Curry has two definitions. It is a blend of ground spices including cayenne or red pepper, coriander, cumin, and turmeric. Turmeric gives curry its signature yellow color. Curry is also used to describe any dish, such as panang curry or pineapple curry, made with a combination of the ingredients listed above. The main ingredients in curry do not change, but adding more ingredients is a common practice depending on the region.
In the U.S. most commercial curry contains only basic ingredients, while black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and hot chilies are common in India. Other curry ingredients include allspice, anise, bay leaves, black pepper, chilies, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, fenugreek, ginger, mace, nutmeg, poppyseed, and white pepper. In Indian and Asian cookery, taste, heath benefits, and preservative properties determine which ingredients will be used.
Curry Health Benefits
Curry blends have antiseptic, healing, and preservative properties. Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin. Capsaicin is an effective pain reliever for osteoarthritis and headaches. Capsaicin is used to manage the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy and other conditions that may cause inflammation. Capsaicin alleviates pain by acting as an inhibitor of a neuropeptide (protein molecules that influence nervous system activity) called Substance P (SP). SP plays a significant role in the inflammation process.
Cayenne pepper adds spicy hot flavor to curry, but it also adds vitamins and nutrients to the blend. Cayenne pepper contains vitamins A, B6, C, and K as well as manganese and dietary fiber. These vitamins and minerals are essential to cardiovascular health, optimal immune system performance, and epithelial tissue health.
Coriander, Cumin, and Turmeric
Native to the Middle East and Mediterranean and cultivated in the U.S., Europe, and Morocco, the coriander herb is composed of fruit or seeds that contain components of essential oil. These include cineole, borneol, linalool, and citronelol. Coriander also contains vitamins A and C, stearic acid, linoleic acid, phosphorus, and iron.
Together, the essential oil components, vitamins, minerals, and acids manage or help treat a number of conditions. These include high cholesterol, digestion imbalances, inflammation, skin disorders, anemia, and menstrual discomfort. Coriander has also been used as an expectorant.
Cumin is native to the Mediterranean region and cultivated in China, India, and Mexico. This annual herb contains seeds composed of essential oil. The main component is cumaldehyde. Cumaldehyde is useful as an astringent and it aids in proper digestion. In veterinary medicine, cumin is used as a topical and oral medication.
Turmeric is a versatile herb used in curry for fragrance and spice. This herb contains essential oil, manganese, iron, potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6. Turmeric is used in Indian and Chinese medicine to treat chest pain, hemorrhage, bruises, and toothaches. As an antioxidant, turmeric acts as a defense against arthritis and other joint diseases. It inhibits cancer cell growth, lowering rates of colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer. Like cayenne pepper, turmeric lowers cholesterol and helps protect the heart against disease. The high level of vitamin B6 helps control homocysteine levels—a major risk factor of heart disease.