School of Ayurvedic Diet & Digestion

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Spices - Foods & Herbs List

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Reported by John Immel, Asheville, NC
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Spices communicate culture. Many cultures cook with the same ingredients but different spices. For example, a rice dish in Mexico might include cilantro, cumin and chile. In India, it would include mustard seed, turmeric and cumin. China might pair rice with ginger, soy sauce, and scallions.

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.

The power of spices is similar to herbs. See all the different herbal actions & pharmacological effects of herbs.

Spices & Detoxification

Spices 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 Spices

Most 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 Spices

You 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 Spices

Black 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 Spices

Sweet 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 Spices

Root 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 Spices

Freshly 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.

Making the Meal
Make a paste from spices, infusion in oil
Saute with onions, bring a broth to boil
Include the base, two ingredients to grace
Garnish each to individual taste.

Always Use Freshly Ground Spices

For 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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About John Joseph Immel

About the Author

John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.

John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.

John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 7 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.

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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information and products on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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