Why should I be aware of this?
Some Indian spices, even those which are commonly found on the home spice rack, are very potent in their freshest form. Understanding the health benefits of each ingredient is the key to optimizing home cooked meals for the particular needs of the family.
All about Indian curry
For making Indian curries, vegetables and meats are sauteed with large amounts of spices and served with Basmati Rice (to which bay leaves or whole cloves are added before cooking). The curry is normally eaten with a leavened pita-style bread called Nan. A simple homemade cheese called Paneer (milk mixed with vinegar or citric acid) is mixed with various vegetables such as spinach. Popular condiments include yogurt, hot sauce, and sweet chutney. Whole fennel seeds are often chewed after dinner to freshen breath.
Once the Indian spices are ground they are mixed into a blend called Garam Masala. Unlike Thai curry, garam masala does not keep long and should be prepared fresh before each meal.
Top 5 Indian Spices (Panch phoran)
- Caraway (seed) - Carum carvi (Umbelliferae)
Known since ancient times as a cure-all, caraway contains the volatile oil limonene, boosts the immune system and soothes irritated skin. When combined with olive oil caraway relieves bronchitis, colds, toothache, eye infections, sore throat, and cancer. The seeds of caraway freshen the breath, and its oil stimulates milk production in lactating mothers. It also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Cardamom (pods) - Elletaria cardamomum (Zingiberaceae)
Cardamom is another cure-all spice and is popularly known as "the Queen of all spices". Cardamom detoxifies the liver, strengthens the immune system and calms the nerves. Cardamom is used to fight kidney and stomach cancer, and also to treat digestive problems, asthma, and urinary tract infections. Cardamom seeds also act as breath freshener.
- Clove - Eugenia caryophyllus (Myrtaceae)
Clove contains the volatile oil eugenol, an antioxidant that is commonly used as a topical pain reliever for toothaches. Also used as a sore throat spray, to treat joint pain, and to reduce skin inflammation, clove even helps fight stomach cancer. Clove has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Fennel (seed) - Foeniculum vulgare (Umbelliferae)
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.
- Turmeric (root) - Curcuma longa (Zingiberaceae)
Turmeric, also known as curcumin contains curcuma, the pigment providing the bright yellow/orange color and antioxidant. A natural pain killer, turmeric detoxifies the liver, treats arthritis, reduces nervous tension and fights depression. Also used for psoriasis, turmeric boosts metabolic function and reduces body fat. Turmeric is used to treat leukemia, multiple sclerosis, melanoma and Alzheimer's disease. When turmeric is combined with cauliflower it is believed to help prevent cancers of the pancreas, prostate, liver and lungs. Turmeric has antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
What can I do?
- Obtain spices in whole seed form and grind them before use.
- Beware of cheap imported seeds (often contaminated with heavy metals).
- Ensure that spices are not irradiated (whole seeds should sprout when soaked in water for two days).
- The origin of the word 'curry' can be traced back to the Tamil word 'kari' meaning spiced sauce.
- Indian food is the UK's favourite cuisine. In the latest keynote survey, retail sales accounted for 42% of total sales of ethnic foods and was valued at £250 million. 
- The term 'curry' isn't really used in India. There are many types of curry style dishes, which have characteristic regional variations. 
- One of the earliest known recipes for meat in a spicy sauce appeared on tablets found near Babylon in Mesopotamia, dated about 1700 BC. 
- The Indian food industry in the UK is worth £3.2 billion and accounts for two-thirds of all eating out.
- The first commercial curry powder appeared in about 1780.
- Britain's first curry house opened in 1809. Called the Hindustani Coffee House and located in London's Portman Square.
- Indian food now surpasses Chinese food in popularity, with Indian restaurants outnumbering Chinese restaurants by two to one. 
- Indian restaurants in Britain serve about 2.5 million customers every week.
- Chicken tikka masala remains the most popular Indian dish. It's thought to originate in Britain after an enterprising Indian chef had the idea of adding a tomato and onion paste to the grilled chicken – to satisfy the British preference for food that isn't dry. 
- There are about 9,000 Indian curry houses in the UK, employing an estimated 70,000 staff. 
- In London alone there are more Indian restaurants than in Bombay and Delhi. 
- The latest keynote survey reported that curry fans spent £480 per minute in supermarkets and a leading supermarket sells 1.1 million packets of chicken tikka masala each year. 
- It is estimated that ethnic food sales will reach £792 million by the end of 2003. 
- Scientists at Nottingham Trent University have discovered that people begin to crave for a curry because the spices arouse and stimulate the taste buds.
Indian Curry Spices Explained