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Spices in Kerala food have major role to play. Kerala grows over 50 different varieties of spices. There is a huge demand for Indian spices in the world market too. A mere pinch can take away health woes while giving food a flavour that is unparalleled. Spices are good, not just for taste buds, but also possess immense health benefits. Spices are rich in antioxidants, and scientific studies suggest that they are also potent inhibitors of tissue damage and inflammation caused by high levels of blood sugar and circulating lipids. Because spices have very low calorie content and are relatively inexpensive, they are reliable sources of antioxidants and other potential bioactive compounds in diet. Due to their phenol content these are able to block the formation of compounds that contribute to damage caused by metabolic disorders.
Kerala spices have gained wide acclaim across the globe for their aromatic smell and flavor. Kerala holds pride in being the hub of spice trade in India for nearly thousands of years now. Kerala is famous for exotic spices grown in the region. Once part of the legendary Silk Route, Kerala has historically generated international interest and trade links due to the abundance of these condiments. Spices that grow well in this region are cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, vanilla, nutmeg, black pepper, leafy oregano, rosemary, curry leaves, thyme, basil (tulsi), mint, bay leaf, coriander and sage. Oils and extracts of these spices such as clove oil, cinnamon and vanilla extracts are also great favorites. Spices supply calcium, iron, vitamin B, vitamin C, carotene and other antioxidants. For instance fresh parsley has been linked with cancer prevention due to its antioxidant content and spicy food is much more appealing than a vitamin pill. Besides herbs and spices don’t have any kilojoules or fat, so you can eat them to your heart’s content. Every spice grown is Kerala comes with its individual health benefits. Some common medicinal herbs and spices are given below:
Black pepper, world’s most widely used spice is indigenous to Kerala. Kerala is renowned world over for being the major producer and exporter of pepper, better known as the â€˜King of Spices’ across the globe. The hot and pungent berries of the pepper plant are one of the earliest known and the most widely used spice in the world. Researchers are exploring the potential of spices to boost metabolism, promote satiety, aid weight management and enhance the overall quality of a diet. This dried fruit is a digestive, stimulant, appetizer, expectorant and a great nervine tonic (it acts upon therapeutically upon the nerves). Most of us have used it as an effective home remedy for cough and cold. Black pepper is an antioxidant such that it prevents and curtails oxidative stress. Black pepper also reduces the damage caused by a diet full of saturated fats which is found to be the main cause of oxidative stress.
Cardamom: Cardamom is a common and powerful spice amongst all the different Indian spices that are available. It plays a pivotal role in the Indian cuisine. It has many health benefits attached to it apart from its use as a mouth freshener. Commonly known as choti elaichi, cardamom helps in countering stomach acidity. It also acts as a great aphrodisiac when its powder is sprinkled on coffee. It generates appetite, aids in nausea and takes care of the bad breath problem. As cardamom is a diuretic fiber and potassium rich spice, it is very good for people with high blood pressure as it lower downs the elevated blood pressure level in the body. The fragrant seeds of cardamom contain certain oil that helps in stimulating digestion and relieving flatulence
Cinnamon: These long, dark brown and dried sticks with a flavour that leans towards the sweet, as well as the mildly hot. It aids in digestion and is also known for its blood sugar and cholesterol lowering properties. These are long sticks, and seldom do you realize its presence in your food, unless of course you are a culinary expert. But this spice that does its job, covertly and effectively, is much more beneficial than the taste it offers. Studies have shown that just 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day can lower LDL cholesterol. Drinking honey and cinnamon powder boiled in one cup of water refrains fat to accumulate in the body. Several studies suggest that cinnamon may have a regulatory effect on blood sugar, making it beneficial for people with Type 2 Diabetes…
Clove and Clove Oil: These dried flower buds of the clove tree are considered one of the “hottest” among spices. They have antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Being a natural anesthetic, it is used as a remedy for toothache since ages. Cloves are stimulating and have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antiseptic properties. They are also a natural anesthetic, which is why they are used for dental procedures to remedy toothache. Clove oil can also be used by soaking in some cotton wool and then placing the cotton wool on the aching tooth. This oil contains compound that helps with blood circulation and can stimulate the skin when applied directly to it. Cloves help relax the smooth lining of the GI tract, so they help alleviate vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal gas and stomachaches.
Ginger: Used for centuries in Indian and other Asian cuisines, ginger root also has a long history as a home remedy for digestive problems. Ginger contains chromium, magnesium and zinc which can help to improve blood flow, as well as help prevent chills, fever, and excessive sweat. Ginger helps improve the immune system. Consuming a little bit ginger a day can help foil potential risk of a stroke by inhibiting fatty deposits from the arteries. Ginger can help burn off some of the fat stored up in the body. This not only translates to weight loss but can also help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels as the body burns all the fat it is provided.
Vanilla: This spice also contains traces of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron and zinc. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for red blood cell production and as a co-factor for cytochrome-oxidases enzymes. Antibacterial properties of vanilla help cleanse skin problems such as pimples and acne. Moreover, antioxidant properties of vanilla help fight the damage caused by free radicals.
Nutmeg: Fragrant rich nutmeg is one of the highly prized spices known since antiquity for its aromatic, aphrodisiac, and curative properties. Rich in, many vital B-complex vitamins, including vitamin C, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A and many flavonoid anti-oxidants like beta-carotene and cryptoxanthin that are essential for optimum health. The essential oil of nutmeg brings relief from muscular and joint pain. Applying it to a localized area of swelling and discomfort relieves the pain. Nutmeg keeps the brain sharp!
Oregano: Oregano contains fiber, iron, manganese, vitamin E, iron, calcium, omega fatty acids, manganese, and typtopha. The herb is also applied topically to help treat a number of skin conditions, such as acne and dandruff. Vitamin K, an important vitamin promotes bone growth, the maintenance of bone density, and the production of blood clotting proteins. Oregano contains very high concentrations of Dietary antioxidants.
Basil (Tulsi): Basil leaves taken with home-made fresh curd help in reducing excess weight and fight laziness by renewing your energy levels and facilitating new blood cells formation. Being rich in phytonutrients and healing oil, basil leaves are effective in curing malarial and dengue fevers. Apart for this Basil leaves are beneficial for overall health like Heart, kidney stones, dental health, eyes,
Rosemary: Rosemary is an aromatic herb belonging to the mint family. It is one of the most popular aromatherapy oils. Benefitting phytonutrients, antioxidants and essential acids. It has been used since ancient times as a medicinal and culinary herb. Studies have proved that Rosemary essential oil is beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s disease. It stimulates the activity of antioxidants, powerful weapons for fighting off infection and disease. The scent of Rosemary oil has proven to be effective in relieving throat congestion and hence, is used in the treatment of allergies, colds, sore throats and flu.
Curry leaves: ‘Kadi Patta’ or curry leaves is a commonly used as seasoning, this leaf adds a special flavour to every dish. But there is more to the humble curry leaf than simply flavour. Packed with carbohydrates, fiber, calcium, phosphorous, irons and vitamins like vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin E, curry leaves help your heart function better, fights infections and can enliven your hair and skin with vitality. Fights diabetes, Improves digestion, lowers cholesterol.
Sage: Sage is used in medicine to help alleviate symptoms of digestive problems and mental disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and depression. Sage is rich in antioxidants (apigenin, diosmetin, and luteolin) and important nutrients, such as vitamin K.
Thyme: Fragrant and delicious thyme has a number of uses in the kitchen, but it also has a host of health benefits. Thyme is packed with flavonoids that have antioxidant capacity. It is also a good source of manganese and vitamin K, which allow for antioxidant protection.
Mint: Mint, scientifically known as ‘mentha’ is a herb that has been used since long for its different health benefits. Pudina is loaded with antioxidants and phytonurients and hence helps keep stomach cramps and acidity at bay. Since pudina has very strong aroma, it gets to stimulate your brain functioning and helps cure nausea. Mint leaves are packed with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties hence beat bad breath. Also beats stress and depression.
Bay leaf: Bay leaf, commonly known as “Tejpatta” in India, is an aromatic leaf. Bay leaves contain notable plant-derived compounds, vitamins and minerals which offer a range of benefits. Bay leaves have been found to be effective in treating type 2 diabetes as they cause reduction in blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Good for Digestion, Cardiovascular benefits, cold and infections are other additional health benefits.
Coriander: Coriander leaves are commonly present at each home on Indian family. They use coriander for garnishing, making chutneys or in parathas. Health benefits of coriander are numerous. It helps in lowering blood glucose levels in diabetics. Coriander lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) and raises good cholesterol (HDL). It is a great source of dietary fiber, iron and magnesium. Coriander is also used in detox diet
Health benefits that one can obtain from spices, herb and their oil are immense. Kerala, rich in spices since decades is known fact worldwide. Apart from adding colour, flavour and taste, consumption of spices provide infinite health benefits. Studies have revealed many health benefits obtained from these spices and they will keep coming over the years. Spices when used in moderation it will help in making optimal use of the resources provided by nature. Strike the right balance and add some spice to your life. Spices although have greater medicinal benefit needs to be consumed in moderation and in right way or can be harmful to health. Spice up your diet and reap the health benefits.