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 (VK-,P+) dispels gas and cramping; it’s good for cooking beans and legumes; it destroys parasites; it has antibiotic properties; and cleanses the intestinal tract.
Ajwain (VK-,P+) has painkilling properties and acts as a heart tonic. It kindles digestion. Great to use in any curry, especially for Vata imbalance.
Caraway seeds (VK-, P+) are famous for their antioxidant properties and being mineral rich; they carry minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and B-vitamins. They are known to help with with dispelling gas. They have a taste similar to dill which makes them great to use in breads and with root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes etc.
Coriander/Cilantro (VPK-) is excellent for the urinary tract because of its diuretic properties, it helps reduce fevers and combat allergies and purifies the blood. It is used in curries or as a masala with cumin and fennel in any dish.
Kombu (V-,PK+), 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.
Spices that aid digestion and destroy digestive toxins
Bay leaf (VK-, P+) is a digestive aid. I use it as part of garam masala in some Indian flavored dishes. Garam masala is made of ground bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cumin seeds and cloves and sometimes star anise; together they build amazing flavor palette.
Black pepper (VK-, P+) destroys digestive toxins, also known as Ama.
Cardamom (VK-, P+) stimulates digestion, and it particularly helps the digestion of protein. It also helps induce profound sleep when boiled with milk at night.
Cumin (VPK-) aids digestion, helps flush out toxins, and dispels gas. It’s an antidote for hot, pungent foods; improves the absorption of minerals in the intestines; and relieves stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea. It’s used in curries or as a masala with coriander and fennel in any dish.
Clove (VK-,P+) is known for its sinus and bronchial decongestant properties.
Dill seeds (VKP-) are great digestive aids and dispel gas. They’re known for providing relief for insomnia and menstrual symptoms and also for their antispasmodic properties. The seeds and the whole plant works well with a cool cucumber salad or baked with root vegetables.
Fennel (VPK- ) is a digestive aid and helps get rid of intestinal worms. It’s used in curries or as a masala with cumin and coriander.
Nutmeg (VK-, P+) 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.
Spices that help regulate blood sugar levels
Cinnamon (VK-, P+) helps regulate blood sugar levels, reduces indigestion, and increases circulation, owing to its blood thinning properties. 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 (VK-, P+ ) is great for arthritis and known for its anti-inflammatory properties; furthermore, it rejuvenates and tones the whole body. It’s particularly delicious when cooked with greens like spinach as in Palak Panir.
Turmeric (VKP- ) has amazing anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties. It’s 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 psychosomatic aspects of ourselves. Finally, it helps digest protein and promotes a balanced metabolism. 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 (VK-,P+) is the best known natural antibiotic, and helps reduce toxins and impurities.
Ginger (VK-,P+) 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. Ginger also improves circulation and relieves congestion.
Mustard seeds (VK-, P+) are a powerful bronchial decongestant as well as digestive. They are best used during the winter time. You can use them in your curries or simply saute them with garlic.
Mint (VPK-) 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.
And there are so many more incredible spices…
Onion (VK-, P+) strengthens and increases appetite.
Oregano (VK-, P+) 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.
Parsley (VK-, P+) is a great source of chlorophyll just like basil, cilantro and mint and is very alkalinizing. I’ve read in some articles that it helps get rid of heavy metals. It’s an amazing digestive aid and helps dispel gas.
Saffron (VKP-) 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.
Basil (VK-, P+) is a known medicinal herb for the heart and is also good for respiratory issues. It’s filled with chlorophyll, is alkalinizing and contains B-vitamins; some say it helps the body get ready of heavy metals. Enjoy it with any Italian flavored dishes and green pesto.
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.