I have to admit something; I just love using spices. Surprisingly to many, spices come along with not just flavor for your meals, but a ton of health benefits too. Today, there are other flavor enhancers overused, like salt, taste-enhancing chemicals like monosodium glutamate, or even citric acid. Not everyone likes an overload of pepper, or even cumin in their food. Mixing just the right amount and combination of spices can give your food great taste, benefits, and the need for less salt too.
It’s probably best to mention, I only recommend that my clients use unrefined salts, like Celtic sea salt or Himalayan Pink Salt. There are many more options of unrefined salts as well. Yes, the salt I use at home is literally pink in color, but not sourced from any added color dyes of course. Himalayan Pink Salt is in its natural form, and comes along with over 80 essential minerals and nutrients. It gives food wonderful taste, and no, it won’t color your rice pink. There are forms of unrefined salt that won’t be pink in color. These are great to use too. The problem with the popular salt sold for less than a dollar is that the majority of the substance in the bottle isn’t just salt, but anti-caking chemicals, dextrose, and additives to preserve it too. These salts are processed, bleached, and evidently stripped of all the wonderful nutrients and minerals found in salt naturally. These are the salts that aren’t too good for your blood pressure, and found in all of the packaged junk food out there. Avoid this type of table salt, and opt for unrefined salt instead.
I love making Biryani because of all the amazing spices and peppers I can toss in. Seeing whole cloves, bay leaves, and cardamom swimming around my food really appeals to me. Some versions of Biryani can be quite heavy, especially if an overload of ghee and conventional meats are used, but not much spices. You might have seen a simple white rice Biryani full of meat and very little vegetables, with some orange coloring here and there. You might have also seen yellow colored rice Biryani full of meat and vegetables, and a bunch of whole spices too. Everyone has their preference in everything, but if you’re not one to like those cloves or bay leaves on your plate, let me tell you why you should give them a try. Spices, especially cardamom, cloves, cayenne, and bay leaves, are known to aid in digestion. Interestingly, these are the main spices used in Biryani. It’s like the person who invented it knew of these holistic benefits. Turmeric comes with its own couple dozen benefits aside digestion, and that’s the reason why I toss it in many things- from green smoothies to brown rice Biryani.
I make homemade Biryani with various versions. I love using organic virgin coconut oil due to its wonderful health benefits, and since it’s one of the best oils to cook with for using high heat. Instead of white rice, stripped of many nutrients and fiber, I use organic brown basmati rice, which I promise tastes great. I get many clients complaining that brown rice never softens after cooking and takes such a long time to cook compared to white rice. My secret is to soak it for a few hours, even better, overnight! This removes the phytic acid from the rice, and atop that softens it for cooking. I’ve been doing it for years, and even my 7 year old sister, Layan, approves. Especially when it comes to making Biryani, if you are using turmeric to color the rice yellow, no one can even tell that it’s brown rice underneath! Give it a try, you won’t lose anything.
Cooking with a variety of spices is a wonderful way to get health benefits you may be unaware of. Did you ever imagine that just 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds have 16% of your daily need of iron! Many people are iron deficient, and may have been given medication, but may not have been told to add some cumin seeds to their meals. I’ll give you another surprising fact; just 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon comes along with 46% manganese. That’s a big percentage for such a small serving. It comes with antioxidants, anti-microbial and anti-blood clotting benefits. Atop that, cinnamon is known to control your blood sugar, boost brain’s function, and protect against heart disease. What are you waiting for, get out that cinnamon.
When buying spices though, do skip those prepared mixes of herbs, salt, and spices. They may possibly come along with partially hydrogenated oils, anti-caking additives, or even MSG (monosodium glutamate). MSG, an additive I advise every client to avoid, is a salt-like taste enhancing additive added to many salad dressings, mixed spices, canned soups, and a ton of snack foods. It has devastating side effects, particularly for your brain cells. I’m telling you, you really don’t want to consume this stuff. You’re better off avoiding it, and its negative side effects. I was extremely shocked actually, when I walked into a supermarket in Dearborn, and found MSG among the spices in the spice bulk section. How can this stuff be sold, in bulk, for human consumption?
Spices are indefinitely underused and undermined. Start adding spices to your meals, organize that pantry, and recognize the benefits that come along with the wonderful taste.
Editor’s Note: Noor Salem is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and is CEO of her own wellness practice, Holistic Noortrition, LLC. Noor specialized in women’s health, weight loss, and food intolerance versus allergies. She offers individual and group health coaching programs, and is a speaker on the topic of holistic health at workshops and seminars. The views expressed here are her own.