Ayurvedic Cooking

March 4th, 20101:43 pm @ Angela Odom


Now that I have talked about preparing my meals at home, I want to take some time to talk about Ayurvedic cooking. Actually, I am going to take a quote from the website www.sanatansociety.org:

The Ayurvedic cook derives his knowledge of herbs, spices, vegetables, legumes and so forth from the Ayurveda, which helps them maintain physical, mental, social and spiritual harmony.

Ayurvedic foods are appetizing, flavourful and aromatic and a way of offering love, becoming healing when served in an inspiring atmosphere. The cleansing of toxins that have entered the body and the electrochemical vitalising of the body are main objectives. Ayurvedic cooking thus is an art and a science at the same time, when cooking becomes alchemy and food becomes Tantra.

The basic principles of Ayurvedic Cooking are : the five Elements, the three Doshas, the three Gunas, the seven Dathus and the six Tastes. It also attaches a lot of attention to the effect of the cooking method on the quality of the foods, the importance of the vibrations of the cook and of the surrounding atmosphere, the compatibility of foods, the right time for cooking and eating, the cycle of the seasons and the effects of foods on consciousness.

Many years ago — I won’t say when I was knee high to a pea — I was introduced to Indian food. A friend took me to an Indian restaurant where we sat on the floor, ate delicious Naan, Tandori Chicken, and other tasty veggies. I walked out of there feeling absolute joy and it was the first time I visited a restaurant where I had no discomfort after eating. I was amazed. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I wanted to hit the button/lever repeatedly because the experience was that good.

Later I discovered places on the northside of Chicago where I could indulge my taste buds, senses, and appetite with traditional Indian cooking without having to go to a formal restaurant. While there, I discovered the grocery store. I purchased a number of spices, tumeric, cumin, garam masala, and a host of other spices and began preparing dishes at home.

During this time, I found my digestion was better, I felt better and — after some reflection on my health history — I now realize I have no memory of health issues. A fluke perhaps? I don’t think so.

In line with “you know that you know”, I felt the need to return to cooking with these spices and I looked them up to find out their health benefits. I was pleasantly surprised.

Anise Seeds Promotes digestion and acts as a detoxifying Agent.

Asafoetida (Hing) – also known as devil’s dung. It is used mainly for its digestive properties, especially in the cooking of beans and lentils, as it is reputed to have antiflatulence properties. Asafoetida has also been credited as being beneficial for by many who report that they felt noticeable benefits using the herb as a treatment of flatulence, in the treatment of digestive weakness, and in the treatment of fungal infections such as candidiasis, and in the treatment of chronic fatigue.

Caraway – Historically known as a cure-all, caraway contains the volatile oil limonene. Caraway boosts the immune system and soothes irritated skin. When combined with olive oil caraway relieves bronchitis, colds, toothache, eye infections, sore throat, and cancer. Caraway seeds freshen the breath, and caraway oil stimulates milk production in lactating mothers. Caraway has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) - When combined with peppermint, fennel, caraway, and wormwood, it appears to have a soothing effect on the gastrointestinal system. To date there is not sufficient clinical evidence to support the efficacy of caraway by itself. However, it has been used with a verifiable level of success when used in connection with peppermint oil for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Cardamom (Elaichi) – These aromatic seeds contain an oil that helps to stimulate digestion and relieve flatulence. To help relieve indigestion, mix a handful of crushed seeds in a half cup of water with some ginger root. Bring to a simmer, then add a little warm milk and honey.

Cayenne pepper (Lal Mirch)- Cayenne peppers’ bright red color signals its high content of beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Many individuals use cayenne to support circulatory health. Cayenne appears to reduce platelet thickness making them less “sticky.” This may reduce the risk of heart attacks and other blood clots. Cayenne may also have a positive effect on cholesterol. Studies show cayenne contributes to lower blood pressure.

Cilantro (Hara Dhaniya) — Contains vitamin C and smaller amounts of vitamin E, calcium, iron and niacin. The detoxification properties of cilantro, long recognized in ayurveda, received additional substantiation a few years ago, when it was discovered that cilantro helps in the chelation of heavy metals such as mercury and lead.

Cinnamon (Dalchni) – Cinnamon has health boosting compounds including eugenol, which is used to relieve pain and cinnamaldehyde which has sedative properties. It is also useful for improving the circulation and has anti-inflammatory and blood thinning properties. Research shows that it may also help to lower blood sugar levels and so may be useful in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. It is a delicious, fragrant spice.

Cloves (Luong) – Clove oil is well known as a treatment for toothache, and its antiseptic properties make it an excellent mouthwash. The main ingredient in the oil is eugenol which is anti-inflammatory and can help ease the stiffness and pain associated with arthritis. It is a warming spice which can help reduce congestion and stimulate digestion. To drink this spice as a tea, pour a cup of boiling water on to 1 teaspoon of cloves and steep for 10 minutes.

Coriander seeds (Dhaniya) — Coriander has many important vitamins and minerals. It provides calcium, phosphorus, iron and some other vitamins such as vitamin B and vitamin C. Regular use of coriander helps to improve the overall health and prevents many of the vitamin deficiency diseases. Coriander is also used as a carminative.

Cumin (Jeera)- It is a good source of iron and manganese and is thought to help digestion and bloating. Make cumin tea by steeping 1 teaspoon of seeds in 1 pint of boiling water.

Fennel (Soonf) — Fennel seeds contain several important antioxidants including anethole, kaempferol, quercetin, and rutin. Fennel also contains fiber, folate, potassium and vitamin C. Fennel strengthens the immune system, helps treat colon cancer, and reduces blood pressure. Fennel helps combat the toxic effect of food additives. Fennel has antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-tumor properties.

Fennel As Anti-Inflammatory — In animal studies, the anethole in fennel has repeatedly been shown to reduce inflammation and to help prevent the occurrence of cancer. Researchers have also proposed a biological mechanism that may explain these anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects. This mechanism involves the shutting down of a intercellular signaling system called tumor necrosis factor (or TNF)-mediated signaling. By shutting down this signaling process, the anethole in fennel prevents activation of a potentially strong gene-altering and inflammation-triggering molecule called NF-kappaB. The volatile oil has also been shown to be able to protect the liver of experimental animals from toxic chemical injury.

Fenugreek (Kasuri Methi) — A rich source of carbohydrates, proteins, Vitamin A and C, iron, calcium and minerals. Apart from providing energy and roughage, Fenugreek prevents constipation, improve digestion, stimulates liver and spleen, purifies blood and serves as appetizer. The twigs and leaves of the plant are also used as poultice for ulcers, boils and abscess. The Fenugreek seeds contain “Diosgenin” which is more of a raw material substance used in medical steroids by pharmaceutical industries. The seeds of Fenugreek have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and can be used for relieving pain.

Garam Masala — Masala is a spice, herb, or seasoning combination containing anything from two to twenty ingredients. Its contents, proportions and applications are limitless. Garam masala is an aromatic blend of “warm” spices (garam means warm), and, unless otherwise specified, is added towards the end of cooking.

Garlic (Lassan) — A study published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute revealed that men who consumed more than ten grams of garlic a day, were fifty percent less prone to prostate cancer than those who did not. This is due to the organosulphur compounds present in garlic. Allicin, an anti-oxidant helps prevent pulmonary hypertension (constriction of blood vessels in the lungs), according to another study carried out at Alabama University, Birmingham, US. Garlic has been used in treatment of flu, cold, acne and even to get rid of head lice!! Researchers in Argentina found that application of garlic helped kill more than 96 percent of lice in fifteen minutes.

Ginger (Adrak) – Ginger contains antioxidants and so can help protect against disease. It can help calm spasms and reduce flatulence in the digestive system. It is an excellent treatment for nausea associated with travel sickness, pregnancy and hangovers. Ginger tea can be made by adding a few slices to hot water. Try chewing on a little piece of the root to help with digestive problems.

Mint (Pudina) — Contain a rich concentration of peppermint oil, which helps gall bladder in secretion of bile required for digestion.

Mustard seeds (Rai) — Relieves muscular pain.

Nutmeg and mace (Jaiphal and Javitri) — A warming spice. It is used as a natural sleep aid taken in warm milk before bedtime. It is also believed to stimulate appetite and digestion. Good for diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. It helps in digestion and improves appetite. Mace is good for the digestive system. It improves appetite and reduces nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In traditional Indian medicine or Ayurveda, a tonic of this spice is used in treating inflammation of the bladder and urinary tract. Similar to nutmeg, mace is beneficial in arthritis and joint pains. The antioxidant effect of mace in the liver helps in conserving glutathione and increase protection against free radicals

Oreango (Ajwain) –Oregano oil and leaf are both strong herbal antibacterial agents due to the high thymol content. The dried leaves are used in hot fomentation to painful swellings and rheumatism. Oregano tea is a strong sedative and traditionally used to treat colds, bronchitis, asthma, fevers, and painful menstruation because of antiseptic action.

Paprika powder – Rich in vitamin C, and so helps colds and influenza. It is also said to treat digestive troubles, cramps, circulations problems, and shingles.

Saffron (Zaffran) — Saffron is as important ingredient of large number of Ayurvedic medicines. On account of its strong antipoisonous, aphrodisiac, cardiotonic, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, stimulant, lactogogue, livotonic, nervine tonic, sedative and styptic properties it is highly valued in Ayurveda. It is used in acne, apoplexy, arthritis, asthma, colic, cough dyspepsia, hemierania, insect bites and stings, liver disorders, mental disorders, neurasthenia, oedema, painful menstruation, phthisis, prolapse of anus, sore throat and splenic disorders. It is attributed with extraordinary properties for improving weak eyesight and highly valued as a complexion builder (Chopra et al., 1956: Kirukar & Basu, 1935).

Tamarind (Amli) — Mainly acts as an appetite stimulant, a digestive and a system cleanser [it is a mild laxative], stimulates salivation thus aiding digestion, brings dysentery under control by preventing further proliferation of the disease-causing bacteria. Dry Tamarind is considered a cardiac protective.

Turmeric (haldi) – Rich in antioxidants, researchers have discovered that it may help in the fight against cancer as well as containing inflammation fighting compounds called curcuminoids. Studies show that these curcuminoids may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and joint inflammation. Use in soups, curries and stews.

Now, considering the above list, please note everything in moderation. I list these herbs and spices as ingredients for dishes only. For instance, nutmeg contains Myristicin that gives the spice its flavor and fragrance. It is also believed that this chemical can cause hallucinations, vomiting and epilepsy like symptoms. Large doses of it might even be fatal. However, nutmeg, as a spice does not produce any such adverse affect. It has great benefits but it can also be deadly.

I use a lot of the aforementioned spices but I am very cautious with those that are immune boosters. I don’t need an immune booster.

What has been a great help to me are those ingredients that are digestive aides. For a long time I ate food that seemed to stick somewhere in my body. It was most uncomfortable. I have also noticed the more I cook with these spices, the less health dramas I have. They are becoming less and less frequent. A fluke? I dunno.

To learn more about Ayurvedic foods, read How to Eat for Your Dosha at About.com.