From initiating trade, driving colonialism and influencing globalization as we know it today, spices have had a long and illustrious career. While they’ve always been valued for their flavour profiles, the wide array of health benefits they provide have often been overlooked. Spices have long been the cornerstone of South Asian cuisines and in most of these communities, they have also been revered for their mystical healing properties. Today, solid scientific research has been able to verify the myriad of health benefits they offer, making spices the tastiest way to eat healthy.
If there was one spice that defined Indian cuisine, it would be turmeric. This spice is the reason behind the golden colour of curries and the tell tale yellow stains they leave on your clothes. Their characteristic sunny colour comes from a powerful antioxidant called curcumin. Apart from reducing cell damage, curcumin is also a potent inflammatory agent which can alleviate Alzheimer’s , keep your brain functioning well and reduce the risk of arthritis.
Used as an aromatic in almost every curry and stir fry, ginger’s main bioactive compound is Gingerol. Gingerol helps in reducing nausea from chemotherapy or morning sickness. It can also help with bloating, give you clearer skin and fight common colds. Grandma knew what she was talking about when she made you drink ginger and honey.
Garlic does a lot more than just keep vampires away. The pungent smell of garlic is due a sulphur called Allicin that has strong antibacterial and antifungal properties. If you suffer from chronic acne, eating garlic often can banish those pesky zits forever. Rubbing crushed garlic on your scalp also stimulates hair growth. You might lose all your friends, but at least you’ll have thick, shiny hair.
The tiny black seeds of mustard carry more than their weight in terms of health benefits. The phytonutrients present in them help fight gastrointestinal cancer and their selenium content, controls asthma. The slimy mucilage in them also relieves constipation, so you can “go” a lot easier.
While there are few things worse than biting into a cardamom pod hidden inside a curry, don’t curse it too much. Cardamom is an excellent mouth freshener and many Indian even chew it separately after meals. It can also cure mouth ulcers and other oral infections. It’s also great for cardiac health as it can prevent dangerous blood clots and stop them from sticking to your arteries
6. Cayenne Pepper
A shrub that was originally cultivated in South America, cayenne pepper has health benefits that are universal. The spicy pepper contains large quantities of vitamin C and flavonoids that are heavy duty antioxidants. A chemical called capsaicin within it, is also believed to relieve symptoms of a migraine and fight osteoarthritis.
The ubiquitous herb of South Asia, coriander is always thrown on every dish without a second thought. While a handful of coriander leaves makes a dish immediately more vibrant, it also helps you digest your meal better. In addition, coriander has been shown to manage insulin levels, lower bad cholesterol and fight anaemia.
Chewing fennel after a large meal can instantly freshen your breath (and it tastes a whole lot better than cardamom). It can also reduce water retention by flushing out excess fluids from your system. Fennel also helps you manage your weight as it suppresses your appetite, boosts your metabolism and burns fat.
While sprinkling oregano over a cheesy pizza won’t turn it into a health food, oregano does have plenty of health benefits to offer. It is a natural source of Omega 3, which keeps your hair shiny and nails strong. Thymol oil in oregano is also a strong antibacterial which is believed to be just as strong as many prescription drugs.
An indispensable spice in baking, cinnamon is both delicious and power packed with health benefits. It can halt the progress of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It has also been shown to prevent cancer, manage diabetes and most astoundingly, fight the HIV virus.