Indian cuisine gets its bold, complex flavors from an array of spices, many of which are linked to powerful health benefits. Discover which five belong in your cabinet, plus sample four delicious recipes that will help you enjoy them often.
Craving Indian food? Your body might be telling you something. Researchers say we may be primed to desire spices common in Indian dishes for their health benefits. Sounds like a good excuse to try these tasty recipes from Monisha Bharadwaj, author of The Indian Cooking Course.
THERE’S SO MUCH ABOUT INDIAN FOOD
that makes it crave-worthy—the sweet fragrance of basmati rice, the creaminess of curries. But above all, it’s the spices. It’s common to find almost a dozen in just one dish, seemingly custom-blended to please your taste buds. In fact, that may not be far from the truth: We may be genetically programmed to love the spices in Indian (and other) dishes because they contain healthpromoting compounds like cancer-fighting curcumin in turmeric and heart-protective capsaicin in chili powder, according to an article in the European Molecular Biology Organization’s journal EMBO Reports. Researchers speculate that when our ancestors were sorting safe from poisonous foods, they figured out spices were A-OK; and that spice-lovers were subsequently healthier, lived longer, and had more offspring who also loved spices.
To help you get your flavor fix and support good health, we homed in on five spices common to Indian dishes that are generating excitement among scientists worldwide. Learn each one’s unique healing properties, the ideal amount to consume daily, and a few basic ideas for incorporating it into your repertoire. Then put them on your plate with simple, delicious recipes from Monisha Bharadwaj, author of The Indian Cooking Course.
ORIGINS Native to China but now grown all over the world, this mouth-tingling root is both sweet and peppery, and a major flavoring in Asian cuisines.
HEALTH BENEFITS Ginger has long been used in traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic (Indian), and Unani Tibb (ancient Greek, Persian, and Arab) medicine to treat a long list of ailments. Of these, the one with the best backing by modern science is the prevention and treatment of nausea brought on by pregnancy or chemotherapy. Ginger may help food pass more quickly through your GI tract, relieving mild constipation or indigestion, and it may also offer relief from menstrual cramps, according to studies. Plus, test-tube experiments found that the compounds that give ginger its distinctive sharp taste and odor, such as gingerols and shogaols, help kill and prevent the spread of cancer cells.
DAILY GOAL About 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger a day, taken in 1/8- teaspoon doses, may help quell nausea, aid digestion, and prevent constipation. Or you can ingest 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh-grated ginger per day, raw or boiled in tea.
TRY IT Combined with garlic as an aromatic recipe staple, or as a healing tea: • Chicken or fish curries • Fresh herb chutneys • Spice rubs • Ginger and honey tea
ORIGINS Dried and ground, turmeric has been spicing up food in Asia for at least 2,5oo years. India is a major exporter.
HEALTH BENEFITS A staple of Indian and Chinese medicine systems, turmeric is also the latest darling of nutrition researchers, mainly because of curcumin, the compound that imparts the spice’s yellow color. You name the health concern—including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and possibly Alzheimer’s—and it seems like curcumin helps prevent or treat it. “In addition to curcumin, turmeric has more than a hundred other active components, which probably act synergistically to benefit your health,” explains Sahdeo Prasad, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Experimental Therapeutics, MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, Texas.
This powerful synergy may explain turmeric’s impressive health creds: It may help heal peptic ulcers, reduce symptoms