In Ayurvedic cooking, spices are used for their flavor and their medicinal properties.
Ayurvedic cooking uses spices for flavor, medicine and to ensure that all six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, astringent and bitter) are present in the meals.
According to Ayurveda, when all six tastes are present in accordance to the needs of each dosha, Vata, Pitta and Kapha, we feel more content, satisfied and we are healthier.
Many of them are found in Indian as well as middle-Eastern and African cuisine.
The main role of the spices is to ensure good digestion.
Faulty digestion is responsible for the build-up of toxins and impurities.
When we don’t digest food well, it creates a kind of slimy sludge in the gut. Some of us will have reactions like gas and bloating (Vata). Others will have reactions like burning indigestion (Pitta). A few more will experience sluggish digestion and feel heavy (Kapha).
It really doesn’t matter how “healthy” the food you eat is if you can’t digest it!
And if you can’t digest it, any food will become poison!
Systematically adding spices in your meals is one of the biggest strategies you can implement to improve your health.
The Ayurvedic cooking pantry list
Here’s a list of spices found in the Ayurvedic cooking pantry list, organized around their main properties
Spices that dispel gas
Asafoetida (hing) dispels gas and cramping; it’s good for cooking beans and legumes; it also destroys parasites, has antibiotic properties and cleanses the intestinal tract. VK-, P+
Ajwain also has painkilling properties and as a heart tonic. It kindles digestion. VK-, P+ Great to use in any curry, especially for Vata imbalance.
Caraway seeds are famous for their antioxidant properties along with dispelling gas, as well as their minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and zinc, as well as B-vitamins. They have a taste similar to dill which makes them great to use in breads and root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes etc. VK-, P+
Coriander/Cilantro is excellent for urinary tract as well because of its diuretic properties,it helps reduce fevers and combat allergies and purifies the blood. VPK- It is used in curries or as a masala with cumin and fennel in any dish.
Kombu, although not a spice or aromatic, Kombu is a seaweed commonly used to cook beans and legumes as it increases their digestibility; it’s a great source of minerals and said to remove heavy metals. V-, PK+
Spices that aid digestion and destroy digestive toxins:
Bay leaf is a digestive aid. (VK-, P+) I use it as a garam masala in some Indian flavored dishes, along with cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cumin seeds and cloves and sometimes star anise, together they build amazing flavor palette.
Black pepper destroys digestive toxins, also known as Ama. VK-, P+
Cardamom stimulates digestion, and it particularly helps the digestion of protein. It also helps induce profound sleep when boiled with milk at night. VK-, P+
Cumin aids digestion, helps flush out toxins, and dispels gas. An antidote for hot, pungent foods, it improves the absorption of minerals in the intestines; it relieves stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea. VPK- It’s used in curries or as a masala with coriander and fennel in any dish.
Clove is also known for its sinus and bronchial decongestant properties. VK-, P+
Dill seeds are a great digestive aids and dispel also gas; they’re known for providing relief for insomnia and menstrual symptoms and for their antispasmodic properties. The seeds and the whole plant works well with a cool cucumber salad or baked with root vegetables. VKP-
Fennel is a digestive aid, and helps get rid of intestinal worms. VPK- It’s used in curries or as a masala with cumin and coriander.
Nutmeg aids digestion, helps relieve cough and induces sleep when used in boiled milk before going to bed. It mixes well with desserts with a strong coconut flavor. VK-, P+
Spices that help regulate blood sugar levels
Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar levels, reduces indigestion, and increases circulation, owing to its blood thinning properties. VK-, P+ This magnificent spice stimulates the Central Nervous System. You can use it in desserts and curries.
The anti-inflammatory properties of the spices used in Ayurvedic cooking
Fenugreek is great for arthritis and known for its anti-inflammatory properties; furthermore, it rejuvenates and tones the whole body. VK-, P+ Particularly delicious when cooked with greens like spinach as in Palak Panir
Turmeric has amazing anti-inflammatory properties, as well as an antibacterial and antifungal; excellent for the skin because it purifies the blood. Turmeric also helps with respiratory problems like cough, congestion and sinusitis. It maintains the flora of the intestine, and reduces gas. This spice also affects the mind and reduces anxiety and stress. The traditional Ayurvedic texts say that turmeric cleanses the chakras, the spycho-somatic aspects of ourselves. Finally, it helps digest protein and promotes a balanced metabolism. VKP- The great news is that you can add it to any dish as it has a very mild flavor.
Spices that have antibiotic properties
Garlic is the best known natural antibiotic, and helps reduce toxins and impurities. VK-, P+
Ginger is a well known panacea for all cold symptoms, strengthens the immune system, and helps reduce sweet and salty cravings. Dry ginger increases Pitta more than fresh ginger. Ginger improves digestion, assimilation and absorption and dispels gas, cramps and nausea. Like garlic, it digests toxins in the body; finally ginger improves circulation, as well as relieves congestion. VK-, P+
Mustard seeds are a powerful bronchial decongestant as well as digestive. They are best used during the winter time. VK-, P+ You can use them in your curries or simply saute them with garlic.
Mint makes for great teas and is used in Pitta masala. It’s one of the best aromatics for Pitta because it has cooling properties. It’s also a digestive and dispels gas. I love to use it in a tabbouleh. VPK-
And so much more…
Onion strengthens and increases appetite. VK-, P+
Oregano brings a lot of flavor in a ratatouille and vegetarian lasagna, along with rosemary, thyme and marjoram. It’s a digestive and also has decongestant properties. VK-, P+
Parsley just like basil, cilantro and mint is a great source of chlorophyll, and very alkalinizing. I’ve read in some articles that it helps get rid of heavy metals. what I know is that it’s an amazing digestive aid and help dispel gas. VK-, P+
Saffron is prized as a wonderful “brain” spice because it helps calm the mind and nourishes mental activity. It’s also a digestive. Saffron regulates the menstrual cycle, and soothes PMS symptoms. The traditional Ayurvedic texts say that it increases love, devotion and compassion. Used it in boiled milk, rice puddings, as well as cooking basmati rice. VKP-
Basil is a known heart medicinal, and is also good for respiratory issues; filled with chlorophyll it’s alkalinizing, contains B-vitamins some say it helps the body get ready of heavy metals. Enjoy it with any Italian flavored dishes and green pesto. VK-, P+
Many of these herbs balance (-) Vata and Kapha while in excess increase Pitta, but only in excess. So people on a Pitta-pacifying diet should not be afraid of using them!
Learning Ayurvedic cooking is a great way to integrate the principles of Ayurveda in your lifestyle. If you interested in Ayurvedic cooking classes and videos, contact us.