Add spices, add flavour, improve nutrition

SpicesYou can put the most nutritious food into your mouth but to get the goodness out of it, it needs to be well digested.   There is one simple way to make sure this happens; add herbs and spices to your food. Plus, bonus, they make the food taste amazing.

Herbs and spices improve your digestion

Herbs and spices, through their pungent and bitter tastes, kindle the digestive fire.  This means our digestive power increases which shows as a keener appetite, better ability to breakdown and absorb nutrients and increased ability to effectively excrete waste products from the body.  All in all, this means we are better nourished and free from toxins.

Simply add them to your food

The best way to enhance digestibility and flavour is by cooking with herbs and spices from scratch.  But for those non-cooks out there (I used to be one), you can make up or buy a spice mix and sprinkle it on your food.  Another great simple way is to add fresh herbs to food.

You can read here about top herbs and spices (and other essentials) for your pantry.

There are some herbs which will suit you better than others

Herbs and spices have different tastes, heating or cooling qualities and effects on the body.  Most will aid digestion.  For best results, use ones which most suit your constitution or state of health.  In Ayurveda these are viewed in terms of doshas.

VATA CONSTITUTION OR VATA IMBALANCE

Are you suffering from vata imbalance?  Symptoms could include insomnia, pain in the body, wind, constipation, bloating, stiffness, anxiety and a very busy mind.

The coolness of vata means the warmth of herbs and spices is always welcome.  To reduce vata, you need qualities of warmth, oiliness and heaviness.

Best dried herbs & spices Nearly all herbs and spices.  However there are some to lean on more; fennel, cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, asafoetida, ajwain, cloves, mustard seeds, basil.
Best fresh herbs Nearly all are useful but especially fresh coriander and ginger.
Flavours from … South Asia A good mix if you have a coffee/spice grinder:

 

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cardamom seeds

1 tbsp ginger powder

1 tbsp turmeric powder

½ tsp rock salt

 

If you don’t have a spice grinder and just want to mix up some ready-bought powders:

 

1 tbsp cumin powder

1 tbsp coriander powder

1 tbsp ginger powder

1 tbsp turmeric powder

1 tbsp fenugreek powder

½ tsp salt

 

These mixes include pungent, astringent, bitter, sweet and salty tastes.  To get all 6 tastes and thus a satisfying complete meal, just add a little sourness to the food (for example a squirt of lime or lemon juice).

Flavours from … Europe French (Herbes de Provence style)

2 tbsp sage

3 tsp rosemary

1 tbsp oregano

2 tsp marjoram

3 tbsp thyme

½ tsp rock salt

 

Italian

1 tbsp basil

1 tbsp oregano

1 tbsp rosemary

1 tbsp thyme

1 tbsp sage

½ tsp rock salt

 

These mixes include pungent, astringent, bitter and salty tastes.  To get all 6 tastes and thus a satisfying complete meal, add a little sourness to the food (for example a squirt of lime or lemon juice).  The sweet taste will come from the carbohydrates in the meal.

Flavours from … China Try Five Spice – either from a shop or made at home:

 

1 tbsp cinnamon bark

1 tbsp cloves

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp star anise

1 tbsp peppercorns

½ tsp rock salt

 

This mix includes pungent, bitter, astringent, sweet and salty tastes.  To get all 6 tastes and thus a satisfying complete meal, you could consider adding a little lime or lemon (sour).

 

Other Chinese flavours are achieved with bay leaves, ginger, fresh coriander and sometimes cumin seeds.

 

PITTA CONSTITUTION OR PITTA IMBALANCE

Are you suffering from pitta imbalance?  Symptoms could include skin eruptions, burning sensations including heartburn, increased sweating or heat in the body, inflammation, irritability and anger.

You need the least amount of spicing up!  Pitta needs calming and cooling (or very gently warming if digestion is sluggish).

Pitta spices

Best dried herbs & spices Coriander, cumin, cardamom, dill, fennel, ginger, mint, saffron, parsley, tarragon and sage.
Best fresh herbs Coriander, dill, ginger (moderation), mint, parsley, tarragon and sage.
Flavours from … South Asia A good mix if you have a coffee/spice grinder:

 

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cardamom seeds

1 tbsp dried mint leaves

1/2 tbsp cumin seeds

 

If you don’t have a coffee/spice grinder and just want to mix up some ready-bought powders:

 

1 tbsp coriander powder

1 tbsp dried mint leaves

½ tbsp cumin powder

½ tsp ginger powder

 

These mixes include astringent, pungent, bitter and sweet tastes.  To get all 6 tastes and thus a satisfying complete meal, you could consider adding a little lime or lemon (sour).  The salty taste will most likely be present naturally from the other ingredients.

Flavours from … Europe Try adding tarragon, sage and/or mint to your dish.
Flavours from … China Try adding fennel, fresh coriander and a little ginger to your dish.

 

KAPHA CONSTITUTION OR KAPHA IMBALANCE

Are you suffering from kapha imbalance?  Symptoms could include sluggish digestion, low appetite, nausea, weight gain, excess mucous, lethargy and heaviness and swelling.

Kapha is cold and damp so the warming, often drying nature of herbs and spices is the best antidote to an excess of kapha. Kapha needs warming, drying and stimulating.

Kapha spices

Best dried herbs & spices Nearly all herbs and spices, especially the more pungent (spicy) ones.  These are particularly useful: ginger, black pepper, mustard seeds, turmeric and cinnamon.
Best fresh herbs Nearly all fresh herbs are useful, in particular fresh coriander and ginger.
Flavours from … South Asia A good mix if you have a coffee/spice grinder:

 

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp black peppercorns

1 tbsp cinnamon bark/sticks

1 tbsp ginger powder

1 tbsp turmeric powder

 

If you don’t have a grinder and just want to mix up some ready-bought powders:

 

1 tbsp cumin powder

1 tbsp coriander powder

1 tbsp ground black pepper

1 tbsp cinnamon powder

1 tbsp ginger powder

1 tbsp turmeric powder

 

These mixes include pungent, astringent, bitter, sweet and salty tastes.  To get all 6 tastes and thus a satisfying complete meal, just add a little sourness to the food (for example a squirt of lime or lemon juice).

Flavours from … Europe Good mixes include:

French (Herbes de Provence style)

2 tbsp sage

3 tsp rosemary

1 tbsp oregano

2 tsp marjoram

3 tbsp thyme

 

Italian

1 tbsp basil

1 tbsp oregano

1 tbsp rosemary

1 tbsp thyme

1 tbsp sage

 

These mixes include pungent, astringent and bitter tastes.  To get all 6 tastes and thus a satisfying complete meal, add a little sourness to the food (for example a squirt of lime or lemon juice).  The salty taste will naturally be present in most foods and the sweet taste will come from the carbohydrates in the meal.

Flavours from … China Try Five spice – either from a shop or made at home:

 

1 tbsp cinnamon bark

1 tbsp cloves

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp star anise

1 tbsp peppercorns

 

This mix includes pungent, bitter and sweet tastes.  To get all 6 tastes and thus a satisfying complete meal, you could consider adding a little fresh coriander (astringent) and some lime (sour).  The salty taste will most likely be present naturally from the other ingredients.

 

Other Chinese flavours are achieved with bay leaves, ginger, fresh coriander and sometime cumin seeds.

 

ĀMA

Āma is the name for the sticky, undigested toxins which block the essential processes in the body.  If you are suffering from ama (see this article here to find out if you are), then follow the guidelines for kapha imbalance.

ALL-ROUND BALANCING  – TRIDOSHIC

If you have a balanced tridoshic constitution, then enjoy a mix of all the herbs and spices mentioned above.

If you are in a situation where all three doshas are out of balance, then use the following:

Best dried herbs & spices Coriander, cardamom, saffron, dill, tarragon, parsley, mint, a little cumin, moderate ginger
Best fresh herbs Coriander, dill, ginger (moderation), mint, parsley
Flavours from … South Asia A good mix if you have a coffee/spice grinder:

 

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cardamom seeds

1 tbsp dried mint leaves

1/2 tbsp cumin seeds

 

If you don’t have a coffee/spice grinder and just want to mix up some ready-bought powders:

 

1 tbsp coriander powder

1 tbsp dried mint leaves

½ tbsp cumin powder

½ tsp ginger powder

 

These mixes include astringent, pungent, bitter and sweet tastes.  To get all 6 tastes and thus a satisfying complete meal, you could consider adding a little lime or lemon (sour).  The salty taste will most likely be present naturally from the other ingredients.

Flavours from … Europe Try adding tarragon and/or mint to your dish.
Flavours from … China Try adding fresh coriander and a little ginger to your dish.

Enjoy adding delicious flavours to your food, in the quietly smug knowledge that they are helping your digestion and thus your health.

Until next time, take care of yourselves.

Kate

Author: Kate Siraj, Ayurvedic Practitioner, BSc Ayurveda, MChem (Oxon), MAPA.
© The Ayurveda Practice

Top photo of spices By Dina Said – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36970200

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