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Spice Up Your Health

Sunday, 26 January 2014 08:00  by Charity.

With the cool weather of winter here, stay warm by spicing up your cold-weather foods. Add some cinnamon to your apple pie; ginger to soup; black pepper to roasts; and aromatic vanilla to yummy baked goods. Along with adding some warm flavor to your winter dishes, these spices also contain powerful health benefits.

Black Pepper…

The most popular spice in the United States may be an ally in your battle against weight loss. A preliminary study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry indicates that black pepper may help block the formation of fat cells due to a chemical found in the pepper called piperine, which give it it’s spicy flavor. Pepper is also good for your health -- it contains high levels of manganese, an important antioxidant; vitamin K, which is needed for blood clotting; and iron. Another compound in pepper called piper nigrum may aid in digestion by stimulating the taste buds and prompting the stomach to increase secretion of hydrochloric acid, a digestive aid.

Selecting & Storage…

Whole peppercorns should be free of blemishes and should be dull-looking, not shiny. Pepper loses flavor and aroma through evaporation, so airtight storage in a cool, dark place helps preserve its original spiciness longer.

You could try… grinding pepper over smoked salmon, oysters, barbecues and grills.

Cinnamon…

Cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree and is one of the oldest known spices. With its fragrant, sweet and warm qualities, it’s perfect for winter desserts. It also has promising health benefits, as emerging scientific evidence indicates that small amounts of cinnamon taken daily may be able to lower blood sugar levels in people suffering from diabetes. Another study found that chewing cinnamon gum, or even just smelling the spice itself, could enhance people’s thinking skills, including memory and recognition.

Selecting & Storage…

The tubular cinnamon quills have a sweet, woody aroma but are not easy to grind, so the powdered form is generally recommended for use in cooking. Whole quills will keep for two to three years if not exposed to extreme heat, and powdered cinnamon is best used within six months.

You could try… drizzling flaxseed oil on wholegrain toast and then sprinkle with cinnamon and honey. Or try a warm cup of hot milk simmered with honey and cinnamon sticks.

Ginger…

This tangy and aromatic root is a mixture of several hundred substances, including phenol compounds such as gingerols. These compounds are potent anti-inflammatory agents that have been shown to help relieve the pain of arthritis and muscle discomfort. Ginger also contains shogaol and zingiberene, which have antioxidant capabilities that may help prevent heart disease and cancer. Ginger is also known to help reduce nausea, motion sickness and morning sickness.

Selecting & Storage…

Look for ginger that is plump, firm and clean. Keep ginger in an open container in the cupboard, the same as fresh onions or garlic. Unpeeled ginger can be refrigerated for up to three weeks or up to six months in the freezer. Adding ginger at the start of the cooking process will lend a subtler flavor to the meal, while putting it in near the end delivers a more pungent taste. Grating ginger, rather than slicing or chopping, will release more of the active ingredients.

You could try… using ginger for relief from nausea or stomach pain. Steep one or two 1cm slices of fresh ginger in a cup of hot water or tea.

Vanilla…

Vanilla is best known as a flavoring agent in desserts such as ice cream and cakes. This spice has not only been used for flavoring, but has been used for centuries as an antioxidant and cognitive enhancing agent.  Vanilla contains chemicals called vanilloids that activate receptors in a similar way to capsaicin (found in cayenne), which is well known to reduce inflammation and improve mental performance. Vanilla has also been used to calm stomach pains, reduce hunger pangs and relieve stress.

Selecting & Storage…

Choose plump vanilla beans with a thin skin to get the most seeds possible. Pods should be dark brown, and pliable enough to wrap around your finger without breaking. For vanilla extract, look for a high alcohol content in unadulterated pure vanilla extract. Beans should be kept in a tightly closed container in a refrigerated area up to six months. Pure vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life, and actually improves with age. You could try… adding a vanilla bean pod to a mug of hot chocolate or a cup of hot tea results for a delicious experience!

Last modified on Sunday, 26 January 2014 20:12

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