The spice of life

Michael gave me a thought-provoking comment to yesterday’s blog post:

“I have heard that spices are somewhat bad for the overall health and digestion…[Have you] heard something about this since you have a lot to do with food?”

I couldn’t keep my response short because it’s an area I am passionate about, so here it is with a life of its own. Thanks for the inspiration, Michael!

pic of the Mercado de La Vega, from my London/Chile trip in February 2008 - click on the image to read all about my adventure

FYI, I consider herbs to be another subject entirely. I base my definitions on the Chef Home notions of what comprises a spice versus a herb:

“…spices are the…flowers or fruits of tropical trees and shrubs [with some exceptions]; ginger and turmeric are roots and cinnamon is the cambium or inner bark of a tree. Herbs, by contrast, are the…leaves of plants – usually annuals or perennials.”

I have heard some people say that spices in general are bad for our health, and others still purport that it depends on your heritage. My reading leads me to believe that, as well as providing an enjoyable journey for the tastebuds, certain spices actually aid digestion and general well-being.

For example:

  • Cloves, along with cinnamon and mustard, have strong antimicrobial properties;
  • Fennel and its seeds are a source of folic acid, which counters depression; it also assists weight loss, digestion, and menstrual and eye disorders [see Home Remedies];
  • Turmeric is a super-spice, with its anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antifungal, anti-everything-bad properties;
  • I recently used a heap of fenugreek as a known galactalogue but it has other associated health benefits;
  • Garlic has been linked to decreasing blood pressure, anticancer properties and lower cholesterol;
  • Ginger is a known antimicrobial. It also assists with digestion and sea/travel sickness; and
  • Although chilli can irritate the stomach lining, it is also known for its ability to increase metabolic rate.

Naughty spices. There is only one ‘spice’ that seems to be bad for you no matter the context: Spanish fly beetle, which used to be a component of Ras el hanout.

I was about to lump black pepper in the same boat, but I have heard that it is useful for weight loss and treating flatulence.
>If you do want a gentler alternative to black pepper with multiple health benefits, try cayenne pepper.

A pet interest of mine is researching the mood effects of food, including herbs and spices. There is abundant scientific evidence to prove the impacts of food and, depending on the desired result, these could be viewed as positive or negative health effects.

Further food for thought. Some useful advice regarding popular Indian spices is located at Indian Food Kitchen. A good general resource for the nutrient value of spices (and herbs) is located on the Nutrition Data website. An awesome reference regarding the history and properties (medicinal, emotive, etc) of spices is Spice: the History of a Temptation by Jack Turner – a book that I only finished at the end of last year.

I could write so much more, but I will stop there. For me, it’s a matter of perspective and knowing your own body. What do you think?

H 🙂


Addendum of 13 August 2011: I just found this interesting post that explains more about the health benefits of black pepper. It appears that, in addition to curing flatulence, black pepper is a powerful antioxidant that aids circulation and digestion, and strengthens your immunity. More cracked pepper please!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Joan Nova says:

    Hi Hannah, I saw your introduction on Problogger 31 and figured I’d have a look since you were first ‘food’ blog I saw. I think you’re doing a good job here – just need to get yourself more readers. Good luck!

  2. Hannah says:

    Thanks for your comment, Joan. I’m working on it!

    H 🙂

  3. e-swastya says:

    Hello Hannah ,
    Nice to see you article on spices . Being an Indian , and being also an ayurvedic Vaidya , i have worked a lot with spices and their health benifits . I have recently taken the problogger challenge and i see you are on it too. Please do vist my blog for more information of differant spices for health .coming soon …
    Regards
    Sudeep
    http://e-swastya.blogspot.com
    Blogging for Optimum Health Care

  4. Hannah says:

    I appreciate you taking the time to stop by, e-swastya. I notice that the bottom half of your < HREF="http://e-swastya.blogspot.com/2009/04/swine-flu-preventing-with-help-of.html" REL="nofollow">current blog post<> is directly relevant to this one. Thank you for the introduction – I will stay in touch!

    H 🙂

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