Chai is the Indian word for tea. The chai that most westerners know is actually masala chai, which means spiced tea. The spices used in this tea are what is known as chai spices. Masala chai has been used for thousands of years. Depending on which of masala chai’s origin stories you believe, masala chai was created 9,000 years ago or 5,000 years ago. The location is also disputed as some say that it was first made in India, others say Thailand.
The earliest masala chai was made with the chai spices only and there were no tea leaves included. It was created as an ayurvedic remedy for a range of minor health issues.
Only when the British arrived in the Assam India and set up tea plantations did black tea make its way into masala chai. This is also when milk and a sweetener were first added. The mixture was mainly for export to Britain with black tea being too expensive for most of the local population. When the Indian Tea Association began to promote tea-drinking in India in the 1900s, milk and sugar were used to make it more affordable. Masala chai became more popular as a result.
Chai with black tea would become even more of an Indian favorite in the 1960s when new production methods lowered the cost even further.
Today, masala chai is popular all over the world and high-quality blends can be found in many American coffee shops.
Flavor profile of chai spices
Each of the spices used in masala chai comes with its own strong, fragrant notes. While predominant notes can vary from blend to blend, cardamom and star anise are usually at the forefront and are backed up by the spicy and peppery notes of cinnamon and cloves. Other spices often found in chai spices include nutmeg and black pepper.
Health benefits of chai spices
The components of chai spice blends are all well-known for their healthy characteristics. When combined, they make chai a great source of beneficial compounds like:
- Antioxidants: Clove and ginger are known for their antioxidant benefits as is cinnamon. fennel seeds and nutmeg also provide potent antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body against free radical damage and slow the progress of diseases.
- Fiber: Black pepper is one of the chai spices that are rich in fiber. A one-teaspoon serving can provide almost 2 percent of your daily fiber requirement, which is a lot given such a small serving size. Nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon also contain relatively high amounts of dietary fiber for their respective serving sizes. Dietary fiber can help with high blood sugar and high cholesterol. It can help you to lose weight since a high fiber diet causes you to feel full with less food.
- Minerals: Chai spices are good sources of minerals like potassium and calcium. Cardamom contains high levels of potassium, with a single teaspoon providing 22 percent of your daily potassium requirement. Cloves contain lots of calcium; you can get 13 percent of your daily requirement from a single teaspoon of this spice. Black pepper is a good source of both potassium and calcium. You can get almost 40 percent of your daily potassium requirement and 13 percent of your daily calcium requirement from a teaspoon of it.
- Vitamin A: Black pepper is a rich source of vitamin A, you can get 3 percent of the amount that you need each day from one teaspoon. Cinnamon can provide vitamin A as well. Cinnamon will give you 8 percent of your daily requirement from a teaspoon.
The compounds in chai spices make them useful for treating:
- Poor digestion: Many of the chai spices are used as digestive aids, which is why masala chai is typically consumed after a meal.
- Arthritis: Many of the chai spice ingredients offer anti-inflammatory benefits that can help to ease the pain from arthritis.
- Heart disease: The anti-inflammatory effects of chai spices can also protect you from heart disease and can also help to stabilize cholesterol and triglycerides.
Common uses of chai spices
Aside from tea, chai spices can be used to flavor a variety of desserts and beverages including pumpkin pies and lattes.
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