These spice-rack staples have some surprising health properties
Every chef knows that a few key herbs and spices can take any dish from simple to sensational. And now that we know about the disease-preventive effects of many common herbs and spices, they’re more important than ever, so much so that many are now available in supplement form as well. Some to consider adding to your culinary repertoire:
1. Basil, a sweet, fragrant herb related to mint, contains antioxidants and volatile oils that have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. It’s used primarily in Italian and Greek cuisine, and also in Thai, Vietnamese, and Laotian dishes.
2. Cardamom, from a plant related to ginger, is known for its intensely aromatic pods and seeds that boost digestion and help lower blood pressure. Cardamom is prominently featured in Indian cuisine and in sweet baked goods; black cardamom, harder to find, is used primarily in Asian dishes.
3. Cayenne pepper, made from ground red chili peppers, has a fiery but neutral bite that can add heat to any dish, and is used in a wide variety of cuisines. It’s been shown to reduce abdominal fat and to suppress hunger.
4. Cinnamon, often called Ceylon cinnamon, comes from the bark of a tropical evergreen. Cassia bark, also known as Chinese cinnamon, is also sold under the culinary name of cinnamon. A number of studies have verified cinnamon’s use in managing diabetes, and cassia has similar effects.
5. Dill is an aromatic herb with slender, fern-like leaves and seeds that have a flavor similar to caraway. Both the leaves and seeds are used in Mediterranean and many other dishes; medicinally, it has long been used to treat flatulence, and may also have cancer-protective benefits.
6. Ginger is a spicy-sweet root that’s used in both sweet and savory dishes, and is key in Asian, Indian, Thai, and Jamaican cuisine. Ginger was traditionally used to aid digestion, and modern studies show ginger helps treat inflammation and relieve nausea.
7. Oregano, a warm, fragrant herb, is available in two main varieties: Mediterranean is slightly sweeter, Mexican is a little more pungent. Both are antimicrobial, and have strong antioxidant activity. Add it toward the end of cooking to preserve its flavor.
8. Rosemary, a woody herb with slender, needle-like leaves and strong, piney fragrance, is used primarily in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. It has long been associated with memory, and modern studies show that just the aroma of rosemary helped improve both memory and mood.
9. Thyme, a species of mint, has tiny, highly flavored leaves that are used in Italian, French, Greek, Caribbean and other cuisines. It was traditionally used as an antiseptic; modern studies show it has antibacterial effects, and also protects and boosts cell membrane health.
10. Turmeric has a brilliant yellow-orange color and earthy flavor, and is key in Indian cuisine. It can also used in some dishes instead of pricey saffron to impart a rich golden hue. Turmeric is one of the most healing of spices, and many studies have verified its ability to prevent inflammation and obesity, as well as possibly prevent Alzheimer’s plaques.