Herbs and spices bring interest and variety to our foods and beverages. Spices are often dried and can be buds (cloves), bark (cinnamon), rhizomes (ginger), berries (peppercorns), aromatic seeds (cumin) and even the stigma of a flower (saffron). They have a long history of both culinary and medicinal use as well as acting as preservatives.
Spices usually form a small part of the total diet and therefore do not add huge nutritional value. However, the phytochemicals, which are ingested in small amounts over a lifetime, may act synergistically with food constituents to prevent disease. Spices can also make wholesome foods tastier and therefore encourage us to eat more of them.
Through the ages spices have been used as remedies for almost every ailment. Although most specific health claims have not been borne from scientific studies new research is showing that some can enhance our health.
Cayenne (chilli pepper) – and related spices are used to flavour hot dishes. Capsaicin, a volatile oil, gives chillies their heat and is used as a topical painkiller. The consumption of cayenne and other fiery substances is thought to stimulate the production of endorphins, the brain’s natural mood enhancers, which may explain the euphoria people feel after eating spicy food. Cayenne may help reduce the discomfort from allergies, colds and flu. For those with IBS or irritable bowel syndrome you may want to avoid this one as it can be a trigger to those sensitive to spicy foods.
Cinnamon – an ancient spice obtained from the dried bark of two Asian evergreens, is a highly versatile flavouring as well as a carminative that relieves bloating and gas. Cinnamon may have anti-bacterial and antimicrobial properties and may also reduce discomfort from heartburn. It’s also known to help reduce blood sugar levels so adding some to your porridge or sprinkling it on your coffee will help lessen the impact. It has been shown to lower triglycerides, LDL and total cholesterol.
Turmeric – is an essential ingredient of Indian curries and gives mustard its yellow colour. It boosts our antioxidant status.Turmeric is a natural antibiotic that Ayurvedic practitioners use to treat inflammation, pain and digestive disorders. As most of our diet and lifestyle diseases are linked to inflammation this spice can help us stay well and increase longevity by reducing inflammation in our bodies.
Ginger – popular in Asian dishes as well as in desserts and soft drinks, is a common motion sickness remedy; sipping flat ginger ale may help to ease nausea. Substances in ginger – gingerol shogaol and zingiberene – have anti-oxidant capabilities that may help prevent heart disease and cancer. Also an anti-inflammatory, ginger may help against arthritis. It’s a great digestive aid, increasing absorption, reducing gas and bloating and as a supplement can help increase motility or the speed our small intestines move food along.
Coriander – has been used as a digestive tonic since ancient times. The freshly chopped greens in large amounts are a good source of vitamin C. Coriander seed is thought to be helpful in relieving stomach cramps and may have the ability to kill bacteria and fungus. It contains limonene, which is a flavonoid thought to help fight cancer. Coriander pesto is great during a detox or for those with heavy metal toxicity as it helps chelate these harmful substances out of the body.
These are some of my favourite flavour enhancers. Cayenne makes it into many of our dinners (I add it after I take the kids portions out), cinnamon on porridge or in chai tea, turmeric and coriander in curries and ginger in warm ginger and lemon water.