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Editor’s note: In Context is a new series designed to inform and educate you on Heifer’s work in each country we have a presence. Every two weeks we’ll tackle a different country and examine unique situations related to hunger and poverty, how Heifer works to address them as well as take some time to explore local culture and traditions.

Indian food is rich, aromatic and very, very flavorful. The key to Indian cuisine lies in five spices: Turmeric, Red Chili, Cumin, Mustard seeds and Coriander.

In addition to being responsible for a bonafide flavor explosion, these spices have been used to cure various ailments since ancient times.

Turmeric has been used for over 2500 years in India.

Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, this spice:

  • Has antiseptic qualities and is used in disinfecting cuts and burns
  • Helps prevent the spread of cancer, studies have shown that it prevents breast cancer from spreading to the lungs in mice
  • Detoxifies the liver
  • Is a natural painkiller
  • Slows down the progression of Alzheimer's disease
  • Aids in fat metabolism

Cumin is an antioxidant and is thought to prevent osteoporosis. Studies are being done on the spice's effect on diabetes. When orally dosed, its effect on diabetes in lab mice show that cumin prevented cataracts.

Not a fan of curry? You can still incorporate cumin in your diet by substituting it for black pepper.

Coriander (the seeds of the cilantro plant) has components of 11 essential oils and six types of acids, ascorbic acid, better known as vitamin C, is one of them. Coriander is anti-carcinogenic, anti-convulsant and anti-histaminic.

Among other ailments, it is used to treat:

  • Swelling
  • High Cholesterol
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Anemia (as it has a high iron content)
  • Indigestion


Mustard seeds are among the oldest known herbal remedies. They're a great source of selenium, magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids, and like the other spices, it is an anti-inflammatory. Other benefits include:

  • Migraine relief
  • Improved digestion
  • Improved metabolism
  • Help with insomnia and anxiety
  • Improved hair quality and prevents hair loss (just massage some mustard oil onto the scalp)

Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers (and what makes it hot), offers a ton of health benefits. The more capsaicin a pepper has, the hotter, and, if you can handle the heat, the better it is for you.


  • Fights Cancer. A study done on cancer research has shown that, when tested on mice, capsaicin causes cancer cells to "commit suicide"
  • Manages pain. It inhibits Substance P-- a key transmitter of pain to the brain. Substance P also causes your nerves to swell which can result in headaches and sinus pain
  • Relieves congestion. The heat stimulates secretions that help to clear your nose, relieving nasal congestion. When consumed regularly, aids in the prevention of chronic sinus infections
  • Fights inflammation. It's being looked at as a potential treatment for arthritis and psoriasis
  • Protects you heart. It reduces cholesterol and triglycerides. Cultures around the world that use hot peppers more frequently than others suffer lower rates of heart attacks and stroke.


Falguni Vyas

Falguni (sounds like "balcony") Vyas is from Atlanta, Georgia and began working with Heifer International in Little Rock as a copywriter in 2011. She received her master's degree at Istituto Marangoni in Milan, Italy and her bachelor's degree at Franklin College Switzerland in Lugano, Switzerland. She does not like writing about herself in the third person.