Indian Spices: Which are the Healthiest?

Indian Spices: Which are the Healthiest?

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India has a cooking culture that’s widely considered to be healthy. Not only is their traditional diet low in processed foods and rich in whole foods, but many Indian dishes use a wide array of spices that not only taste great but are thought to provide significant health benefits.

But which Indian spices are the healthiest? Are any of them proven to have health benefits in medical studies? And what are the tastiest Indian dishes to make using these spices?

In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we review the health benefits of three Indian spices based on medical studies: turmeric, cloves and black seed.

We'll also share a YouTube video with simple, beautifully-shot breakdowns of tasty Indian dishes you can make at home using some of these spices.

Turmeric Health Benefits

Turmeric is what gives many Indian sauces and dishes their distinctive orange hue. It’s a root that has significant anti-inflammatory properties based on medical research.

The active phytonutrient in turmeric called curcumin was shown in a medical review published in the Foods journal to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. The researchers concluded the following: "Research suggests that curcumin can help in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and [high cholesterol]."

A 2019 meta-study found that turmeric had “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anticancer properties.”

We recommend using turmeric in combination with black pepper, as this combination has been clinically shown to increase the bioavailability of curcumin by up to 2,000%, as we documented in our Natures Formula review. Many Indian dishes use both spices.

Simply Organic Ground Turmeric Root is our top turmeric spice brand, because it was shown in ConsumerLab testing to be toxin-free and accurately labeled.

We Tried Indian Spices Ourselves

UGC of home cooked meal with turmeric and cardamom spices

As one of the authors of this article (Calloway), I wanted to try incorporating some of these Indian spices into my diet to share my thoughts on the taste and health effects.

I've been regularly using turmeric for a few months now, and I cook it into everything from vegetables (like the spinach bowl cooked with olive oil shown above) and animal products like eggs and beef.

I like the taste of turmeric with beef more than veggies or eggs, and I've noticed that when I'm regularly using turmeric I don't experience muscle soreness the day after exercising, perhaps due to the anti-inflammatory effects.

I don't like the taste of cardamom or cloves much, but I try to use them at least once in a while for the health benefits.

I use black seed oil rather than culinary black seeds because I can just take one teaspoon daily like medicine and avoid ruining a meal with it (because the taste is quite pungent).

Cloves Health Benefits

Cloves are a spice made from the flower buds of a tree which is native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia. They have been used as a culinary ingredient for thousands of years.

Like turmeric, clove has been shown in medical studies to possess antimicrobial and antioxidant activity. Since antioxidant intake may reduce whole-body inflammation, making cloves a regular part of your cooking regimen can be a healthy decision.

The antimicrobial power of clove is so strong that it has been shown in a 2020 clinical trial to be effective against drug-resistant H. Pylori infection, which affects millions in the developing world. This was an in vitro (test tube) study so the results aren’t as significant as if it were conducted on human subjects, but it's still impressive early data for a whole food ingredient.

Another medical review of clove had impressive results. The researchers found that the Indian spice had potential for diabetes management, because it naturally reduced blood sugar and cholesterol. Animals in the study taking dietary clove powder had lower blood sugar than those not using the spice.

Simply Organic Clove Powder is our top brand, because it's packaged in glass and free of any questionable additive ingredients.

Black Seed Health Benefits

Black seed is one of the most powerful natural compounds for overall health, and has arguably more research-backed health benefits than any spice, as we documented extensively in our black seed oil benefits article.

medical review published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal analyzed clinical trials on black seed for cancer, and noted anticancer effects in every study reviewed. The study authors stated that the active chemical compound in black seed “plays a great role in affecting all markers of cancer.”

Black seed may be especially beneficial for men, as it appears to have positive effects on fertility in male subjects. A 2014 clinical trial found that black seed oil supplementation improved semen volume, motility and sperm count. 

We’re not suggesting that black seed will cure cancer, but this Indian spice may be a useful preventative measure that can be taken daily for overall health. While most of the medical research on black seed involves a concentrated oil standardized for thymoquinone (the active chemical compound), using it as a spice will be more cost-effective.

For those interested in black seed as a culinary spice, we recommend the brand Terrasoul Superfoods Organic Black Seeds because it's organic, cost-effective and free of any additive ingredients.

For those who seek to use a more potent form of black seed, the product we recommend is Amazing Herbs Black Seed Oil. It's one of the only black seed oils standardized for thymoquinone like most of the clinical research on this compound.

How to Make Tasty Meals With Indian Spices

A popular YouTube channel called "Tasty" shared some Indian food recipes using many different spices, including those in this article. The video is only five minutes long and is beautifully shot:

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Indian cuisine samples from a wide variety of spices which contain health benefits. In this article we’ve highlighted three of the healthiest Indian spices, and outlined their specific health benefits based on medical research.

Turmeric, cloves and black seed all have substantial clinical evidence backing their positive health effects, and all three spices can used for preventative health and to improve overall wellness by incorporation into daily meals.

While these three spices have a significant amount of medical backing, we recommend varying spice intake as much as possible, because different spices contain different phytonutrients. This means that regularly rotating spices used will give your body access to more health-promoting compounds.

There are a number of quick, tasty and convenient Indian dishes that can be made using these spices, and we shared a video published by the Tasty brand with some good recipes above.