Spices and Their Uses | EVS Grade 4 | Learning Concepts
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Concept: Spices and their Uses

What is a spice?

A spice is a bark, root, fruit, seed, or other plant product used while cooking or preparing food to make the food more colourful and flavourful.

Characteristics of spices:

  • Spices have various medicinal benefits.
  • They are also used to make perfumes due to their distinct fragrances.
  • Spices are sometimes used to make cosmetics as well.
  • Spices are sold in the market in fresh, whole dried, or ground form.
  • Some spices are sold in the market in fresh and dried forms like ginger, turmeric, cumin, etc.
  • Different spices are sometimes mixed in variable quantities to prepare a special spice blend, like garam masala, curry powder, etc.
  • Spices are mostly cultivated in the Indian subcontinent, along with countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and North Africa.

Different spices of India:

1. Dry red chilli:

  • Dry red chillies have a sharp, pungent taste and are used to add heat to various dishes.
  • These chillies also have medicinal properties like boosting immunity and controlling cardiac problems.
  • These chillies are made from raw peppers by drying them in the sunlight.
  • Dry red chillies are used as a whole spice and in powdered forms.
  • These chillies also give the dishes a characteristic red colour.
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2. Turmeric:

  • Turmeric is mainly used to impart a yellowish tint to the food.
  • Turmeric has various health benefits.
  • It has anti-inflammatory properties and is good for the heart.
  • It is also suitable for Alzheimer’s disease, joint pain and arthritis.
  • Turmeric is native to the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia.
  • This spice is mostly used in Asian cuisines, especially in making curries.
  • It has a slightly warm and bitter flavour.
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3. Black pepper:

  • Black peppers are obtained by drying peppercorns.
  • It is very spicy and is used to add heat to the food.
  • It is used as a whole spice as well in powdered form.
  • Black pepper is added to various spice blends to make them more flavourful.
  • This spice is cultivated in North African countries, India, Sri Lanka, etc.
  • Black peppers are rich in vitamins and minerals and can fight cancer.
  • It is used to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
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4. Cumin:

  • Cumin seeds are used both as a whole spice and in powdered form.
  • These seeds are native to South East Asia and Mediterranean countries.
  • Cumin has therapeutic properties, which is why it is used in traditional medicines.
  • These seeds are yellowish-brown in colour and have longitudinal ridges.
  • These seeds have a warm aroma and are used in varieties of curry preparations.
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5. Coriander seeds:

  • Dried coriander seeds and fruits are a common spice used in preparing curries and dals.
  • These seeds have a warm, lemony and floral taste.
  • Roasted coriander seeds are more flavourful.
  • These seeds are used both as a whole spice and in ground form.
  • These seeds have anti-bacterial properties, promote digestion, boost immunity, and protect the heart, brain and skin.
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6. Fennel:

  • Fennel seeds are very aromatic and almost look like cumin seeds but are a little elongated and greenish in colour.
  • It is good for heart health and suppresses appetite.
  • These seeds are used as whole spices.
  • Fennel seeds are used in both sweet and savoury preparations.
  • Raw fennel seeds are also used as a mouth freshener.
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7. Star anise:

  • It is native to central Asia.
  • The star anise oil is highly flavourful and used in cooking, toothpaste, cosmetics and medicines.
  • The star anise fruit resembles a star, which is how it got its name. It is dark brown in colour.
  • This spice is mostly used to enhance the flavour of meat-based food items and alcohols.
  • It has a distinct warm smell and also has medicinal properties.
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8. Cinnamon:

  • The brownish bark of the cinnamon tree is used as the spice.
  • Cinnamon can be used in the whole dried form (curled sticks) or the ground form.
  • The whole form is usually used in savoury dishes whereas, in the powdered form, it is used to make cakes, cookies, cinnamon rolls, etc.
  • It has a distinctive sweet, warm aroma, enhancing food's flavour.
  • Cinnamon is mostly cultivated in China, South India, Sri Lanka and southwest Asia.
  • It can control blood pressure and has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties but could be toxic if consumed in high amounts.
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9. Mace and nutmeg:

  • Nutmeg is a fruit that is used as a spice, and mace is the seed covering of the nutmeg, which is also used as a different spice.
  • Both of these can be used as a whole spice or ground spice.
  • These spices are mostly cultivated in Indonesia.
  • The essential oil extracted from nutmeg has medicinal properties.
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  • It forms an essential component of many spice blends.
  • Nutmeg has therapeutic properties and is used to treat skin problems.
  • The reddish seed covering of nutmeg is mace.
  • Mace is used in both sweet and savoury dishes due to its sweet and warm aroma.
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10. Clove:

  • Cloves are fragrant flower buds of the clove tree and are used as a whole spice.
  • It has a warm and spicy aroma.
  • Cloves are mostly used in Asian, African and Middle-eastern cuisines.
  • This spice is used to make marinades and as a flavouring agent in various meat-based food items and curries.
  • The essential oil extracted from clove has medicinal properties.
  • Clove oil is a good pain killer and is very effective against toothaches.
  • Clove oil is also used in cosmetics, toothpaste, ointments and other Ayurvedic medicines.
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11. Bay leaf:

  • It is an aromatic leaf used in dried, crushed or fresh forms.
  • But, the dried bay leaves are most commonly used to flavour stews and meat dishes.
  • It is better not to eat these leaves as they add flavour to the dish but are inedible.
  • The dried bay leaf has a floral aroma, but the fresh bay leaf is pungent and bitter.
  • Bay leaf is an important ingredient of garam masala.
  • IThe smoke of bay leaves is used to kill insects.
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12. Cardamom:

  • Cardamom is used as a whole spice or in ground form.
  • It is native to India and Southeast Asia.
  • It is thin and elongated and has black seeds inside.
  • Cardamom is widely used in various food and beverages.
  • Cardamom is also used in various spice blends.
  • It is used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
  • It is used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
  • Cardamom has many medicinal benefits as it helps with digestive problems, prevents bad breath, and has anti-inflammatory properties.
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13. Vanilla:

  • It is an aromatic spice derived from a particular type of orchid found especially in Mexico.
  • It is the second most expensive spice after saffron.
  • Vanilla is widely used to flavour desserts like ice creams, cookies, cakes, pastries, puddings, custards etc.
  • It is also used in perfumes.
  • The extract of vanilla has a sweet smell and a dark, distinctive colour.
  • The orchid from which vanilla is extracted grows best in a hot and humid climate.
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New Words:

Anti-inflammatory: A substance that reduces inflammation, including redness, swelling, and pain in the body.

Pungent: A taste or smell which is very strong and sharp is called pungent.

Ayurvedic: A natural system of medicine that has its roots in India.


Did You Know?

  • Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.
  • Asafoetida is a gum resin and is used as a spice in India and Iran, where it is used to flavour curries, meatballs, and pickles. It has a strong odour and is commonly sold in powdered form.
  • Sumac is a flavourful spice blend that is used in Mediterranean dishes.
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