The Spice of Life – Health Benefits of Spices

The Spice of Life - Health Benefits of Spices

Antioxidant, anti-inflammation, exercise recovery, heart health and more benefits from spices.

The same antioxidants that convinced doctors that fruit and vegetables help prevent heart disease and certain cancers are now known to be present in spices, and in larger quantities than was previously thought.

Recognizing the potential health benefits of spices, the American government has been analyzing the antioxidant content of herbs and spices and adding them to its USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) nutrient database.

Just adding herbs and spices to an otherwise balanced diet can provide benefits. USDA data shows that a half teaspoon of cumin equals standard portion of red grapes or kiwi fruit for antioxidant potential. A teaspoon of dried ginger or paprika can match a portion of tomatoes or green pepper.

curry powderAnalysis of some curry powder blends of spices by Australian and American researchers both determined that one teaspoonful is as powerful an antioxidant fix as portions of broccoli, spinach, red peppers, carrots and other high-scoring antioxidant vegetables dubbed ‘super-foods’.

On the sweeter side, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon or cloves packs in as much antioxidant power as a portion of blueberries, raspberries pr cranberries.

Making regular use of spices and herbs is a healthy and economic way to enhance health and your cooking. Spices allow you to reduce salt, sugar and fat content and still have tasty food.

But not all spices are equal. According to the Journal of Nutrition there can be 1,000-fold difference in antioxidant content. At the top of the chart are allspice, chilli, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, curry spice mixes, garlic, ginger, mustard, paprika and turmeric. Freshness is another factor. Proper storage is essential. Avoid buying spices that have been sitting on grocery shelves for who-knows-how-long or those exposed to light.

Ongoing research into the health benefits of spices

Ongoing research will follow other potential benefits. Antioxidants can reduce the risk of chronic inflammation involved both in heart disease, and as a precursor to diabetes and certain cancers. We are interested to see if on a daily basis culinary use of spices and herbs might mitigate the risk of chronic inflammation. Weight management is another area of interest because spicy chillies speed up metabolic rates. 

cinnamon sticksOne study relates to stress and inflammation. Stressful situations, such as public speaking and performing arithmetic calculations, increase inflammation and this study will determine whether such inflammation can be reduced or prevented by a meal containing spices.

Research is underway that will study the ability of a mixture of high-antioxidant spices to reduce stress-induced inflammation in moderately obese, middle-aged to elderly subjects. Another study is looking at the impact of spices on cardiovascular markers including blood pressure and arterial function.

Regularly eating ginger can also help reduce muscle pain after exercise. New research that will be presented this summer shows that healthy young subjects who consumed two grams of ginger per day for eight days experienced significantly less pain the day after exercise compared to subjects who received a placebo.

You don’t have to do vigorous exercise or a stressful job to benefit. If you just want to relax around the BBQ this summer, a newly published UCLA study into making burgers healthier, might be more pertinent. The study found that adding spice blends similar to our Moroccan rub or Fire & Brimstone reduced formation of oxidized fats during cooking and digestion by 70 per cent.

These results suggest that high-antioxidant spices can reduce oxidation of harmful ‘bad’ cholesterol, the primary cause of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries that leads to heart attack and stroke).

If burgers are not for you, using spice ‘rubs’  like the Epicentre’s True North by SW, Coffee Chile Rub or Chicken Love on steak, poultry and other meat, or marinating them in spice mixes before cooking can also reduce production of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), suspected carcinogens formed in muscle foods during high temperature grilling or cooking.

In studies at the Food Science Institute, Kansas State University, Caribbean herb and spice mixes like our Jerk Rub reduced HCA production by more than 80 per cent. Italian studies have shown that the addition of herbs such as lemon balm, marjoram and oregano to salad, and spices and herbs to salad dressing, increases their antioxidant activity significantly.

So spice up your life and head over to our new Online Spice Shop for a unique selection of blends and hard-to-find spices you are going to love (and they will love you back with health benefits)

Photo credits: 
Curry powder” by jacqueline
293:365 – “Touch of Spice” by Nomadic Lass

Valentine’s Day is for the birds

love birds

Valentine's Day is for the birds

There was a popular notion in England and France during the Middle Ages that birds started to look for their mates on February 14. The reason for this assumption is not clear but might be related to the fact that the warbling of the first songbirds after a long winter started sometime in mid-February. Hence St. Valentine’s day’s association with birds, especially lovebirds and doves. People observed this day by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340/45-1400), an English poet mentions this belief in his “Parliament of Foules“:

“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

St. Valentine’s Day was mentioned by Shakespeare. The poet, Drayton, wrote verses entitled “To His Valentine,” in which he expressed the idea of the birds’ mating on St. Valentine’s Day.

“Each little bird this tide
Doth choose her beloved peer,
Which constantly abide
In wedlock all the year.”

(In parts of Sussex Valentines Day was called ‘the Birds’ Wedding Day’)

People believed that the kind of bird a young lady might see on Valentine’s day would determine the type of man she would marry. (If a young girl saw a hen and a cockerel together on St Valentines Day then she will marry soon. )

Here are some examples of what you should look out for! (Hanging around a farm on Valentine’s day might be a good idea!)

Blackbird: A man of the cloth (Priest)

Bluebird: A man with a sense of humour

Crossbill: A man of argument

Dove: A kind mind

Goldfinch: A wealthy man

Robin: A man of the sea

Sparrow: A man of the country

Woodpecker: No man !!

Yellow Hammer: A wealthy man

Yellow Wagtail: A wealthy man

Whether you’ve just spotted your gold finch or robin, it’s always inspiring to think of the loyal birds who mate for life:

Doves
The most famous bird of love is the dove. Doves have been associated with love and marriage for thousands of years. They are extremely loyal to each other and their young.

Canadian Geese
Canadian Geese are extremely loyal and if one of a pair is injured, the other will stay with the injured bird and guard it until it’s better. Both care for their young.

American Bald Eagle
Eagle pairs mate for life and build a large nest together high in a safe location. There they tend to and raise the few chicks they hatch each year.

 

Canadian Spice Products are Far Less Contaminated than US Counterparts. But Buyer Beware!

Canadian Spice Products are Far Less Contaminated than US Counterparts. But Buyer Beware!



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Earlier this month the FDA released a report showing extreme filth has been found by inspectors and 12% of imported herbs and spices. US inspectors found everything from mouse droppings and bat hair to insect parts and bird feathers reports the Washington Post.

The Canadian Government has assured the public that spices imported into Canada are much cleaner. “The CFIA has been sampling and testing spices for various allergens, chemical residues and microbiology concerns. To date, the results have indicated a high degree of compliance,” Elena Koutsavakis, a spokesperson for the agency, told the Toronto Star.

For the microbial testing program, a total of 1,434 samples of dried spices were tested between 2009-10 and 2012-13.  Of these, only two came back with positive results for salmonella. In the U.S., more than 80 different salmonella serotypes were isolated from spices in contaminated shipments during the three-year study period.
 
When asked what the Canadian regulations are concerning contaminants in spices, Koutsavakis said, “food safety is a top priority of the government of Canada. It is illegal for anyone to sell unsafe food in Canada.” Yes, and good luck with that.
 
As industry insiders, we have found most of the major spice distributors within Canada, including ourselves (The Epicentre) are extremely cautious. The spice industry employs a variety of equipment to physically clean spices, including air separators, sifters and spiral gravity separators that separate sticks, stones, hair, insects and other debris from the spice.  We have found however that small importing operations can be disturbingly high in contaminants.
 
A simple walk through Kensington Market in Toronto can reveal the problem. We found insect larvae in whole chile peppers and recently-hatched live white arachnids in plastic bags of spices for sale on store shelves. We’ve learned to temper our desire for the exotic with a very high level of quality control throughout our supply chain, requiring constant ingredient analysis and a natural steam pasteurization process.

Pumpkin is over-hyped. Its the spices you like!

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin is over-hyped. Its the spices you like!

What is it about pumpkin pie that makes it such an autumnal success? Well, its the perfect delivery mechanism for our favourite spices: allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace and often a big whack of sugar.

Aside from the well-known Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte we see the market is now being flooded with pumpkin ales, pumpkin vodka, pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin pie Pop-Tarts, Sweet Harvest pumpkin tea by Celestial Seasonings and even innocent neighbourhood coffeehouses when the weather starts cooling. I’ve even read Pringles pumpkin pie spice chips are coming to a Walmart near you.

According to a recent New York Magazine article, “This year is on track to be one of the most active years for seasonal pumpkin menuing” and could top the 2011 record, when more than 60 pumpkin-related dishes appeared on the menus of America’s top 250 chain restaurants.”

Keep in mind that few of these products use actual pumpkins, or actual spices for that matter. The “pumpkin-flavoured” label is really quite forgiving and lets not forget about the colouring.

Suggestion. Order some of our Everything Nice spice and add it to your coffee filter, whip some into ice-cream or any baking for a pumpkin pie spice experience without all the chemical additives.