Spice up your life

Perk up your palate and your health with these spicy seasonings

Spice up your life

Source: Adapted from Health Smart

Spices have long held a mysterious allure, being used for centuries by many cultures to enrich the taste and the appearance of food – and to bestow various health benefits, some of which are now beginning to be confirmed by scientific research.

According to a recent review of scientific literature, published in The Medical Journal of Australia, spices – along with herbs – have the potential to help combat a long list of diseases and conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and arthritis.

Dietitian Karen Inge, who was part of the review team, explains: “If you look at traditional Indian, Thai and Mediterranean cuisines, they use a combination of spices, which may work in collaboration with other ingredients to trigger health benefits. It may not purely be about how much spice you need to add to a meal, but how you combine it with the ingredients. This is the synergy, or food bundling, where the new research is heading.”

And because spices provide uniquely invigorating flavours and aromas, a little can go a long way as substitutes for salt, sugar and fat, three obstacles to eating nutritiously. “Spices really are the forgotten foods,” says Inge.

Spice facts

  • Spices become stronger in flavour when dried because the enzymes activate on drying, creating and concentrating the volatile oils that give them their characteristic zing. If using dried instead of fresh, remember that a little goes a longer way.
  • Spice expert Ian Hemphill advises, “There are three golden rules for storing spices: in an airtight container, in the dark, and away from extremes of heat and humidity.”
  • Spices can be a plant’s buds (eg, cloves), bark (cinnamon), root (ginger), berries (peppercorns) or aromatic seeds (cardamom). Herbs are the leafy parts of a plant (such as basil). Some plants, such as coriander, produce both a herb and a spice.

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