Better Health through Digestion with an Ayurvedic Diet
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Spices are powerful and concentrated. A small quantity of spices has a large effect. The powerful effects of spices can be used to balance undesirable qualities in food. For example, a small amount of black pepper (light and sharp) can be used to balance cheese (heavy and dull). Spices are ideal for Kapha. In small quantity spices help poor digestion and circulation in Vata individuals as well. Spices provoke Pitta. Spices are predominantly pungent in taste, hot, sharp, light, and dry.
Spices & DetoxificationSpices build digestive strength (agni) and detoxify (burn ama). They improve circulation which helps eliminate toxins. In general they flush all secretions. Wintertime is the best time of year for spices.
Types of SpicesMost spices have a sharp, warming, or effect on the tongue. Sharp spices irritate tissues and stimulate the heart. Fresh ginger is sharp but without heat. Turmeric is heating but without sharpness. Heating spices are generally vasodilators. Mint is mainly aromatic.
Aromatic SpicesYou can use your tongue to figure out the medicinal effects of the spices you eat. Aromatic spices include those with a strong smell, like peppermint, thyme, and oregano. They shock and relax smooth muscle tissues. This helps dilate blood vessels, encourage sweating, calm the bronchial tubes, and reduce colic. The shocking quality of aromatic spices stimulates the mind.
Sharp SpicesBlack pepper, ginger and chili are sharp, but are much less aromatic than peppermint. Sharp spices improve circulation by stimulating the heart to beat faster and stronger.
Sweet SpicesSweet spices are spices that work particularly well for dessert. They balance the heavy, dull, cold, gooey qualities of dessert foods. Some examples of sweet spices include cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, fennel, and cloves.
Root SpicesRoot spices are generally less pungent that spices from aerial parts of plants such as seeds and leaves. Root spices include turmeric, hing, onions and garlic.
Cooking with SpicesFreshly ground spices also have more prana (vital life force). Once a seed is ground, it dies and the aroma as well as the medicinal qualities evaporate quickly.
You can maximize the fresh taste of spices by infusing them into water and oil. Some flavors in spices are water soluble. Others are fat soluble. to extra both types, make a paste by mixing spices with a small quantity of water. Allow some time for the spices to absorb the water. Then, fry them in oil. The action of boiling the absorbed water out of the spices pushes the flavor out into the oil. A spice infused oil spreads throughout the recipe and increases absorption of flavors into the ingredients.
If cooking spices with onions, add the spices as the onion begins to brown. Onions are mostly water. The water in the onions prevents the temperature in the pan from rising above the boiling point of water. Onions progress from opaque to translucent, then slices get desiccated and thin. As the water in the onions boils off, the temperature begins to the rise and the onions start to brown. Then, add the spices, sauting an additional 15-30 seconds.
Finally, create a sauce or broth by adding a combination of water, sweet, sour, and salty tastes and bringing to a boil. Then add other ingredients. Larger, chunky ingredients like potatoes take up to an hour to fully absorb a spice infused broth. Finally, garnish the recipe with fresh herbs and nuts.
Always Use Freshly Ground SpicesFor maximum flavor, always buy whole seed and grind fresh before using. Spices with a strong aroma are high in aromatic oils. Aromatic oils are volatile dispersing quickly into the air giving the spice a strong smell. The mint family is especially known for volatile, aromatic oils. Volatile oils are generally carminitive, stimulating peristalsis and moving Vata downwards.
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