Down through the ages, India has been known as the land of spices. Sweet or pungent, aromatic and seductive spices have played a special part in life, legend and ritual of the country.
The primary function of spices in Indian food is to improve the flavour of the dish. Many sices such as cloves, corriander, cumin seeds, cinnamon, etc. because of their volatile oil contents, impart various flavours to the food.
Besides enhancing the flavour and aroma of the food, spices have a phychological action beneficial to our system. They act as a stimulus to the digestive system and help digestion in many ways.
Some spices are used to give colour to food and to improve eye appeal.
Example, adding turmeric in yellow rice.
All palates do not crave highly spiced foods, yet most people demand that food should be adequately spiced. Even the people of the West, particularly the English and Americans who have a tradition of bland food, are now introducing a variety of spices into their dishes and appreciating the added charm in the food.
To enhance the flavour and aromas of foods, spices may be used whole or grounded, as in pualos or biryani.
Indian cooks are the artists in the use of spices.
A very old and important spice, the clove was known before the time of the early Egyptians. The word is taken from the Latin word ‘Clavus’ and the French word ‘clou’ both meaning nail.
Cloves are used in both, Westren and Indian dishes, both savoury and sweet, example. Pulaos, fruit salads, bechamel sauce, baked apple, etc.
NUTMEG AND MACE
These are the only known cases of two different spices from the same fruit. Nutmeg is grown in the Dutch East Indies and Geranada in the British west Indies. The nutmeg fruit resembles an apricot in size and shape. What we call nutmeg is the seed. It is protected by a thin shell, the has a coat of orangy flesh which dries into mace. Nutmeg is used in Western and Indian dishes in puddings, for flavouring eggs and egg and milk in some curries. Mace is used to flavour sauces, stocks, sweet dishes, etc.
A product of great antiqiuty and grown in most parts of the world, mustard is used in both Western and Indian preparations. It is used in the West in powdered form, as a table condiment and for flavouring sauces, etc.
It is harvested during the rainy season when piable and then dried into curls sold as sticks or ground into a powder.With its warm, sweet flavor, cinnamon is one of the biggest workhorses on the spice shelf. Cooks often use it to flavor baked goods and drinks, but cinnamon also works wonders in stews and sauces. The best cinnamon is Ceylon cinnamon also known as true cinnamon.
Cardamom is one of the world’s very ancient spices. It is native to the East originating in the forests of the western ghats in southern India, where it grows wild.
Cardamom comes from the seeds of a ginger-like plant. The small, brown-black sticky seeds are contained in a pod in three double rows with about six seeds in each row. The pods are between 5-20 mm (1/4”-3/4”) long, the larger variety known as ‘black’, being brown and the smaller being green. White-bleached pods are also available. The pods are roughly triangular in cross section and oval or oblate. Their dried surface is rough and furrowed, the large ‘blacks’ having deep wrinkles. The texture of the pod is that of tough paper.
This is obtained from the seeds or berries of the plant ‘piper nigrum’ which grows in Malabar and other places in India. Pepper is one of the most universally popular spices and is used in every type of savoury dish to improve flavour.
Types of peppers-
Turmeric grows wild in the forests of South and Southeast Asia. It is one of the key ingredients in many Asian dishes. Indian traditional medicine, called Siddha, has recommended turmeric for medicine. Its use as a coloring agent is not of primary value in South Asian cuisine.
Turmeric is mostly used in savory dishes, but is used in some sweet dishes, such as the cake sfouf. In India, turmeric plant leaf is used to prepare special sweet dishes.
Ginger is a zesty spice native to southeastern Asia. The ginger root familiar to most people is the underground rhizome of the ginger plant. Its name is thought to come from the Sanskrit name ‘Singabera’, meaning “horn-shaped,” probably a reference to the fact that ginger root sometimes resembles a horn.
This aromatic and pungent root has been around for millenium.
Ginger is often associated with Asian cooking, and commonly used in stir-fries, but its spicy, zesty taste is also delicious in beverages, baked goods, marinades and on fruit and vegetables. For culinary use, ginger can be used dried or fresh, though the fresh root has much more flavor and taste than dried ginger.
Widely popular for their distinctive spice flavor, cumin seeds are commonly featuring ingredients in the North African, Middle-East, Western Chinese, Indian, Cuban and North Mexican cuisine. The spice is native to Middle-East Asian region, and today, grown all over the world for its pleasantly aromatic seeds.
(Book referred – Modern cookery)