Curry Spices and How They Work

The fame of Indian spices is older than recorded history… and the cuisines of India are as mixed as its culture, racial structure, and geography.

There is more to curry than meets the eye in creating harmony and balance to make body, mind, and spirit happy.  Curry evolved out of India’s five-thousand-year-old healing system called Ayurveda (science of life: body, mind, and spirit), where healing with food, herbs, and spices was Nature’s gift to people.

For centuries many of these spices and herbs have been used to stimulate the taste buds and increase the flow of saliva, relieve gas, and reduce nausea, soothe the nervous system, increase internal body heat to relieve chills, and strengthen and promote digestion, absorption, metabolism, and circulation.  Great care is taken not only to ensure that spices enhance rather than dominate the basic flavor of the meal but also to retain their innate nutritional and therapeutic value.

Growing up in India, my mother always impressed upon us, “We are what we eat… Remember that spices and herbs have medicinal properties and are the heating and cooling specialists of the body.  They aid the digestive process and provide heat to the body and cool it.”

For example, black pepper, the ‘king of spices’ is an extremely effective heating agent or ‘fire’ that increases internal heat to open up congested sinuses and aid digestion.  Cardamom, the ‘queen of spices’ aid digestion and freshen the palate.  As a natural astringent substance, cardamom like cinnamon, nutmeg, poppy seeds and turmeric helps to tighten and firm tissues, organs, and skin and rejuvenates the body.  Chewing a clove helps relieve nausea, gas discomfort, indigestion, and sore throat.  Chili peppers are excellent for the skin because it opens up clogged pores and expels toxins.  Fennel seeds relieve gas, nausea, and abdominal cramps associated with indigestion and overeating.

Turmeric (haldi) or curcumin, the ancient staple curry spice of India has been used for thousands of years to heal the body of disease.  Western scientists are now discovering that turmeric powder is “arguably the most potent anti-cancer nutrient in existence… There is definitely no shortage of scientific evidence these days to show that curcumin, the believed to be primary active ingredient in the spice turmeric hold incredible therapeutic value, and just might be the most advisable medicinal spice of our day.  Besides quelling anti-inflammatory pain and promoting wound healing, turmeric is a seemingly miraculous anti-cancer nutrient of the highest order.  Curcumin is an all-round health agent that promotes vibrant health…”

Some Curry Facts:

  • All the spices and herbs utilized in Indian cuisine are healthy because they are major sources of vitamins and minerals needed to preserve human life
  • Spices are strong and must always be used in small quantities, correct measurements, and precise combinations to get the desired flavor.  Always use a level teaspoonful of ground spices (never heaped)
  • Magic of curry is in the blending and sautéing of spices (masala).  Excessive use of green or red chilies will ruin almost any curry
  • Legume and bean dishes are always seasoned with asafoetida, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, onion, and turmeric to reduce gas and make food light to digest
  • Vegetables always need coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, onion, and turmeric
  • Certain spices such as bay leaf, black pepper, cardamom, chili pepper, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, onion, and turmeric work well together for meat and vegetable curries.
  • One basic ground rule to follow when preparing any good curry is to sauté freshly ground or whole spices in hot oil for 2-3 minutes over hot to medium heat to obtain the desired individual flavor
  • A good curry always tastes better using fresh sauces and pastes
  • Simple tools and utensils are used
  • Buy spices in small quantities and store them in airtight jars. Whole spices retain their flavor and power much longer than ground spices.  The shelf life for ground spices is three months and for whole spices is six months
  • Many of these spices are available at your local grocery store

Being on friendlier terms with your stomach serves you well!  Discover and share my dazzling repertoire of authentic, delicious, healthy, and easy-to-prepare recipes of diverse flavors with your friends from my cookbooks Feast of India: A Legacy of Recipes and Fables (1991, 2015) and India’s Unsurpassed Cuisine: The Art of Indian Curry Cooking (Editor’s Choice, 2016) at


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