In my healthy foodie cooking classes, I showcase many different spices and herbs. Along with sharing their health benefits, I often discuss the history and cultural significance of spices and herbs as well. The stories are fascinating for any foodie. Did you know that spices caused wars during the early days of trade when they were used as valuable commodities? In fact, black pepper was so prized it was traded for gold!
While we’re no longer trading spices for precious commodities, I do think that spices are very valuable to your health. Here are 5 medicinal spices I strongly recommend you integrate into your cooking to set you on a path to becoming a healthy foodie.
1) Black Pepper
Native to India’s Malabar Coast, Black Pepper was once considered the “King of Spices”. Many believe it was the spice that motivated both Marco de Gama and Columbus to go on their expeditions. So what is so good about it? On top of enhancing flavors in certain foods and lessening some flavors in others, black pepper is truly a nutritional powerhouse. It can help the absorption of:
- Anti-inflammatory properties found in other foods and spices, such as turmeric
- The mineral selenium, involved in preventing cell damage
- B-vitamins, which help turn nutrients into fuel
- Vitamin A, for great eye health
It can also aid in digestion and breakdown fat cells and it’s “heat” factor increases your metabolism. Just like many spices, black pepper is powerful – so only small amounts are needed in your cooking to get all of those synergistic benefits.
Turmeric is part of the ginger family of spices, including ginger and cardamom. Once considered a “poor man’s saffron” – because of it’s dark yellowish and orange color – today it’s considered Indian Gold. This is probably because of its many medicinal benefits which have been known in India for thousands of years. In fact, India has some of the lowest Alzheimer disease rates in the world.
Turmeric is the only edible source of curcumin – the powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-arthritic and Alzheimers-preventing compound. Curcumin is what gives Turmeric it’s aroma and pigment.
In order to increase the ability to absorb the powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidants in Tumeric, I recommend:
- Cooking it with a good fat like pastured ghee or coconut oil and it will increase the absorption of the powerful ant-inflammatory Curcumin
- Combining it with black pepper to increase the absorption of curcumin by 2000%.
Indian cuisine often utilizes the spices turmeric, black pepper and fennel which all play a role in the prevention of Alzheimers and arthritis. Try the recipe below by Chef Tony Rosario, my friend and Chef from Kerala India, who taught during a few of my In-Home Healthy Foodie Cooking Classes.
Turmeric & Coconut Quinoa recipe
- 1 tbs coconut oil
- 1 small onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 cup dry quinoa rinsed well
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup vegetable broth or water
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a medium sized sauce pan over medium high heat.
- Add onion, garlic, ginger, and salt, sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until the onion is golden.
- Add turmeric and quinoa to the pan and stir for 1-2 minutes. Now pour in the coconut milk and vegetable broth (or water, if using). Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Once it boils, cover the saucepan and simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed.
- Turn off heat and rest the pan for few minutes then fluff the quinoa with a fork.
- Note: 1 part Quinoa and 2 parts water is usually used to cook quinoa. If preferred a little al dente then you can use 1 ¾ parts or 1 ½ parts of liquid
Ginger is native to Southeastern Asia, India and China and was mentioned in the ancient writings of Confucius. Ever wonder how ginger ale came about? In English pubs bartenders would keep out small containers of ground ginger for people to sprinkle into their beer! Ginger contains the active compound known as “gingerol” which gives ginger its fragrance and contributes to its many benefits, which include:
- Powerful anti-oxidants, that can help to prevent cancer
- Anti-inflammatory components, known to lessen arthritic pain
- Reduces symptoms of gas, menstrual cramps, nausea and motion sickness
- High vitamin C content, which boosts your immune system
A really easy way to integrate ginger into your diet is by adding it to drinks. Here’s a super simple way to make ginger tea:
- Grate a tablespoon or 2 of ginger and add it to boiling water
- Steep it for 2-3 minutes and drink up
Cardamom contains 25 different chemical plant compounds that impart their fragrance and medicinal benefits. Cardamon is in the same family as turmeric and ginger, and on top of containing similar anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory compounds they also play a role in:
- Detoxifying the body
- Alleviating stomach aches following improper digestion
- Clearing up airways by getting rid of phlegm
- Relaxing constricted windpipes which could be useful for asthmatics
- Freshening our breath by killing bacteria in our mouths. This probably explains why the Ancient Egyptians chewed Cardamom seeds as a tooth cleaner.
For an enjoyable way to enjoy cardamom, I’d recommend the below recipe which includes many delicious and medicinal spices.
- 2-3 cardamom pods (crushed through mortar and pestle or ground in a coffee grinder) or 1 tsp of ground cardamom
- 2-3 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick or 1 tsp of cinnamon
- 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup whole grass fed milk or 1/2 cup almond milk
- 2 black tea bags preferably fair trade and organic
- 1 tsp of local raw honey
Add the cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper to a pot of water and bring to a rolling boil.
While boiling, add the tea bags and the milk, lower the heat then cover and simmer for 8 minutes.
Add the honey, remove from heat and enjoy
Makes 2 servings
Cumin is native to Egypt and dates as far back as the Pharaohs who used it as a spice and as a preservative in mummification. Cumin is truly a super spice used in many lentil and bean (considered gaseous) dishes largely because of it’s flavor, but also because of the following benefits:
- It helps the pancreas release enzymes that lessen flatulence-causing effects
- Improves the absorption of the many nutrients found in beans and lentils, like B vitamins and iron
- Plays a role in enhancing the liver’s ability to detoxify
- Contains power anti-microbial properties
The key to gaining the benefits of spices is to use them regularly in your cooking and to make interesting herbal teas. Remember:
“Tasty food and healthy food are not mutually exclusive”