Spices add flavor and aroma to any meal. But not only do they taste and smell good, many also pack a very healthy punch to your autumn food and beverage choices. Spices also do not add calories, fat or sugars to your meals. Here is a great basic list to start with:
- Cayenne Pepper - For those who like it hot, this is a great way to add a little pazow to your favorite meal. It can be added to meats, soups and even eggs. Besides on foods, this spice has been used internally and topically for thousands of years as well due to it's pain relieving qualities. It has also been studied for it's heart healthy benefits. Capsaicin is the most active ingredient in cayenne. Other important ingredients include vitamins A and C, and flavonoids and carotenoids, pigments that give red, yellow, and orange plants their color and have antioxidant properties.
- Cinnamon - is one of the most well known and oldest spices known to man. Used for centuries as a traditional herbal remedy for cold and flu symptoms, its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory powers have been backed up by modern science. It's benefits include helping balance blood sugar and cholesterol and other research suggests that it may inhibit the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Even though it's most often thought of as an ingredient in desserts, cinnamon is just as tasty in savory recipes. Try it sprinkled in oatmeal, applesauce, rice, and yogurt, use it whole as a stir stick for your coffee or tea or mix it in with your other favorite "rub" concoctions.
- Cumin - is one of the most popular spices in the world, second only to black pepper. Once you are familiar with the warm, earthy flavor of cumin, it is easy to recognize it in all sorts of different cuisines, from Indian curries to Tex-Mex tacos. It complements poultry, meats, fish, vegetables, soups, chickpeas, lentils, and grains. Cumin has been shown to be antimicrobial, antioxidant, and may be effective at lowering cholesterol. It is an excellent source of iron and has long been used as an aid to digestion.
- Fenugeek - are small sweet smelling and tasting seeds. It is a common spice in Indian, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern dishes. In a study done on Diabetics, fenugeek also improved both blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels when it was added to their diets.
- Garlic - Technically garlic, especially fresh garlic is not a spice. But most spices are considered to be spices when they are 'dried' versions of themselves, so we will cheat a little here when we use garlic powder in dishes. Garlic has been tested and proven to boast a potent antibacterial properties. Fresh garlic is very 'spicy' but it does tend to sweeten and mellow out as it cooked or roasted. Fresh or powdered garlic is delicious on meats, eggs, potatoes, vegetables and pastas.
- Ginger - really is best if it is bought and used fresh. It looks like an ugly root, but the taste and benefits are far from ugly. Ginger adds a nice little zing to stir fry vegetables as well as baking. Most know ginger for it's tummy settling abilities, but most do not know that it also contains pharmacological properties the same as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Tumeric - is a relative to ginger. It is what you will find in most Indian foods with curry and it's what gives it the deep yellow shade. Besides Indian foods, tumeric is good in eggs, meats, fish and soups. Tumeric has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to help with inflammation, digestive disorders, liver problems, skin problems and other wounds. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, "Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants scavenge molecules in the body known as free radicals, which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Antioxidants can fight free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.
The flavor as well as most of the health benefits of spices come from the oils and phytochemicals they contain. Whenever possible buy whole spices and grind them yourself. This is easy to do if you use a dedicated "spice only" coffee grinder to grind them just before use. You can clean your grinder between uses by placing a piece of bread or some dry rice in the machine and giving it a spin. Ground spices are extremely volatile when exposed to air, and their potency begins to fade as soon as they're ground. Therefore, when you do grind, if you do buy pre-ground spices, grind and buy them in very small quantities in order to preserve their freshness and medicinal qualities.