Exploring the World Of Spices
The spice box is a symbol of Indian cuisine. An unmistakable feature of Indian cooking is the endless possibilities available for flavoring with spices. Spices differentiate one dish from another and they define flavors and intensify tastes. The flavors of spices change depending on when during the cooking process they are added, and how they are integrated in a dish – whether raw, dry roasted or fried in oil or ghee.
The story of Indian Spices is an ever-changing history of lands discovered or destroyed, favors sought or offered, treaties signed or broken, wars won or lost, and kingdoms built or brought down. For Europe, spices were the envoys from enchanted orient. From ancient times, the monsoon soaked rain forests of my home state Kerala, home to several spices—including the world’s most widely used spice, black pepper —became a prime destination for many explorers. The abundance of spices attracted Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Portuguese, Dutch, and British from the west and Southeast Asians and Chinese from the east. Today Indian Spices hold the same magic spell.
According to ayurveda, India’s traditional, natural system of medicine, the original purpose of the use of spices was not just for taste; it was also for their medicinal and therapeutic value. While some spices stimulate the appetite, others help digestion or reduce flatulence, and others have antiseptic value. The medicinal properties of certain spices are believed to compensate for harmful properties of some foods.
In authentic Indian cooking, there is no spice or spice blend called “curry powder.” Each dish is prepared with a different blend of spices. If you want the taste to be authentic, please do not substitute the spice blends with curry powder. If you do not want to go through the process of preparing specific spice blends, you can buy them at Indian grocery stores. Flavors tend to differ slightly among various brands. It is better not buy powdered spices in large quantities; they tend to lose their flavor over time. Whole spices have a longer shelf life. Keep them in jars with tight lids so that they will not lose their fragrance.
In the following blog entries I invite you to explore the spice box, symbol of our culinary culture and heritage.