I don’t like being cold and I’ll admit it, I spend most of winter looking forward to spring. Yes, even in the Brisbane winter. There are many ways we can keep warm in winter – and choosing the right foods is one of them. Here are three of my favourite flavours to spice up my life in winter. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we describe each substance by its temperature, flavour and action in the body – some foods have a warming or hot action on the body.
Enjoy this tantalising yet brief introduction to my top three favourite warming spices and how you can use them in your diet:
Cardamom: warming, pungent and slightly bitter. Cardamom is an excellent digestive stimulant. It is sometimes termed the “Queen of the Spices” and is probably best known for its use in curries but can also be added to cakes and biscuits. The pods can be chewed on as a breath sweetener. There is a restaurant I like to have breakfast at that makes a wonderful tomato relish with bursts of cardamom pods in it. Cardamom even pops up in gin and some liqueurs.
Cinnamon: hot and sweet. Again this spice is excellent for the digestive system and great for the common cold accompanied by runny noses and chills. Once again this is an excellent spice to be used in curries. It is also wonderful in porridge, pickles, chutneys and smoothies (adds some warm energy to a cold drink). It is a delicious addition to stewed fruits. In baking it teams well with apples and bananas in muffins, slices and cakes. There is a schnapps called Goldschläger based on cinnamon and several spirits and liqueurs that also take advantage of the wonderful flavour of cinnamon.
Ginger: warm (fresh) and hot (dried), pungent and slightly sweet. Ginger is one of the great digestive herbs. It is well known for calming a nauseous stomach. This spice is versatile – fresh, it can be used it in curries, stir fry, congee, dumplings, spring rolls or almost any Asian style dish. Pickled, it is an excellent accompaniment to sushi. I love to snack on crystallised (or nude) ginger in trail mix when I go hiking. It is also a lovely addition to biscuits and cakes, including as a decoration on icing. And for a real treat, I can’t go past dark chocolate coated ginger. Dried ginger can be added to baking and in curries. I occasionally add just a sprinkle to my rice porridge. Ginger is also made into wine, beer and ale.
These spices can be combined with black tea to make chai (spiced) tea which is a comforting hot drink for a cold day, although, each spice could be used on its own as a herbal tea. Mulled wine is another way to combine these spices to make a warming red wine beverage. Of course, it should only be consumed in moderation. I have a nice recipe for cardamom and ginger biscuits here.
Chai is a personal favourite beverage and is best enjoyed in cooler weather. As the first day of Winter is just tomorrow, I have chai on my mind and by the time you have read this blog I hope you will too.
There’s something really comforting about having a ‘sit down and a nice cup of tea’. Chai takes this experience up a notch – we spice the tea up. This style of tea is wonderfully fragrant and warms you from within.
The word ‘chai’ is the name given to tea in India and refers to the way in which Indians often take their tea. Most chai teas use a combination of spices that are often found in Indian cooking and herbal medicine such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and black pepper, but the ingredients vary from chai to chai. It can include black tea, green tea or simply the spices alone as an herbal tea. Likewise, milk is optional, and even then you can choose from cow (not for the vegans or dairy-free amongst us), soy, rice or nut milks. Your chai can be sweetened with honey or sugar.
As for the wellness aspect of tea in general, the Japanese Buddhist priest, Myoe (1173-1232), is said to have inscribed this into his teakettle:
Tea has the blessing of all the deities Tea promotes filial piety Tea drives away all evil spirits Tea banishes drowsiness Tea keeps the five internal organs in harmony Tea wards off disease Tea strengthens friendship Tea disciplines body and mind Tea destroys the passions Tea grants a peaceful death
So, given that the weather is cooler now it is time to ditch your iced tea (although strictly speaking in Traditional Chinese Medicine chilled liquids are frowned upon all year round anyway) and opt for a health-restoring steamy cup of delicious chai, as this quote describes:
“Tea should be drunk when hot. Cold tea will aid the accumulation of phlegm. It is better to drink less of it, rather than more. Better yet! Don’t drink it at all.” Chia Ming, Yin-shih hsu-chih, fourteenth century
Bare in mind the milkier and sweeter your chai is, the more likely it is to also create phlegm, although, the warming spices should aid digestion to some degree. So, as usual, moderation is the key.
You can make your own chai with a recipe like this one or purchase some loose leaf chai from a shop that supplies good quality teas, don’t bother with the supermarket ones.