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Curries, more than just a Pun-gent Taste

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Curry . . .

Curry who?

Curry me back to Ole Virginny, or Curry on Wayward Son, for you Kansas fans.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Curry . . .

Curry who?

Curry –iosity killed the cat.  [Thanks, so much for the groans.  I’m here through Thursday]

The pun is one of the oldest forms of humor.  It is also one of the highest intellectual forms of humor due to depth of understanding a language and its connection to culture.

Curries are one of the oldest types of stew recorded.  The first being documented in Babylon around 1700 BC.[1]  And, according to my hierarchy of cooking skills, curries are one of its highest forms due to the spice complexities melding to a specific flavor.

The word curry is theorized to be an Anglofication of a Sanskrit word, Karli.  However, it appears that there are a number of words theorized to be the origin.  All I know is that the tastes are multi-cultural and multi-dimensional.  Oh yeah, I love them all.

In my search for the biggest health bang for the caloric buck, the spices used in curries are akin to finding The Nutrient Dollar Store.  A pinch of this and a dash of that have been used for centuries to vanquish more than the common cold.  I chose my most favorite flavor enhancers and share their incredible properties.

Cardamom – This spice is used in the most unique ways from Indonesian curries to Scandinavian cookies.  However, cardamom has been researched for use with chelation therapy and for its antioxidant properties with positive results,[2] as well treating hypertension,[3] kidney and urinary disorders, modulating gut activity and acting as a sedative.[4]  The evidence is fairly clear that I need to eat more cookies.

Cilantro/Coriander – AKA, Chinese parsley.  People have a love/hate relationship with cilantro.  Many times I use it in my guacamole when I make it with my garden produce.  It can have a fabulous drying quality to flavors when used fresh.  Be aware that cooking can dull the flavor.[5]

The health aspects are numerous.  The traditional use of cilantro to decrease hypertension is heavily supported in scientific literature.[6]  [7] Historically, it has been used to treat diabetes, indigestion, rheumatism and joint pain.  Current research is supporting its use to decrease blood glucose in diabetics, though the research is not conclusive.[8]  The claims of including cilantro or coriander as part of chelation therapy for high mercury poisoning is anecdotal and based on loosely documented case studies.

Coconut Milk – We have all heard about the problems of coconut milk: high in saturated fat.  Saturated fat is what you find in butter and steak.  Conversely, native cultures which regularly ingest coconut milk do not show that intake has any connection with heart disease.  Studies divided traditional coconut eating subjects into those with coronary disease and those without.  Results showed that animal product intake related directly to risk of coronary events.  Higher carbohydrate intake and low animal product intake was what kept you heart healthy.[9]  Obesity rates among Tanzania adults rose with a lower activity rate and high consumption of dairy milk.  Decreased obesity rates mentioned coconut milk as part of this regular diet.[10]  In addition to heart health, anecdotally, coconut with aloe vera is purported to cure hair loss.[11]

Cumin – That lovely dry heat which goes so well in my Aloo Gobi has been shown to kick butt when it comes to colon cancer cells [Pun intended, See Knock, Knock][12]  The property of cumin playing The Terminator role on cancer cells is Thymoquinone.  Additionally, another fun name, factor-kappaB has been seen to initiate such diseases as cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, diabetes, allergy, asthma, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis, septic shock, and AIDS.[13]  Cumin, black cumin seeds in particular, have been put on a list of herbs which stop the manufacturing of this substance in your body.  Thus cutting, “I’ll Be Back” from your metabolic movie quotes.

Fenugreek – Although the most common method of calming infants in the United Arab Emirates was breast feeding, when herbal teas were used fenugreek was in the top five.  Interestingly, 90% of these mothers preferred not to use pacifiers, but themselves and their motherly instincts to help their babies.  Historically, fenugreek has been used in the treatment of diabetes and current research appears to support this theory, although the evidence is not conclusive.[14] [15]

Galangal – Beginning its life in China and Java, galangal is similar to ginger.  Its distinctive flavor not only gives a richness to Thai curries, it has been traditionally used to relieve many GI tract problems such as bad breath, sea sickness, indigestion, ulcers and stomach inflammation and diarrhea.  This may be due to its antimicrobial properties.[16]  Like ginger it increases circulation especially to the hands and feet.[17]  No wonder Tom Yum soup does the trick on colder nights.

Garam Masala – The term, masala means mixture.  There isn’t a garam masala bush or tree.  I include this to help you shop for ingredients found in this month’s recipes.  However, not all masalas are the same.  If you know your store, you can explain your taste preference and they may be able to assist you in finding the heat and flavor mixture for your palate.

Kaffir Lime – In southeast Asian cooking you may use the kaffir rind or leaf in a recipe.  Each has a sour flavor which works so well with the sweetness of coconut.  The vodka company, Smirnoff, makes a mojito with kaffir limes and the beer company, Molson flavors its Blue Moon line with the leaves.[18]  Folk medicine uses the leaves as a gum disease prevention, and a digestive aid.  So far the beverages are covered for this year’s May 8th, Thai Royal Ploughing Day party. [Yes, actual holiday.]

Lemon Grass – The antifungal activity of lemon grass oil has been well documented.[19]  Perhaps that is why it was considered a sacred herb and used by warriors.  Its pungent taste comes from a chemical which also gives it antimicrobial qualities.[20]  The astringent properties not only help in wound healing, but promote gum and hair health.[21]

Turmeric – Not only will it make your tofu scramble a beautiful yellow color, turmeric has been shown to increase detoxifying agents in your body, lessen DNA damage and heighten DNA repair.15  Why does that matter?  When DNA misreads, “I am an Ear Cell” for “Stick it in your ear gel”, the cell can mutate into a cancer cell.  We want our DNA copy machine with a just cleaned plate and no paper clips.

With all of these cleansing, antioxidizing, fungi-eating actions going on inside, it is little wonder why gurus live so long.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Curry . . .

Curry who?

Curry up and end this diatribe.  We want to EAT!

[1] Grove P, Grove C. [2008] The origins of ‘Curry’, (Is it really English?)Retrieved from http://www.menumagazine.co.uk/book/curryhistory.html on April 25, 2009.

[2] Yadav AS, Bhatnagar D. [2007] Free radical scavenging activity, metal chelation and antioxidant power of some of the Indian spices, Biofactors, 31(3-4):219-27. [Abstract]

[3] Gilani AH, Jabeen Q, Khan AU, Shah AJ. [2008] Gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering, diuretic and sedative activities of cardamom, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Feb 12;115(3):463-72. [Abstract]

[4] Ballabh B, Chaurasia OP, Ahmed Z, Singh SB. [2008] Traditional medicinal plants of cold desert Ladakh-used against kidney and urinary disorders, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Jul 23;118(2):331-9. [Abstract]

[5] Loha-unchit K, [2000]. Cilantro – Pak Chee.  Retrieved from http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/ingredients/cilantro.html on April 25, 2009.

[6] Jabeen Q, Bashir S, Lyoussi B, Gilani AH. [2009] Coriander fruit exhibits gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering and diuretic activities. Journal of Ethnopharmocology. Feb 25;122(1):123-30. [Abstract]

[7] Dhanapakiam P, Joseph JM, Ramaswamy VK, Moorthi M, Kumar AS. [2008] The cholesterol lowering property of coriander seeds (Coriandrum sativum): mechanism of action, Journal of Environmental Biology. Jan;29(1):53-6. [Abstract]

[8] Eidi M, Eidi A, Saeidi A, Molanaei S, Sadeghipour A, Bahar M, Bahar K. [2009] Effect of coriander seed (Coriandrum sativum L.) ethanol extract on insulin release from pancreatic beta cells in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Phytotherapy Research, Mar;23(3):404-6. [Abstract]

[9] Lipoeto NI, Agus Z, Oenzil F, Wahlqvist M, Wattanapenpaiboon N. [2004] Dietary intake and the risk of coronary heart disease among the coconut-consuming Minangkabau in West Sumatra, Indonesia, Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 13(4):377-84. [Abstract]

[10] Njelekela M, Kuga S, Nara Y, Ntogwisangu J, Masesa Z, Mashalla Y, Ikeda K, Mtabaji J, Yamori Y, Tsuda K. [2002] Prevalence of obesity and dyslipidemia in middle-aged men and women in Tanzania, Africa: relationship with resting energy expenditure and dietary factors. Journal of Nutrition Science and Vitaminology, Oct;48(5):352-8. [Abstract]

[11] Retrieved from http://www.wellsphere.com/wellpage/coconut-milk-health-benefits on April 25, 2009.

[12] Gali-Muhtasib H, Diab-Assaf M, Boltze C, Al-Hmaira J, Hartig R, Roessner A, Schneider-Stock R. [2004] Thymoquinone extracted from black seed triggers apoptotic cell death in human colorectal cancer cells via a p53-dependent mechanism, International Journal of Oncology, Oct;25(4):857-66. [Abstract]

[13] Aggarwal BB, Shishodia S. [2004] Suppression of the nuclear factor-kappaB activation pathway by spice-derived phytochemicals: reasoning for seasoning, Annals of New York Academy of Science, Dec;1030:434-41. [Abstract]

[14] Jetté L, Harvey L, Eugeni K, Levens N. [2009] 4-Hydroxyisoleucine: a plant-derived treatment for metabolic syndrome, Current Opinion in Investigated Drugs, Apr;10(4):353-. [Abstract]

[15] Krishnaswamy K. [2008] Traditional Indian spices and their health significance, Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition ;17 Suppl 1:265-8. [Abstract]

[16] Huang H, Wu D, Tian WX, Ma XF, Wu XD. [2008] Antimicrobial effect by extracts of rhizome of Alpinia officinarum Hance may relate to its inhibition of beta-ketoacyl-ACP reductase, Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medical Chemistry, Jun;23(3):362-8.

[17] Curry Simple. What is Galangal? Retrieved from http://www.currysimple.com/whatisgalangal.html on April 25, 2009.

[18] Wikipedia. [2009] Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaffir_lime on April 25, 2009.

[19] Mishra AK, Dubey NK. [1994] Evaluation of some essential oils for their toxicity against fungi causing deterioration of stored food commodities, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Apr;60(4):1101-5.

[20] Irkin R, Korukluoglu M. [2009] Effectiveness of Cymbopogon citratus L. essential oil to inhibit the growth of some filamentous fungi and yeasts, Journal of Medicinal Food, Feb;12(1):193-7. [Abstract]

[21] Organic Facts. Health Benefits of Essential Lemon Grass OiI. Retrieved from http://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/essential-oils/health-benefits-of-lemongrass-essential-oil.html on April 25, 2009.

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