Skip to main content

Turmeric, cardamom, and more: Indian spices and their surprising health benefits

These spices taste good and they're healthy

multiple indian spices
Gagan Kaur / Pexels

There’s no question that what makes Indian food so good is the unique combination of spices used — all of which come together for a taste that is unlike any other cuisine. From chicken tikka masala to Indian butter chicken, classic Indian meals use a combination of spices, including turmeric, cardamom, ginger, cumin, and chili pepper. But did you know these spices offer more benefits than just an amazing taste?

Many of the spices used in Indian cooking have unique health benefits — some of which might surprise you. Below, we’ll explore a few spices used in Indian dishes and how their benefits may help you improve your health.

indian food meal
Asit Naska / Pexels

Popular and prominent Indian spices

Many of the flavorful spices used in Indian cooking fall within the “seven spices of India,” which refers to spices that are native to India. These spices not only give Indian food a rich flavor but also have a strong aroma. While most of us know these spices for their use in cooking, few know the unique health benefits of each of these spices.

Turmeric

You can’t miss turmeric in any spice aisle known for its bright orange color. This spice comes from the root of the turmeric plant, which is then ground and dried to make it into powder form for use in cooking. Many people describe this spice as having an earthy, almost bitter taste. Since turmeric is a fairly strong spice, it is often used in small quantities in Indian meals, such as curry chicken.

The health benefits of turmeric are often discussed in the health space, thanks to the active ingredient known as curcumin. Only a tiny portion (about 5%) of turmeric contains curcumin, but this 5% is mighty. Curcumin is sold in supplement form and can be taken to help support a variety of health conditions, such as arthritis and other types of conditions linked to inflammation. Research has found that curcumin offers powerful anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and potentially anti-cancer properties. The list of turmeric benefits goes on and on!

Cardamom

Another common spice used in Indian food is cardamom, which comes from a plant similar to ginger. This spice offers a unique flavor that is often described as having similarities to mint or nutmeg but is unique in its way. In Indian cuisine, the cardamom spice is used in warm curry dishes, such as soups or stews, or even in Indian rice pudding.

Several research studies have explored the unique cardamom benefits for our health, which range from helping lower blood pressure to improving symptoms in people with digestive problems such as IBS. One interesting study found that cardamom can lower blood pressure in adults thanks to its high antioxidant content. It is also thought that cardamom may have a slight diuretic effect, which means it helps expel water from the body (also helping to lower blood pressure).

Ginger

Although the cardamom plant is similar to ginger, both spices have a unique flavor. This ground spice is derived from the underground root stem of a ginger plant and then dried and powdered to be used as a spice. Many people describe ginger as having a slightly warm or “firey” taste. In Indian cuisine, you’ll often find ginger used in chicken curry, chicken tikka masala, and lentil dishes to enhance the flavor.

Ginger offers many unique health benefits but is most commonly used to help relieve nausea, vomiting, and other digestive issues. Ginger is also thought to contain some anti-inflammatory compounds which could help fight against chronic disease.

Cumin

Cumin is the most commonly used spice in India which adds a warm flavor to savory cooking (often used in stews, curries, soups, and other warm dishes). Curry powder is often made with cumin as its primary ingredient thanks to its rich flavor. Not only does cumin taste amazing when added to Indian dishes, but it also is being explored for its potential health benefits. Some studies done in animals have suggested that cumin may have a role in helping to fight certain types of cancer. Other studies have found cumin could also support weight loss, although further research is needed to make accurate conclusions.

Chili pepper

Chili pepper is commonly used in spicy Indian meals such as various types of spicy curry meals. Inside chili pepper is a component known as capsaicin which is thought to offer many health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and helping to fight against inflammation. If you can handle the heat, consider adding a touch of chili pepper to your meal!

Halved ginger.
gate74 / Pixabay

Savoring Indian cuisine

If you love Indian food, the surprising health benefits of these Indian spices might just convince you to eat it more often. Commonly used spices in your favorite Indian dishes, such as cumin and ginger, not only taste delicious but could help you combat inflammation and reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Editors' Recommendations

Emily Caldwell
Emily is a full time freelance writer with a special focus on health, fitness, lifestyle, food, and nutrition topics. She…
Our 6 favorite bourbon brands and bottles in 2024
Buy these bourbon bottles in 2024
Bourbon glass

Bourbon is referred to as America’s “native spirit.” If you didn’t know it already, particular rules regulate what a bourbon is. While we won’t get into them all right now, the most important (in our opinion) is that to be considered a bourbon whiskey, the spirit must be made in the US (but not just Kentucky, regardless of what bourbon purists might have you believe) and it also must have a mash bill of at least 51% corn (although many have a much higher percentage of corn).

This corn-based spirit is known for its sweet, complex flavor profile featuring notes of vanilla, caramel, oak, cinnamon, and gentle spices. While 95% of all bourbon is made in Kentucky, it’s also made all over the United States, with a ton of the spirit coming out of places like Washington State, Texas, and even New York.

Read more
It’s been scientifically proven that pasta makes you happier
It's not your imagination. Pasta actually does make you happier.
Raw spaghetti

Is there anything more beautifully comforting, as intensely satisfying, or as incredibly delicious as a big bowl of your favorite pasta dish? From classic spaghetti and meatballs to creamy fettuccine Alfredo to a late-night pasta carbonara, every plate of pasta just feels like a giant hug. Pasta can be as simple as can be, delectable with only a little browned butter and Pecorino Romano, or intricate and sophisticated, accented with fresh seafood and earthy truffles. It's the perfect pantry staple from which to create a million dishes from a thousand global cuisines, and we can't get enough. According to Share The Pasta, the average American consumes approximately 20 pounds of pasta annually, making it the sixth-highest food per capita in the country. As a nation, we consume almost 6 billion pounds of pasta every year. It's also one of the most universally loved and appreciated foods in existence. I fail to recall a time when I've ever heard someone say, "Pasta? Nah. Not my thing."

Everyone loves pasta because pasta is perfection. And now, at long last, science has confirmed what most of us have known since childhood. That this life-giving ingredient actually makes our brains happier.

Read more
The 5 biggest lies you’ve been told about salmon
Don't believe these myths about salmon
Raw salmon filet

According to a report from IntraFish, salmon is the second most consumed seafood in the United States, falling behind only shrimp on an extensive list of commonly enjoyed kinds of seafood. It makes sense. Attend any wedding or catered event, and salmon is sure to be on the menu. The seafood counter at your local grocer is likely to have more of this beautifully orange-hued fish than any other variety on display, and there are more Pinterest recipes for salmon dishes than anyone knows quite what to do with.
The little black dress of the seafood world, salmon can be dressed up or down and is appropriate for any meal of the day, and everyone has their favorite version. It's also one of the most diverse, healthy, crowd-pleasing foods that's actually easy to prepare. Cooking salmon is at least a once-a-week occurrence in my house and one of the few healthy things my kids will eat without complaint.
Because of its sparkling popularity, though, salmon - inevitably - is bound to be the victim of some rumors.

You shouldn't eat salmon skin
This common misconception took a strong hold back in the early '90s when people were absolutely terrified of consuming anything containing fat. As we should all know now, though, there's a big difference between good fats and bad fats. Salmon skin is indeed fatty, but it falls into the good fats category, along with deliciously healthy ingredients like avocados, nuts, and olive oil. These good fats contain omega-3 fatty acids that are wonderful for everything from helping to prevent cardiovascular disease to clearing up breakouts. So crisp up that delicious skin with a little salt and olive oil, and enjoy!

Read more