Since ancient times spices have been cherished not only for their ability to transform ordinary meals into extraordinary culinary delights but for their remarkable health benefits. Spices contain a treasure trove of active compounds that can help support immune function, improve brain power and digestion and promote overall health and wellbeing. From the fiery warmth of turmeric to the sweet earthiness of cinnamon, each spice brings its own unique flavour profile and therapeutic potential to the table.
By adding the following spices to your daily diet, you can elevate your meals into nourishing healing dishes.
Turmeric is a popular spice that has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine for relieving pain and swelling and improving digestion and cholesterol levels. It contains an active compound called curcumin, responsible for many of turmeric’s impressive health benefits.
Curcumin is well known for its powerful anti-inflammatory effects, which can help ease symptoms of chronic inflammation in conditions like arthritis, heart disease and eczema. Curcumin also has potent antioxidant effects, helping to neutralise harmful free radicals and protect against oxidative stress, which plays a role in the development of various diseases.
Curcumin has also been investigated for its potential neuroprotective properties. It has the ability to cross the blood–brain barrier and help clear amyloid plaques, characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies also suggest that curcumin may enhance cognitive function and improve mood, making it beneficial for the treatment of depression.
Consuming turmeric can also support digestive and liver function. Curcumin helps protect the liver from damage caused by toxins, including certain drugs, chemicals and environmental pollutants. Turmeric can help support overall digestive health by stimulating the production of bile, improving gallbladder function and aiding in the breakdown of fats.
To maximise turmeric’s health benefits and increase curcumin’s bioavailability and absorption, combine turmeric with some black pepper.
Turmeric root fresh or as a dried powder is a versatile spice that can be used in various savoury and sweet dishes to add flavour, colour and extra goodness. Turmeric is a common ingredient in curries and stews. Add turmeric to rice, quinoa or other grains while cooking. Turmeric can enhance the flavour of soups and broths. Sprinkle turmeric on roasted vegetables such as cauliflower, potatoes or carrots before baking. Blend turmeric into smoothies or juices for a nutritional boost. Combine it with fruits like mango, pineapple or banana, with some ginger. Incorporate turmeric into homemade salad dressings or marinades. Combine it with ingredients like olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and honey to create flavourful dressings or marinades for meat, chicken or tofu. Add turmeric to baked goods like bread, muffins or cookies for a subtle earthy flavour and a pop of colour. Prepare a soothing turmeric latte with your favourite milk that can be enjoyed hot or iced.
Cinnamon is a warm and aromatic spice known for its distinctive sweet and woody flavour and numerous health benefits. The flavour and health effects of cinnamon can vary depending on the type of cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon, also known as “true” cinnamon, is considered to be of higher quality than cassia cinnamon, which is more commonly available.
Cinnamon contains several active compounds including cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid and cinnamate, all responsible for its therapeutic properties.
Cinnamon is rich in antioxidants, which protect the body against oxidative stress caused by harmful free radicals. Antioxidants play a key role in reducing inflammation and helping prevent premature ageing.
Cinnamon is renowned for its anti-diabetic properties, making it a beneficial food for individuals with diabetes. Research suggests that it can effectively lower blood sugar levels and enhance insulin sensitivity, facilitating the transportation of sugar from the bloodstream to the tissues, thus helping balance blood sugar levels. Cinnamon is naturally sweet, so it makes an excellent natural sweetener for people with diabetes.
Cinnamon can enhance the flavours of both sweet and savoury dishes. Cinnamon is commonly used in baked goods, porridges and muesli. It pairs well with apples, bananas, walnuts, almonds and honey. Roasted vegetables such as sweet potato and pumpkin, and roasted apples, pears or peaches are delicious sprinkled with cinnamon. Add cinnamon to smoothies, with banana, raw cacao, almond or peanut butter. Cinnamon is used in Moroccan tagines, curries and rice and grain dishes, and works well with raisins, almonds or saffron. It’s also used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean marinades and sauces combined with tomatoes, onions, garlic and cumin. Warm macadamia nut milk with cinnamon and a touch of honey makes a delicious soothing night-time drink. Stir a pinch of cinnamon into your coffee, hot chocolate or chai for extra flavour or dust cinnamon on top of whipped cream or foam as a garnish.
Chilli peppers are the fruits of capsicum plants that originated from Central and South America. Chilli peppers play an integral role in Mexican and Asian cuisines, adding heat and spiciness to a variety of dishes. Chilli can be used fresh, dried, pickled, roasted or ground into a powder.
Chilli contains an active compound called capsaicin that gives chilli its intense pungency and heat, along with its many health benefits. The chilli plant produces capsaicin as a defence mechanism against predators. The amount of capsaicin varies among the different varieties of chilli. The smallest chilli peppers are generally the hottest. Chilli peppers range from sweet bell peppers (with no heat); jalapeño, serrano and chipotle (medium heat); cayenne and Thai (very hot); and Jamaican hot, chocolate habanero and ghost peppers (extremely hot). Carolina Reaper peppers are in the Guinness World Records as the hottest chilli pepper on the planet. Paprika is a fine powder commonly used in Hungarian cooking, made from a variety of sweet and mild chilli peppers.
Chilli peppers are considered a cardioprotective spice. A recent study found that people who eat chilli regularly have a lower risk of dying of heart disease. Capsaicin can help reduce inflammation and counteract harmful processes related to the accumulation of fatty plaque in arteries.
In traditional medicine, chilli has been used to treat numerous gastrointestinal conditions including indigestion, loss of appetite, reflux and gastric ulcers. Consuming chilli can stimulate the salivary glands and the production of digestive juices to aid the digestive process and improve excess wind and bloating.
Chilli is also a thermogenic spice that can give the metabolism a boost. A study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand found that after consuming capsaicin in chilli, metabolic rates immediately increased by 20 per cent and were sustained for 30 minutes.
Eating chilli is useful for fighting off colds and flu due to its immune-boosting action. Chilli also helps ease respiratory infections by clearing nasal congestion and increasing sweating. It’s also a great source of vitamins C and A and protective antioxidants, needed for a strong functioning immune system.
Chilli peppers are used extensively in Mexican, Thai and Indian cuisine. They are often incorporated into salsas, sauces, marinades, stews, curries and even desserts for those who enjoy a spicy kick. Chilli also pairs well with dark chocolate, so try adding a pinch to your next hot cocoa.
When preparing chilli it is important to wear rubber gloves and make sure you don’t touch your eyes. Remove the seeds and the inner membranes if you want to reduce the heat. Consuming dairy products like yoghurt or sour cream will reduce the heat of capsaicin. Indian foods are commonly served with yoghurt-based raita, and spicy Mexican meals are often eaten with sour cream for this reason.
Black pepper is a spice ground from black peppercorns, tiny fruits that grow on vines, traditionally from India and Vietnam. Black peppercorns are left to mature on the vine so they have a strong spicy flavour with subtle heat.
This pungent and healing spice is used in Ayurvedic medicine for its cleansing and antioxidant properties. Black pepper helps stimulate digestion and appetite and can help improve digestive issues like bloating and excess wind by increasing digestive acids. Black pepper also has an expectorant action, making it useful for alleviating blocked noses, sinusitis and other respiratory conditions.
Piperine is the active compound found in peppercorns that gives pepper its distinctive pungent taste. Peperine is a potent antioxidant that has been found to help neutralise damaging free radicals throughout the body.
Piperine has been studied for its potential effects on mood and mental health. Some research suggests that piperine has an antidepressant-like effect and can influence serotonin levels in the brain to improve mood.
Piperine has also been shown to enhance the absorption of certain nutrients such as curcumin from turmeric, selenium, beta-carotene and vitamins A and C.
Whether it’s used as a seasoning during cooking or as a finishing touch at the table, pepper brings a zingy and robust flavour that has made it a staple in kitchens worldwide.
This versatile spice can enhance the flavour of most savoury dishes including vegetables, pasta, stir-fries, poultry, meat, tofu, fish and rice dishes. Pepper pairs well with cumin, garlic, cardamom, lemon zest and turmeric. It is commonly found in spice blends, marinades, sauces, soups, stews and meat rubs.
From ancient healers to modern-day herbalists, ginger has held an esteemed place as a powerful health elixir. One of the most prominent health benefits of ginger lies in its powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger contains active compounds called gingerols that can reduce inflammation, which is linked to various chronic diseases such as arthritis, depression and heart disease. Ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties can also help provide relief from the pain associated with osteoarthritis and muscle soreness.
Ginger has long been revered as a safe, natural remedy for digestive complaints, particularly nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, motion sickness and chemotherapy. Ginger has calmative properties, alleviating bloating and indigestion. It also helps promotes healthy digestion by increasing the production of digestive enzymes.
In recent years, studies have found that ginger has cardioprotective effects. The active compounds in ginger can improve cholesterol levels, hypertension and atherosclerosis, which can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Including ginger in your diet can also promote better immune health. Gingerols have powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating properties, making ginger a beneficial addition to the diet to improve your immune defences
Ginger adds an invigorating taste to both sweet and savoury dishes. Fresh ginger tends to be more vibrant and pungent, while dried ginger has a slightly mellowed and concentrated flavour. Ginger is widely used in stir-fries, curries, soups, salad dressings and marinades. It pairs well with garlic, tamari, chilli and honey. Ginger can be added to baked goods and desserts. It complements oranges, carrots and apples in muffin and cake recipes. Ginger tea is a soothing drink, particularly for sore throats, with a slice of lemon and some raw honey. Add ginger to smoothies or juices for a refreshing and healthful twist, combined with fruits like pineapple, mango or citrus, along with leafy greens and mint. Enjoy pickled ginger as a condiment with sushi or other Asian dishes.
Rosemary is a fragrant, evergreen herb native to the Mediterranean region. Its aromatic leaves have been utilised for culinary and therapeutic purposes for centuries. Rosemary is often referred to as the herb of remembrance. Hippocrates, the renowned Greek physician, valued rosemary for its cognitive-enhancing powers. Studies suggest that rosemary has positive effects on cognitive function and can improve memory.
Rosemary contains several antioxidants, such as rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid, which protect the body against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are important for overall health and contribute to supporting immune health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
Traditionally, rosemary has been used to support digestion and ease gastrointestinal discomfort. It has carminative properties that help alleviate excess wind and bloating and can help ease indigestion.
Rosemary adds a delightful aroma and flavour to a wide range of dishes. It pairs exceptionally well with roasted meats like chicken, lamb, beef or pork. Toss potatoes, roasted, mashed or made into fries, with fresh or dried rosemary for a fragrant twist. Add chopped rosemary to bread dough or savoury pastry recipes, or sprinkle over grilled vegetables like zucchini, eggplant or capsicums. Combine rosemary with other herbs, garlic, olive oil and citrus juice to create flavourful marinades for meats or dressings for salads. Add a sprig of rosemary to hot or iced tea, lemonade or cocktails for a refreshing herbal twist.