our taste with their distinct unique flavors.
Today, India is one of the largest exporting nation of spices in the world. Vast variety of spices grow due to natural conditions available in various parts of India. The major western, south-west, south and south-east is tropical in weather conditions, north-west, north are dry with less humidity and north-east and east have pre-dominantly high-rainy seasons.
Due to the abundance in availability of spices in India, Indian food is never bland. Most of the recipies originating from the Indian sub-continent contains spices in the list of ingredients. Spices in Indian food are not heavy and although Indian food is not bland, most Indian dishes are delicately spiced to enhance the flavor of the main cooking ingredient. Curry powder sitting on the grocers shelf may be like saw dust when one compares it to the fine spices roasted, combined and dry ground or wet ground in the traditional Indian traditions. Today one of the most famous entrÈe in the west consists of curry ñ a blend created mixing various different ground spices in right proportions with the water. However there are many delicacies in Indian recipes due to the inclusion of variety of spices.
Fresh ground spices are the order of the day in an Indian home and will be chosen according to the nature of the dish, season, individual and family. Some of the common Indian spices available are red chilli pepper, turmeric, black pepper, nutmegs, cloves and many more.
Other then the usage of spices in culinary, they are also used as medicine. Ancient Ayurvedic texts prescribe the herbs and spices for curative and therapeutic functions. Ayurvedic scripts dating back to 3000 years, list the preventive and curative properties of various spices. Looking at curative properties of some of the spices – Ginger prevents dyspepsia, garlic reduces cholesterol and hypertension and fenugreek is a good resistance builder and with pepper often serve as antihistamines, turmeric is used for stomach ulcers and for glow of the skin.
Spices have been used to make the food last longer in the days when refrigeration was absent. And even today in some remote parts of India where electricity is not available, spices are used in food for preservation.
In India the western after dinner mint is substituted by the fragrant spices such as fennel, cardamom or cloves. Effective mouth fresheners, they aid digestion, prevent heartburn and curb nausea. Others such as asafoetida and ginger root, have been known to counteract flatulence and colic, and are added to lentils, a must with every Indian meal.