Green Cardamom

Cardamom is native to the evergreen forests of India. This spice is commonly used in Indian cuisine, but it has also made its way into Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for mouth ulcers, digestive problems, and even depression.

There are two types of cardamom, the common green one and the less commonly used in Europe, black cardamom. The green ones have a pale green shell and inside lie a cluster of intense aromatic tiny black seeds which can be ground into a powder. When they are used whole it is usually in rice dishes and curries and can be removed before serving. Black cardamom is very different in taste and size and have a smokier flavour. It is used mostly in the preparation of Garam masala, and in rice and lentil dishes.

The Benefits of Cardamom

Some of the health benefits of this peppery, citrusy spice are now making their way into modern studies. It’s well worth adding cardamom to your food for the flavour alone, but these health benefits are also something to consider.

  • Digestion – Cardamom is related to ginger and can be used in much the same way to counteract digestive problems. Use it to combat nausea, acidity, bloating, gas, heartburn, loss of appetite, constipation, and much more.
  • Detoxify – it helps the body eliminate waste through the kidneys.
  • Cold and Flu – It may help prevent and relieve cold and flu symptoms. It’s also used for bronchitis and coughs.
  • Antioxidant – Many of the vitamins, phytonutrients, and essential oils in cardamom act as antioxidants, cleaning up free radicals and resisting cellular aging.
  • Cardamom is also believed to possess anti-depressant properties. Cardamom essential oil is one of the major oils used in aromatherapy.

How You Can Use Cardamom

Here in Spain it is a spice that is used more and more now to add flavour to desserts. In Soul Spices you will find it in many of my recipes including the delicious and soothing Masala tea, the decadent Flourless Cardamom chocolate cake and some of the rice dishes.

Vanilla

Vanilla is one of those powerful ingredients we use all the time, but probably take for granted. Whether it’s vanilla extract in your chocolate chip cookies or scraped vanilla beans for custard or ice cream, vanilla is called for in all kinds of recipes. With so many uses and so many different types of vanilla — from “Bourbon” to Mexican — vanilla is an omnipresent ingredient whose value cannot be overstated.

The vanilla pod is frequently referred to as the bean. The pods are picked when they are still not ripe, and then plunged into hot water and laid out to dry for anywhere from two to six months.

Like saffron, vanilla is very labour intensive to produce and is the second most-expensive spice, after saffron.

Vanilla flavouring in food may be achieved by adding vanilla extract or by cooking vanilla pods in the liquid preparation.

Although vanilla is a prized flavouring agent on its own, it is also used to enhance the flavor of other substances, to which its own flavour is often complementary, such as chocolate, custard, caramel, coffee, cakes, and others. I use them in a multitude of sweet recipes in this book!

Benefits of Vanilla Extracts

Mayan and Aztec civilizations have known about the properties of vanilla for ages. They would grind fresh pods to create medicinal elixirs and use it as royal drinks.

Health Benefits of Vanilla

Studies on vanillin suggest it contains strong antioxidant and antibacterial properties, and even cancer or tumour fighting abilities. Some other health benefits of vanilla include the following:

  • Increased libido – Since ancient times, vanilla has been regarded an aphrodisiac. However, ongoing aromatherapy studies suggest that vanilla may increase sexual desire by boosting testosterone levels in men.
  • Burns – Traditionally, home remedies to heal burns, cuts, and wounds have used vanilla. However, it is perhaps unsafe to use concentrated vanilla extract or essential oil on recent burns.
  • Coughing – Cough syrups often use vanilla flavouring to mask bitter tastes. Although there is little evidence to prove the effect of vanilla extract on coughing, the mild anaesthetic properties may relieve symptoms such as pain from a sore throat or headache.

Mustard Seeds

Two main types of mustard seeds are used in cooking: black (which have a brownish tone) and white. Black mustard seeds are the most pungent in flavour and taste, and are used in the Indian recipes I write about. White mustard seeds, which are yellow in colour, are used to make yellow mustard.

As with most spices, mustard seeds have been used for thousands of years, both for culinary and medicinal purposes. In India, mustard seeds are an important spice, adding a different sort of heat and aroma to dishes. We usually throw them into a pan of hot oil and wait until they start jumping as they heat up, allowing their flavour to explode and infuse into the hot oil… a flavour and sound that is one of my favourites!

Cinnamon

The real deal is native of Sri Lanka, which produces 80-90% of the world’s total cinnamon crop. It comes from the bark of a laurel-like tree, peeled from the thinner branches and left to dry. Once dried, the curled-up pieces are packed, one inside the other, and cut into short lengths to form the sticks as we know them. Much of the cinnamon found in supermarkets is the cheaper Cassia variety, a Chinese relative.

In ancient times cinnamon was very highly prized, and regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for the gods!

Health Benefits of Cinnamon

An anti-oxidant, cinnamon can help to relieve stomach aches and irritable bowel syndrome. Known for its blood-sugar lowering effects, it also has beneficial effects on insulin resistance.

Cinnamon is wonderful served in both sweet and savoury dishes. It works beautifully in Indian curries (for example, my Lamb curry and Biryani recipes) and it is also one of the main components in Chai spice and Garam Masala blend, also found in this book. I love to incorporate it in most of my desserts, cakes and breakfast dishes as it adds a warming touch. A classic combination that we all know and love are cinnamon and apple. You’ll find it in my apple pie galette!

When buying cinnamon, look for the real Sri Lankan variety whenever possible, and store the sticks and powdered spice in separate containers. The sticks will last up to 2 years and the powder, up to one year.

Cumin

Cumin is a native to the Levant and upper Egypt, and grows in hot countries such as India and North Africa.

Cumin is a friendly, hard working spice in the kitchen. It is well known all over the world, and found in many cuisines. It is the base note to most Indian curries, and its toasted aroma is what gives curries their distinct characteristic. When roasted, the seeds become darker, more pungent and release a smoky flavour. Cumin is also available in ground form and readily available in the Western Hemisphere. Store cumin seeds or cumin in powder form separately in air tight containers and use the powdered form within 3 months.

Health Benefits of Cumin

Cumin is a stomach soother and diuretic, as well as an anti-oxidant. It helps to relieve colic and flatulence, plus it also increases lactation. It is so good for you, you’ll want to add it to everything!

Ways You Can Use Cumin Seeds

Roast cumin seeds lightly just before use in cooking to release their full flavour. They complement the earthy flavours of lentils and beans beautifully, and by adding a teaspoon of cumin seeds to roasted vegetables, you’ll make them something extra specia

Apparently, a combination of cumin, black pepper and honey is considered an aphrodisiac in some parts of the world, but don’t blame me if this doesn’t work for you!

In Soul Spices, you will find cumin in: Roasted cauliflower, Goa-style fish curry, Lamb curry, Chicken Biryani and many more!