Traditional Indian Spice Mixes: 7 Nutritional Benefits

Love the aroma of spices in your food? Here are some more reasons to include the traditional masala mixes in your daily diet.

By Shiny Lizia M

Traditional Indian Spice Mixes: 7 Nutritional Benefits

Does the aroma of masala wafting from your kitchen stimulate your family’s appetite? Masala mixes or spice blends are an important part of Indian cooking and impart flavour to your food. Apart from tingling the taste buds, Indian spice mixes are packed with nutrients and provide loads of goodness for you and your children.   

The uniqueness of each masala mix can be attributed to the specific ingredients it contains and the proportions in which these spices are used in the mix. Every region in India uses its own masala mixes. Aromatic spice blends like sambar powder, rasam powder and curry powder in South India, chole masala and garam masala in North India, goda masala from Maharashtra, and panch phoran from East India not only give a unique taste to traditional dishes but also have many health benefits. 

What are some popular Indian spice blends? 

  • Sambar powder is made by roasting and grinding red chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal, channa dal, black pepper, fenugreek seeds, asafoetida and turmeric.
  • Curry powder (also known as Madras curry powder) is made up of spices like fenugreek, curry leaves, turmeric and red chillies.
  • Garam masala is prepared using green and black cardamom, cinnamon, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, nutmeg, mace, bay leaves and black pepper.
  • The paanch phoron or five-spice mix uses fenugreek, nigella (onion seeds), fennel, black mustard and cumin seeds.
  • Rasam powder is a mixture of toor dal, red chillies, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, dried curry leaves and turmeric.
  • Chole masala is prepared by mixing bay leaves, mustard seeds, cumin, coriander seeds, cloves, red chillies, peppercorns, dried garlic, ginger powder, sesame, turmeric, coriander seeds, star anise and fennel seeds.
  • Goda masala, which is a base for most Maharashtrian curries, includes cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, white sesame seeds, coriander seeds, coconut flakes, dagad phool (black stone flower) and black peppercorns.

Seven nutritional benefits of these masala mixes

Each of these spice mixes is packed with beneficial vitamins and minerals. So, how does your body benefit when you include these spices in your diet? Let’s discuss the benefits in detail.

1. Work as nutrient bombs

Masala mixes contain various types of spices, dal and cereals, which give them their nutritional value. For example, sambar powder and rasam powder are combinations of spices which are rich in minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium and potassium, and vitamins such as folates, carotenes (vitamin A), K and C. Another ingredient of these mixes, dal, is rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. Masala mixes such as garam masala, goda masala and paanch phoron use spices like asafoetida, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mace and turmeric — all are rich in iron and calcium. Thus, each masala mix can be called a nutrient-rich bomb.

2. Contain antioxidants 

Spices in masala mixes are rich in antioxidants such as flavonoids, polyphenols and lignans. Antioxidants are known to reduce oxidative stress. This stress happens because of the high concentration of free radicals in the cells and tissues of the human body. Free radicals are caused by radiation, stress, contaminated food, adverse environmental conditions, physical exertion, smoking, alcoholism and drug addiction. High oxidative stress leads to a variety of diseases, including cancer, heart-related diseases and rapid ageing. Hence, the inclusion of masala in your daily diet will help in reducing stress and may even slow down ageing.

3. Have anti-inflammatory properties

Spices like red chillies, bay leaves, black pepper and nutmeg have high anti-inflammatory properties. Thus, these spices contribute to the reduction of the inflammatory response in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis and asthma.

4. Have antimicrobial and antifungal properties

Do you suffer from frequent food poisoning? It is caused by microorganisms and can pose a threat to your health. Spices such as clove, cinnamon and cumin, used in our masala, possess significant antibacterial and antifungal properties against food spoilage bacteria, pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus and harmful fungi. Therefore, spices act like anti-microbial agents that can kill microorganisms and stop their growth.

5. Help in fighting cancer

Do you know that spices can modify your immune responses or functioning of the immune system itself? This property is referred to by the term ‘immunomodulatory effects’. Various studies state that apart from antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, spices also possess immunomodulatory effects. This makes them effective in the prevention and treatment of several types of cancer, including lung, liver, breast, stomach, colon, rectum, cervix and prostate cancer. Several spices, such as turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic, saffron, black pepper and red chillies, contain bioactive anti-cancer compounds like curcumin, thymoquinone, piperine and capsaicin. 'Sambar, an Indian Dish Prevents the Development of Dimethyl Hydrazine-Induced Colon Cancer: A Preclinical Study', published in the Pharmacognosy magazine, in July 2016, reveals that sambar prevents colon cancer as the spices added in its curry powder have anti-cancerous properties.

6. Are good for dental health

Since ancient times, spices like cloves and cinnamon have been used to treat minor dental issues. These spices contain phytochemicals, which act against oral microorganisms and treat dental conditions like gingivitis, periodontics, plaques, staining, pain and swelling. So, masala mixes which have these spices are beneficial for dental health.

7. Boost metabolism 

Everyday ingredients like garlic, fenugreek, red pepper, turmeric and ginger are effective cholesterol-lowering agents. Several other spices have anti-diabetic, anti-obesity and heart-healthy properties when consumed regularly.

So, next time you make a pot of delicious sambar or use goda masala generously in your food, tell your children about the goodness of these traditional ingredients and how they help fight germs in the body. Remember, you are not just adding flavour and fragrance to your foods, but also helping your family stay healthy.

The author, Shiny Lizia M is a Chennai-based nutritionist.

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