Ayurveda says that spice enhances an individual’s health. Yet, most of us just use salt or pepper to spice our food. And, while the use of salt can enhance the flavor of foods and black pepper has a lot of healing properties, there are so many more spices to incorporate into our diets. Just think of the old saying, “Variety is the spice of life.”
In general, adding spice to your food can enhance its flavor. But, a pinch of seasoning can add wonders to your life. In my last blog, I spoke of the reason for incorporating all of the six tastes into your meals. Choosing particular spices to cook with is one way to get all of those tastes included in your diet.
There are important medicinal qualities associated with the various spices. Their properties enhance digestion, balance our doshas (or the functional energies of Vata, Pitta & Kapha) and help to harmonize the numerous systems within the body. Spices contain powerful antioxidants and are designed to defend against bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Spices also contain certain phytonutrients not available in any other foods.
I’m going to tell you about the properties and uses for just a few specific spices here, you can check out the podcast for all of my spicy suggestions.
The Himalayan Pink variety is my go-to for salt. It’s the most balancing to all three doshas (Vata, Pitta & Kapha) and is known to be good for the eyes. It’s also more cooling than black salt. Salt’s main action is to improve digestion but it can enhance other flavors too. Salt can also cleanse tissues – it works by scraping out Ama (undigested food). Salt also helps us to absorb minerals and maintain the electrolyte balance in the body. It is calming to the nerves and relieves spasm.
Black pepper is considered to be the most healing spice in Ayurveda. It has cleansing and antioxidant properties, and, most importantly, black pepper is a bioavailability enhancer – it helps increase the absorption rate of other substances (specifically turmeric). In and of itself, black pepper increases the free flow of oxygen to the brain, it enhances digestion and the circulation of nutrients, it stimulates the appetite and is good for congestion and joint health. Ayurveda calls it the “King of Spices.”
Just recently, turmeric has become a very popular spice in the US. Yet, turmeric has always been favored for its anti-inflammatory properties in India. It contains the flavonoid curcumin which is effective in reducing joint swelling, detoxifying the liver, balancing cholesterol levels and fighting allergies. The curcumin in turmeric nourishes the nervous system and is an overall immunity booster. Adding a touch of black pepper can enhance turmeric’s absorption as mentioned. Turmeric, however, is a heating spice and will increase Pitta. Turmeric is best used in tiny quantities because of its heating and drying quality (that can also affect Vata). In fact, turmeric has been known to inhibit menstrual cycles due to its astringent quality. The best way to take turmeric is to sauté it in ghee (clarified butter) along with the same small amount of cumin and sweet paprika then mix it with some freshly steamed vegetables. The color of turmeric is a bright yellow orange and can stain fabrics (and even counter tops).
Ginger behaves very differently in the fresh vs. dry form. The fresh variety is sharp and stimulates Pitta pretty harshly. When dried it is not as heating but it is still warming – enough to pacify the cooler doshas: Vata and Kapha. Ginger is known to alleviate gas and other stomach discomforts. It can enhance appetite and help with respiratory issues. I like to take it in tea form about one hour after eating to help me digest when I have eaten too much or have had heavier foods.
On the podcast I address many more spices that I have been experimenting with and using in my dishes – I can’t believe that I once only prepared my food with salt and pepper! Maybe, like me, you are just getting started exploring the spice world. But the best way to know what you like is to try a few. Many health food stores will allow you to purchase a small quantity in those bulk machines. That’s how I got started.
Spices give us more flavor, taste and provide us with the benefits of enhanced digestion, balanced dosha energies and so many other healthy rewards.
So what are you waiting for, get your spice on! Kim 🌶