Sometimes the distinction can be blurred, as with basil. Commonly used as both a fresh herb and a dried spice, even in the same recipe, each type of basil can infuse food with its own distinct flavor.
(Click Read More for the healing powers of spices such as cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cilantro and turmeric; including fascinating information on the impact of spice usage on Alzheimer's disease. Also, does it pay to buy organic spices?)
Ginger: “Ginger...is a natural dietary component with antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties...(t)he use of dietary agents such as ginger may have potential in the treatment and prevention of ovarian cancer.”
Saffron: “Saffron may be of therapeutic benefit in the treatment of mild to moderate depression,” and also “was found to be effective in relieving symptoms of PMS.”
Two spices I am particularly interested in are cilantro and turmeric.
Cilantro, also known as coriander or chinese parsley, is reputed to be the most widely consumed spice, or herb, and is grown all over the world. Cilantro has recently been found effective in reducing the swelling and inflammation associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis. As a matter of fact, in studies, cilantro (in the form of coriander seed extract) actually provided superior results to steroids when administered to arthritic areas:
Now, if you suffer from RA, this is pretty powerful stuff.
Turmeric, a major component of the Indian spice blend curry, is eaten by the the people of that country on a daily basis throughout the course of ones' lifetime; indeed, starting with what is ingested through mothers' milk. In this way they reap the incredible health benefits of this remarkable spice.
In a world where people are living longer, this is a topic that’s extremely important. The impact of Alzheimer’s disease on an aging population is significant in many respects; whether it be government funding, the personal cost of health care, or the societal cost of care-giving. While the World Health Organization recognizes the fact that the incidence of Alzheimers disease in India is a fraction of what it is worldwide, nowhere do they associate this decreased risk with diet. This is a surprise because there are a multitude of reputable studies being done on the link between turmeric and the diminished risk of Alzheimers.
Studies also show you can increase the bioavailability of turmeric in your body by eating it with black pepper.
The list of studies being done on spices and their associated health benefits could continue endlessly. The reality is that researchers probably haven’t even begun to scratch the surface when it comes to the wonders of the inherent polyphenols and antioxidants in these minute granules.
Spices past their prime can’t hurt you; they just won’t impart their health benefits to you, nor will they have as strong a flavor as freshly ground spices. If you can’t smell the spices' volatile oils, it’s time to replace them. Buying fresh spices from a reputable spice store and grinding them yourself at home is a delight!
If you buy your spices at the supermarket I recommend spending the extra few dollars on organic. Organic spices not only retain their flavor better, they avoid the potential use of pesticides, herbicides or radiation, which are not only harmful to your health, but to the environment as well. However, there's another reason: because a great deal of the spices consumed in this country aren’t produced here, the United States has no control over the growing practices which bring them to fruition. “(T)he United States is the world's largest spice importer and consumer, with both imports and consumption on an uptrend for the past 10 years. While the United States imports more than 40 separate spices, seven of these (vanilla beans, black and white pepper, capsicums, sesame seed, cinnamon, mustard, and oregano) account for more than 75 percent of the total annual value of spice imports.”
With a great many of these imports coming from warmer climates, such as the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia and Central America, sterilization methods must be employed to ensure the plants meet U.S. safety standards, let alone organic standards. This would include one of three methods: fumigation, irradiation or sterilizing with dry steam; with the steaming method the only one which allows the spice to then be certified organic."
(Fumigation is a process involving toxic gasses that can affect the nutritional value, as well as modify the color, taste, and aroma of certain spices. Irradiation is a controversial process that can create free radicals, as well as affect the nutritional content of spices, as well as other foods.)
A sprinkle of this or that in your food, while enticing and delicious, is not what will give you the manifold health affects which regular and ample spice usage can offer. Use spices often, use them varied, use them fresh, use them dried. Your palate and your health will thank you!