Fresh and dried spices are a wonderful way to liven up the flavor, color and aroma of any meal. But did you know that spices also impart healthy antioxidants that can reduce the risk of certain medical conditions, such as pancreatic cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and cystic fibrosis?
Health Benefits of Spices. A recent study conducted by the USDA found that 27 spices contained more antioxidants per gram than most fruits and vegetables. Other studies tout the ability of spices to fight infection, inhibit tumor growth and reduce inflammation, according to the May 2005 issue of Consumer Reports On Health. Here’s a look at select spices that have been linked to specific conditions:
Cinnamon: Research has shown that consuming as little as half a teaspoon a day of this spice for 40 days can reduce LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels by as much as 20%; it also aids in digestion.
Oregano: Often used in Italian recipes, this spice is loaded with vitamin E and packs more antioxidants in one tablespoon than a whole apple or banana.
Rosemary: According to the December 2005 issue of Health, adding a pinch of rosemary extract to ground beef patties before frying significantly lowers the quantity of carcinogens created by high temperatures.
Sage: Sage appears to inhibit the breakdown of a crucial compound that affects memory and cognition, which may slow the progress of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Taken in pill form, sage oil has been shown to boost memory, increase alertness and promote a sense of calm.
Tumeric: This yellow-orange spice is being studied for its effect on the destructive proteins associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease; its ability to prevent the mucous buildup linked to cystic fibrosis; and its use as a possible treatment for skin and pancreatic cancers.
Buying Spices. Experts recommend using the freshest spices available. The best way to determine if a spice is fresh is to smell it, since the scent is lost with age. As a rule, try to use whole spices whenever they are available. Store spices in a dark place to retain their color and flavor; many experts recommend replacing the items in your spice rack each year.
Cooking With Spices. Spices come in many forms, including seeds, plants, roots and stems. With the exception of red chili, spices shouldn’t be used raw. Dry-roast spices such as cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods on a hot griddle or skillet to release the flavors; then grind them. The cooking process also releases the aromas and essential oils. Add fresh spices toward the end of cooking, but dried spices in the earlier stages. When substituting dried spices for fresh, use about one-third the amount.
More Spicy Tips. Tie together a bunch of spices for use as a “bouquet garni” to flavor soups or stews; or pack ground spices into an old salt shaker for a low-calorie flavor enhancer. Try coriander or anise seeds to spice up desserts; top veggies with fennel or dill; or blend tumeric with cumin for an interesting Indian curry dish.