Mental health and emotional and physical wellbeing have been front of mind in the last year as the world has grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic. The effects of isolation and the lack of social contact from lockdown has been well documented; with lockdown levels easing around the world, people are now faced with feelings of anxiety at the prospect of ‘the new normal’. Such conditions have made everyone reassess their state of mind and look at ways to sustain a healthier outlook. Indian herbs, spices and produce have long been revered for both their calming and mind-boosting properties, as well as perceived health benefits. Here are ten ways you can restore your health and mental wellbeing in 2021 by using a range of Indian spices and ingredients.
Supermarket Waitrose identified amchoor – a seasoning made from dried and powdered green mangoes and widely used in north Indian cooking, as one of the key ingredients to consider in 2021. You can add it to vegetable curries and chutneys, or in marinades for grilled seafood and fish skewers. Amchoor, which contains many essential vitamins and nutrients, has also been associated with weight loss, while its antioxidant properties mean it can benefit the health of your digestive system, too.
Often described as a ‘smelly’ spice, or ‘food of the gods’ (allegedly because it is so good for you), asafoetida has a pleasing onion-garlic flavour and is used mainly in savoury dishes such as curries or dal. It comes from the root of the rhizome plant, similar to fennel and works well in combination with other spices such as coriander or cumin. Its health properties include boosting immunity levels, being used as an antioxidant and helping to maintain digestive health.
Also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb that can help improve energy and levels of concentration and has been known to lower stress levels. Its taste is quite bitter, so it’s best added to drinks such as coffee or to smoothies and juices and even baking. Research company Mintel pointed to how products such as a seasoning mix with cinnamon, cocoa and ashwagandha, aimed at restoring calm and relaxation, could become popular post-pandemic. “This calming blend can be added to sweet dishes such as porridge, oat cookies, rice pudding, yoghurt, milk, juice or tea,” it said.
With its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, ceylon cinnamon, which hails from Sri Lanka, can help protect the body from disease and improve your gut health. Research from Aberdeen University, published in late 2019, also pointed to how the spice could prove effective when managing diabetes. The spice is commonly used for desserts or baking but you can also combine it with hot water to make a refreshing cinnamon tea. Its mild flavour makes it an ideal addition to chicken curry, creating a delicate and not overpowering taste.
The humble chickpea features prominently in Indian cuisine and is expected to be a key ingredient in savoury dishes in 2021, according to various food trends reports. Foodservice catering suppliers Aviko says chickpeas are high in protein and also contain some essential omega-3 fatty acids that can often be missing from vegan and vegetarian diets. EHL Ingredients, an importer of ingredients from around the world, points to how chickpeas are also widely consumed dried, puffed or roasted as a snack, or coated in flavour. Expect to see high-protein chickpea-based versions of classic foods such as pasta, rice and even ice cream. Sophie Bertrand and Bari Stricoff, the authors of Forking Wellness: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Health and Nutrition, add that chickpeas can be the main protein source of a meal or they can be simply added to any meal or snack to boost the overall nutrition and leave you feeling satisfied. “Additionally, chickpeas provide vitamin C, B6, and folate,” they say.
Curry leaves, also known as kadi patta, are a fragrant herb, hailing from south India and most often used to make ‘tadka’ – a base for Indian cuisine, where the leaves are sauteed in ghee alongside other spices such as mustard seeds and cumin. Curry leaves are seen as having health benefits as they are packed with antioxidants and you can also boil the leaves and drink this as you would tea.
Also known as chickpea flour, gram flour (made from ground chickpeas) is taking off in popularity as it’s gluten-free and suitable for vegans – it was highlighted by Waitrose as another top ingredient for 2021. The traditional Indian name is ‘besan’ and it’s already used in a variety of Indian dishes – you can coat pakoras with the flour and make bhajis or rotis. Its high protein and high fibre content means it’s also good for you, and it contains less carbohydrates and calories than all-purpose flour.
Pickles and preserves
If bread-making defined 2020, then pickling and preserving will be the talk of 2021. The trend is in part being fuelled by people appreciating they have more time on their hands as well as by the need to reduce food waste. Indian pickles are commonly referred to as ‘achaar’ and mango pickle is one of the most popular Indian ones but you can also try your hand at pickling all manner of vegetables. “You can extend the shelf-life of your vegetables and still enjoy all the vitamins and minerals they have to offer,” say Sophie Bertrand and Bari Stricoff. “ Plus, some pickles are naturally fermented, which have added benefits to our gut microbiome as they contain probiotics.”
It’s not an Indian vegetable but radicchio is in demand and can be used to give a twist to a traditional kachumber salad, an Indian dish using fresh chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, lemon juice and chili peppers. According to New Covent Garden Market’s 2021 fruit and vegetable trends report, consumers are consciously adding a lot more leafy vegetables such as radicchio to their diet, whether it be the main event, part of a dish, or as a snack, in the bid for a healthier lifestyle.
Another ingredient on Waitrose’s 2021 list, these peppercorns are grown in the Wayanad district of Kerala in south west India and are reputed to be the finest pepper in India. Think spicy combined with a slight citrus flavour – as Waitrose highlights, they are harvested by hand in Kerala, where they’re left to ripen on the vine. In terms of health benefits, adding these peppercorns to dishes can ease digestion, while it is also a good source of vitamin C.
Food Standards Agency Concerned About Home Food Sales
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began more and more people have turned to cooking to help pay the bills and keep busy. Many people across the UK are still furloughed from work or may even have lost their jobs during lockdown. As a result, there was a steep rise in at-home food selling throughout 2020.
There has also been a strong market for this. With restaurants closed, possible takeaway fatigue setting in, and people wanting to avoid supermarket crowds, the appeal is understandable. Local communities cooking for and selling food to one another may seem like a valid solution to many.
But the trend has been concerning to those who regulate food standards. Experts are worried that food cooked in home kitchens may not meet the relevant hygiene requirements or safety standards restaurants and takeaways are held to. These conditions are even more important during a global pandemic. Many are selling food without registering as a food business and in many cases, unlicensed kitchens are selling food to strangers. A representative of the FSA told the BBC, “The growth of at-home food businesses is a concern. Local authority resources are already stretched, and many are finding it difficult to keep on top of the workload [these new start up cook at-home businesses] are generating.”
He went on to say, “Our advice to people when ordering food online is to check that the business has a food hygiene rating and choose only those with a rating of 3 or above, this can be checked on our website.” “If a consumer has any doubts about a food seller or a food product, they should report them to the local authority. Where sellers do not follow the rules, they may be fined, imprisoned for up to two years, or both.” The debate on how to tackle this issue is ongoing.