Don’t like curries? This could change your opinion on curries forever.
Posted on December 17th, 2014

 Dr Hector Perera       London

The foods without spices or salt added are generally called bland food sometimes medically recommended to eat bland food in certain cases. The bland diet can be counterintuitive to what many of us know about healthy eating. But when your stomach is hurting from surgery or intestinal problems, or you are nauseated from treatment, it’s important to eat what you can. Foods in the bland diet are very gentle. They are low fibre, low in fat, not spicy, soft, and overall easy to digest.

In general majority of Asian people prefer to spice up the food for various reasons but the problem arises when the things go over the limits. Many British TV chefs have no quantitative or qualitative idea of ingredients; they just add anything because they have already made a name in the TV or in other cooking programmes. Too much chillies, pepper or mustard in certain food burn you from Portsmouth to Lands’ end, see what I mean?

The word curry was invented by British colonialists in the 18th century. There is no rigid definition of “a curry,” many restaurants use it as a generic term for sauce-based dishes that can vary in spice content and heat and can contain meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, coconut milk, onions, fresh ginger, kaffir lime leaves and other ingredients. Today, curry powder may also include cloves, coriander, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, fennel, caraway, ajwain seeds [Scientific name: Trachyspermum copticum], dried basil, mustard seeds, mace, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, saffron and cinnamon. These spices have a number of organic highly volatile chemicals with complicated molecular structures. Cinnamon alone has 18 chemicals. Clove has methyl salicylate, Eugenol and 2-heptanone as major chemicals.  Eugenol is the major compound that allows clove oil to be used as a remedy for toothache. It has an impressively wide variety of properties: it’s an anaesthetic and antiseptic, and has anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial and insecticidal properties – quite the catalogue.

The bottled readymade curry pastes are loaded with synthetic chemicals, monosodium glutamate MSG, salt, colourings, food preservatives, oils and many more to protect the shelf lives so I prefer not to choose them for my work. Can anyone remember the servants back home make this curry paste instantly by grinding on traditional, Mirisgala”? They give a real taste to the curries. Now these can be done so easily due to electrical grinders and blenders. These spices have plenty of antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and medicinal values and some can even lower blood cholesterol levels as well. In a way this is a kind of natural herbal therapy, no artificial colouring and additives or chemicals as found in many takeaway packed foods or in bottled curry pastes.

Let me mention the benefits of only a few spices which normally use in curry powder. One such spice is ajwain seeds which contain health benefiting essential oils such as thymol, a monopterone derivative class of chemical compound, which gives aromatic fragrances to seeds. In addition, they also compose of small amounts other phyto-chemicals such as pinene, cymene, limonene and terpinene. The active principles in the ajwain may help increase the digestive function of the intestinal tract by facilitating release of gut juices (gastro-intestinal secretions). Thymol, the essential oil obtained from ajwain has local anaesthetic, anti-bacterial and antifungal properties.

In most of the curries, they add a spice that gives yellow colouration to the food and that is Saffron. Saffron is used for a number of reason and some are for asthmacoughwhooping cough (pertussis), and to loosen phlegm (as an expectorant). It is also used for sleep problems (insomnia), cancer, hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis), intestinal gas (flatulence), depressionAlzheimer’s disease, fright, shock, spitting up blood (hemoptysis), pain, heartburn, and dry skin. Women use saffron for menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Men use it to prevent early orgasm (premature ejaculation) and infertility. Saffron is also used for to increase interest in sex (as an aphrodisiac) and to induce sweating.

One other spice that is used in making curries is clove but I use only a few because too much can have a burning sensation from the mouth to the other end just like chillies. It also has plenty of medicinal values such as to temporarily alleviate tooth ache. Ayurveda suggests making a tea to lessen, or prevent, colds and flu. It is also used as an expectorant, making it easier to cough up phlegm. Cloves are a natural painkiller and also attack germs, so they’ll help you get rid of that sore throat. Use clove oil to massage sore muscles; some also use it for arthritis and rheumatism.

Cardamom is another spice added to flavour food such as fish and meat dishes. Again one or two pods are more than enough to get the unique flavour. There are plenty of health benefits of cardamom due to the presence of a number of complicated organic chemicals. This exotic spice contains many plants derived chemical compounds that are known to have been anti-oxidant, disease preventing and health promoting properties. The spicy pods contain many essential volatile oils that include pinene, sabinene, myrcene, phellandrene, limonene, 1, 8-cineole, terpinene, p-cymene, terpinolene, linalool, linalyl acetate, terpinen-4-oil, a-terpineol, a-terpineol acetate, citronellol, nerol, geraniol, methyl eugenol, and trans-nerolidol.

The therapeutic properties of cardamom-oil have found application in many traditional medicines as antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. Cardamom is a good source of minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. 100 g pods contain 1119 mg of this electrolyte. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Copper is required in the production of red blood cells. Additionally, it is also an excellent source of iron and manganese. 100 g pods contain 13.97 mg or 175% of daily-required levels of iron. Iron is required for red blood cell formation and cellular metabolism. Manganese is a co-factor for the enzyme, superoxide dismutase, a very powerful free-radical scavenger. Further, these aromatic pods are rich in many vital vitamins, including riboflavin.

One cannot forget to add cinnamon in most of the curries. This is a spice that comes from the branches of wild trees that belong to the genus “Cinnamomum” – native to the Caribbean, South America, and Southeast Asia. Some health benefits can be mentioned here. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Cinnamon is used to help treat muscle spasms, vomiting, diarrhoea, infections, the common cold, loss of appetite, and erectile dysfunction (ED). Cinnamon may lower blood sugar in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, according to Diabetes UK. However high quality research supporting the claim remains scarce. Fungal infections – according to the National Institutes of Health, cinnamaldehyde – a chemical found in Cassia cinnamon – can help fight against bacterial and fungal infections.
Diabetes – cinnamon may help improve glucose and lipids levels in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in Diabetics Care.

The study authors concluded that consuming up to 6 grams of cinnamon per day “reduces serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.” and that “the inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type 2 diabetes will reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.”

In addition, a certain cinnamon extract can reduce fasting blood sugar levels in patients, researchers reported in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Alzheimer’s disease Tel Aviv University researchers discovered that cinnamon may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. According to Prof. Michael Ovadia, of the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University, an extract found in cinnamon bark, called CEppt, contains properties that can inhibit the development of the disease.

HIV  a study of Indian medicinal plants revealed that cinnamon may potentially be effective against HIV. According to the study authors, “the most effective extracts against HIV-1 and HIV-2 are respectively Cinnamomum cassia (bark) and Cardiospermum helicacabum (shoot + fruit).”

Multiple Sclerosis – cinnamon may help stop the destructive process of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a neurological scientist at Rush University Medical Centre. Cinnamon could help eliminate the need to take some expensive and unpleasant drugs.

Lower the negative effects of high fat meals – Penn State researchers revealed that diets rich in cinnamon can help reduce the body’s negative responses to eating high-fat meals.

With these information who would not think twice, Should we try out a curry”? We never used spices in curries because of the above health benefits but just used as they are used in Sri Lankan curries. When some of the above spices are added to a curry such as chicken or fish and mixed properly, who would be able find them separately? Once they are mixed, I call it has undergone some kind of chemical hybridisation. Your comments are welcomed

2 Responses to “Don’t like curries? This could change your opinion on curries forever.”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Curry is the most favourite meal of the British.

  2. . Says:

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