Spotlight on Spices
We have been receiving many questions about spices lately, perhaps due to the re-emergence of our inner chefs during the pandemic. We consider ourselves to be experts on spices; not only because our name has the word ‘spice’ in it, but because our origins are steeped in spices, and because we still source only the highest quality seasonings for our meals.
A little history: our founder Sushil Malhotra supplied South Asian spices and chutneys to New York’s curry houses in the 1990’s. He then went on to run a fine Indian restaurant—one that spent fifteen years as the #1 rated Indian restaurant on Zagat. Today, our Culinary Director, Hari Nayak, one of the most sought after chefs in North America, continues the tradition of using fresh ground spices, while tying in a modern twist to our global cuisines.
At Cafe Spice, we believe that adding spices to food can make a huge difference to our overall eating experiences. They wake up our senses, improve our moods, and enhance our physical and mental health. Below are a few of the spices we use, with highlights about the health and healing benefits long attributed to each. We also made note of regional specialties featuring these spices, and the spices’ engaging aromas and flavors—all to better portray why we have chosen each one to help create our delectable dishes.
Red Chili Powder
Chili powder is one of Chef Hari’s three favorite spices. It contains capsaicin, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Chilies have been associated with everything from being a pain reliever, a congestion reducer, and a stomach ulcer preventative, to being a part of weight loss and improved cardiovascular health.
You might expect to find red chili powder in our Cafe Spice Chicken Vindaloo, but did you know that it also flavors our Saag Paneer? That’s versatility!
(Use it in chili, beans, casseroles, and meat recipes)
Chef Hari Nayak counts cardamom as another one of his three favorite spices. Here’s what he has to say about it in his cookbook, My Indian Kitchen: “This versatile spice, used in a wide range of dishes from Indian curries to desserts and teas, is believed to counteract stomach acidity, stimulate appetite, ease nausea, cure bad breath, and relieve gas and bloating. Cardamom has also been used as an aphrodisiac.”
Cardamom is widely used in Indian food and is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin C. Its richness in potassium is considered helpful in controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Cardamom accents the sauces of our Vegetable Korma and Chicken Vindaloo dishes. If you haven’t tried our Saffron Rice, the accompaniment in many Cafe Spice dishes, you’re in for a treat—whole cardamom pods!
(Use it in french toast, pancakes, cookies, alcohol infusions, chai tea, and meat rubs)
Cinnamon is the dried inner bark of the laurel tree. A major ingredient in Indian food, it is used to flavor and add fragrance to curries, rice, and teas. Studies suggest that cinnamon is an antioxidant, an inflammation reducer, and a fighter of bacteria.
Cinnamon can be found in many Cafe Spice items, such as our Chicken Vindaloo, Chicken Curry, Channa Masala, and Saag Paneer. Our Vegetable Korma has both cinnamon powder and cinnamon sticks!
(Use it in DIY pumpkin pie mixes, coffee, roasted root vegetables, and pastry glazes)
We use turmeric in Cafe Spice’s recipes to give our food a warm aroma, a bright color, and a nutritional punch. For thousands of years, turmeric has been used to promote health. More recently, numerous studies have claimed that the curcumin in turmeric quiets inflammations that lead to many debilitating illnesses such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, high cholesterol, pain, and depression.
What would our award winning, Chicken Tikka Masala, and several other signature dishes be without it?
(Use it in tea, soups, salad dressings, coleslaw, dips, fish, chicken, and cauliflower rice)
Cloves are the unopened, dried buds of the evergreen clove tree. Chef Hari Nayak uses this spice to add fragrance to Cafe Spice rice and grain recipes, as well as an ingredient in garam masala, a spice blend frequently used in Indian food. In addition, cloves appear in the sauces of our signature dishes, including Saag Paneer and Vegetable Korma.
Oil extracted from cloves is often used in sore throat remedies for its anti-inflammatory properties.
(Use it in poached pears, punch, apple butter, holiday simple syrups, and chorizo tacos)
A member of the parsley family, fennel is used in both savory and sweet dishes. The seeds are often sugar coated and eaten as a snack to aid in digestion. Fennel plants can be seen growing on roadsides in many parts of the world and are nibbled by travelers as a (digestive) snack. Chef Hari loves fennel and counts it as the final one of his three favorite spices.
(Use it in roasted vegetables, pork, chicken, soups, pot pies, dressings, and salads)
Chef Hari Nayak uses the licorice-flavored seeds found in the star-shaped pods of star anise to add flavor and aroma to savory or sweet dishes. It definitely gives them a shot of star power!
(Use it in mulled wines, cookies, punches, sorbets, spiced chai tea, and granitas)
Cumin “grounds” dishes with a slightly smoky, earthy flavor. Many of Cafe Spice’s meals contain this special ingredient that subtly adds character by lending a deeply satisfying flavor note.
Cumin is traditionally known for promoting digestion, reducing food-borne infections, and improving blood sugar and cholesterol.
(Use it in dips, chili, stews, meats, vinaigrettes, roasted vegetables, and glazes)
This has been called the world’s most popular spice, used in cuisines throughout the Western and Eastern hemispheres. The leaves are known as cilantro and can be found in our Chipotle Pulled Pork Burrito and our Tomatillo Chicken Burrito. Cilantro is often used as a way to balance hotter flavors. The seeds of the plant are called coriander and are small, round, and peppery.
Coriander/Cilantro have often been used as a digestive aid, a body detox, and is said to have natural anti-anxiety properties.
(Use it in pico de gallo, dips, pesto, tacos, shrimp, lamb, chicken, and flavored mayo recipes)
Mustard seed is a spice that evokes the beauty of a waving field of mustard flowers on a midsummer’s day. Chef Hari uses black mustard powder in curries and pickles, while he uses whole toasted black mustard seeds in many other dishes.
Different parts of the mustard plant have been considered beneficial in the relief of muscular pains, psoriasis, ringworm, contact dermatitis, and respiratory disorders.
(Use it in mac and cheese, baked beans, deviled eggs, dips, ribs, meatballs, and pork recipes)
Fenugreek is an ingredient in both Cafe Spice’s Saag Paneer and Vegetable Korma. With its slightly bitter taste and distinctive scent, Chef Hari uses fenugreek to round out and balance the sweet and savory notes in an Indian dish. For those who have not tried fenugreek, its seeds smell and taste similar to maple syrup. Fenugreek leaves are often eaten in India as a vegetable.
Fenugreek has been used in alternative medicine to treat heartburn, high cholesterol, upset stomach, weight loss, and constipation, to name a few. It has also been used to increase the production of breast milk, amongst its many functions.
(Use it in okra, curry, falafel, sausage patties, enchiladas, nachos, and burgers)
Before using any spices for medicinal purposes talk to your healthcare provider.
We hope this answers some of your burning questions! At minimum, we hope it inspires you to add a few new spices to your cabinet, which of course will then lead to trying new recipes, and soon your inner chef will be here to stay!
We'd love to hear about your favorite spices or newly inspired recipes from some of the ideas in this article. Leave us any comments below. Happy eating!