Written by: Cesare and Anna Giacomelli
For nearly 10 years now we have owned and run the House of Spices in Zanzibar and we have been absorbing the local lore on spices and their benefits, for cooking, as well as healthy eating and living.
Cooking without spices is like having a dance party without music. Aside from adding tons of flavour to any dish, spices are a low-calorie (usually zero-calorie) way to add a little extra zest to your favourite food. Experimenting with different spices can help your taste buds decide which ones go well together and which ones are better on their own. And to boot, there are lots of health benefits that come with many commonly used spices. Even spices as simple as salt and pepper can do a body good.
This said, the following guidelines shouldn’t be used in place of medical advice but rather to help add a bit of flavour into your life while reaping the rewards.
Black pepper is so commonly used that nobody would even think it has health benefits. The little kick you taste when you eat something that has black pepper in it helps to improve your digestion. Black pepper has also been shown to have antioxidant and antibiotic benefits, not to mention it tastes wonderful on almost everything. So, don’t be afraid to add a little shake of black pepper on your next meal.
Cinnamon is a very healthy spice to add to almost every sweet or in your coffee. This spice can lower your blood sugar and your cholesterol. In fact, cinnamon was used in ancient Chinese medicine for its antioxidant properties. To reap these benefits, try to eat ¼ to ½ teaspoon of cinnamon twice a day.
Ginger has an interesting taste and after you try it, it makes everything better. Ginger adds a sweet-but-spicy kick to sushi, green juices, and smoothies. It has a strong smell and taste, but it can work wonders on an upset stomach or indigestion. Chewing on a little bit of raw ginger can even help relieve sore joints.
It has the spiciness of ginger without the sweetness, and it comes with a long list of health benefits. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, “has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities and thus has a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic illnesses,” according to a review in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. If that doesn’t make you crave this orange-yellow spice, I don’t know what will.
This bright red spice is often used more for garnish than for taste, but it has a warm, spicy flavour. Even if you are just using it to add a touch of colour to a dish, its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can help prevent cancer. Plus, it has high levels of vitamin A, which promotes good eyesight and helps strengthen bones. Paprika goes great with a host of potato dishes and deviled eggs, too.
Cumin has a strong flavour and smell, and it acts as a great replacement for salt. In the past, cumin was added to foods to aid in digestion and the absorption of nutrients. It has also been known to have antibacterial qualities, and the high levels of vitamin B can even help improve your sleep.
Although Zanzibar is not a high quality producer, Saffron may be one of the most expensive spices out there. This red spice will turn any food bright yellow and add a ton of flavour too. Saffron comes with a long list of health benefits, from aiding in digestion, to reducing inflammation, to helping with depression. It is also known for its ability to beautify your skin. Making a saffron face mask can help clear up acne and blemishes, brighten dull skin, and give you a healthy glow.
Cardamom, a spice usually found in Indian cuisine, has so many health benefits that it is seen in some cultures as a natural medicine for ulcers, digestive problems, and even depression. Eating this spice will help to detoxify your kidneys, fight a cold or flu, and even potentially cure hiccups. I love the flavour of cardamom in chicken curry and Vietnamese pho noodle soup.
Now that you know about some of these amazing benefits, go ahead and try out a new recipe using some of the spices above!