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Health, Nutrition

Spice Up Your Life This Holiday Season…Literally!

The holidays are upon us, and that usually means lots of time in the kitchen whipping up traditional holiday dishes that call for traditional holiday spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, sage, anise, allspice, and cardamom.

Ginger

An ingredient in a Christmas gingerbread house or a hot beverage at Thanksgiving, ginger is known for its potential contribution to health and as an essential part of holiday seasonal goodies. Ginger is probably best known for its ability to tame nausea, motion sickness, and indigestion. The compounds that are believed to provide health benefits include: gingerols, shogaols, paradols, and zingerone. It is these compounds that have been studied and account for the ginger’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antinausea, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Allspice

Many of us are fooled by the name or the taste to think this a blend, but you’ll be surprised that its actual spice all on its own. It is a single spice made from dried berries of the allspice tree which look like peppercorns. The allspice tree is native to Jamaica, and it is also known as Jamaica pepper and new spice. It contains specific traits that tastes like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Essentially used in pecan pie, fruitcake, and apple cider. Allspice peppercorn and leaves have been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat everything from colds to menstrual cramps.

Cinnamon

Of all the holiday spices, cinnamon is probably the most familiar and most widely used. In addition to the warm flavor and aroma of powdered cinnamon and sticks, the spice has been studied for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antilipemic, antidiabetic, and antimicrobial effects. Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka, India, and Myanmar (Burma) and is also cultivated in South America. The cinnamaldehyde component of cinnamon is responsible for its antimicrobial properties and its eugenol content provides important antioxidant compounds.

Nutmeg

Whether it’s sprinkled on top of a cup of eggnog or as part of pumpkin pie, fragrant nutmeg is a familiar holiday spice and is available ground or whole. The whole seed (despire the name, it’s not a nut) can be grated to create fresh nutmeg. But it doesn’t just add holiday flavor; numeg has been shown to possess strong antioxidant and antimicrobial activities in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Also, when consumed in large amounts, nutmeg has psychoactive effects and is reported to be a deliriant and hallucinogen. This tree is native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia and is principally cultivated there and in the West Indies.

Clove

Cloves are a spice made from the flower buds of an evergreen tree,these  flower buds are harvested in their immature state and then dried.Whether cloves are used in hams, gingerbread, or hot cider, this spice is one of the richest sources of antioxidant phenolic compounds, such as eugenol, eugenol acetate, and gallic acid, which provide potent antioxidant and antimicrobial activities. Available as a powder or individual pods, cloves and clove oil have antimicrobial effects against several bacteria and fungal strains,and it is commonly used for tooth pains

It’s important to note that dried spices should be stored in an airtight container, preferably in a cool and dark place. Hopefully these spices will not only fill your kitchens and homes with mesmerizing aromas and tastes, but also provide antioxidant properties that may help enhance your health.

References:

Baliga MS, Haniadka R, Pereira MM, et al. Update on the chemopreventive effects of ginger and its phytochemicals. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011;51(6):499-523.Charles DJ.  Antioxidant Properties of Spices, Herbs and Other Sources. Springer Publishing. 2012

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