Winter Spices and Potential Health Benefits

 

SPICES WITH WHICH FESTIVE COOKIES, CAKES AND DRINKS ARE CREATED. FOR IT’S THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY.

Spices, usually derived from botanical sources,  can be fresh, or dehydrated to ground or whole. They add an array of flavours, dimensions and colour to your seasonal delicacies, but not only do these spices add flavour and aroma to favourite foods but they also add potential health benefits by being a source of vitamins, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial richness.

 

ALL SPICE

The rich aromatic compound is named for its aroma and combination of spice scents including; cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Allspice or ‘pimento’ is grown in Jamaica and commonly used for Jerk seasoning. More research is needed regarding the health benefits associated with this spice but some have suggested allspice can help with intestinal gas and indigestion.

Uses: Rub and marinades for various meat and poultry. Baked goods.

CINNAMON

Sprinkle generously to spread Christmas cheer. For me cinnamon means Christmas, it is probably the most familiar and most widely used spice during the festive period.  Some studies show that cinnamon can help stabilise blood sugar levels, a meta-analysis of 10 randomised control trials suggest that up to 6g cinnamon per day for approx. 4 months may lead to decreases fasting plasma glucose levels and improvements in lipid profiles. With that being said, cinnamon should be a complement to treatments and not an alternative,  it’s also preferable to moderate the amount of sugary treats you consume.

Uses:  Spinkle on porridge, apple slices, yoghurt, hot chocolates, tea and coffee. Or try as a rub for middle eastern inspired dishes with chicken, lamb or stewed meats.

 CLOVES

Pressed into clementine’s and hams, dropped into steaming hot cider and used in gingerbread mixes, cloves are another Christmas favourite. Originated in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Southern India this spice contains high levels of phenolic compounds and beholds antioxidant properties . Full of manganese, an important trace mineral for the body as it assists in the activation of multiple enzymes.  Cloves are available in powder or individual pods.  However, most research on health benefits associated with cloves are inconclusive.

Uses: Stews and marinades.

GINGER

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a festive gingerbread house, or gingerbread men to dunk in you tea. Ginger can also help when you’ve gone a bit O.T.T on treats and beginning to feel a bit nauseous, studies show that fresh ginger root can help soothe the feelings of nausea and settle the unsettle tummy.  Contains numerous anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds beneficial to health such as Gignerols, beta-carotene, capsaicin, caffeic acid, curcumin and salicylate

Uses: Jams and chutneys, grated in stir fry, added to baked treats

NUTMEG

whilst you’re grating some over your festive eggnog beverage… take note that this spice is a powerhouse of anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Nutmeg is available ground or whole, both produce Christmas flavours and possess antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.  Nutmeg contains phytonutrients such as beta-carotene and beta-crytoxanthin and some studies have shown nutmeg to improve blood circulation to the brain and enhancing sleep.

Uses: Baked treats, sprinkled on hot chocolates, winter spice seasoning for sweet potatoes.

 

References

Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods

Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York, 1996.

 
Ben Dunn