As any home cook knows, spices and seasonings form the foundation of any good dish. Without them, food would be bland and lackluster, missing the depth of flavor we so crave.
However, a trip down the spice aisle in the grocery store can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for. With so many tantalizing spices to choose from, you may be wondering what’s essential in your pantry and what’s not.
This article will help you choose healthy spices to stock up on, their health benefits, and how you can use them.
Turmeric is one of the healthiest spices to keep in your kitchen. In addition to its earthy flavor, turmeric comes with a host of health benefits.
One of turmeric’s most prominent benefits lies in its ability to reduce inflammation. This is due to its bioactive compound, curcumin. In potent doses, curcumin may even be a more effective anti-inflammatory agent than some over-the-counter treatments used to fight inflammation.*
Curcumin is also known for its antioxidant properties. Oxidative damage is a common cause of many age-related degenerative diseases. Curcumin helps by blocking free radicals that contribute to oxidative damage.* It also helps stimulate the body’s natural antioxidant defenses.
You can pick up turmeric at most major grocery stores or add a high-quality curcumin supplement to your diet to get the most out of this wonder-spice.
Of note, turmeric supplements often contain black pepper extract to enhance the absorption of curcumin in the body. If you’re consuming turmeric as a spice, pair it with black pepper for enhanced activation.
Not only does the smell of cinnamon put you in a good mood, but it also offers a whole host of health benefits.
It’s hypothesized that cinnamon can help support healthy blood sugar levels, commonly known among people with diabetes. It does this by interfering with digestive enzymes and slowing the breakdown of carbohydrates in the bloodstream. A compound in cinnamon can also act on cells by mimicking insulin, improving the glucose absorption in the cells.
In ancient times, this inner bark of a tree called Cinnamomum was so rare and valuable that it was regarded as a gift fit for kings. These days, cinnamon is more readily available in virtually all supermarkets. If health benefits are your goal, it’s best to pick up Ceylon cinnamon instead of Cassia cinnamon or other varieties.
You can add this simply delicious spice to your coffee, cereals, desserts, or even savory dishes to enjoy its health benefits.
Garlic has been an integral ingredient in kitchens around the world for centuries and remains one of the most widely used vegetables. Besides adding a delicious flavor and aroma to dishes, garlic has several curative and medicinal properties thanks to its antibacterial and antiseptic nature.
These medicinal properties of garlic can be attributed to the compound allicin. It’s also loaded with minerals like phosphorus, zinc, potassium, and magnesium. Multiple studies with garlic also show that it’s good for your lungs, brain, and heart.
Try this tasty plant roasted, raw, or sauteed in just about any savory dish you can imagine.
With its distinct flavor profile, basil is one of the most widely grown herbs in the world. It’s a predominant ingredient of Mediterranean diets. It’s also gaining popularity in other parts of the world like India, Asia, and Africa.
Basil is an excellent herb for digestion. It has a compound called eugenol in its leaves with anti-inflammatory properties and benefits for the digestive tract. It also aids digestion by balancing the acid within the stomach and restoring the body’s optimal pH level.
This healing herb also protects the body against free-radical damage. Basil contains two major water-soluble antioxidants: orientin and vicenin. Studies suggest these antioxidants help protect cellular structure, delay skin aging, and strengthen the immune system.
Basil is commonly featured in Italian dishes, including pesto, pizza, and pasta. With the right ingredients, these can all be healthy additions to your diet.
Native to India, China, and Southeast Asia, ginger has not only been used to add flavor to the regions’ cuisines, but also as a medicinal herb. Ginger can be enjoyed in multiple forms: as a whole root, in powdered form, or as a dried root.
If you feel a cold or sore throat coming on, tea brewed with ginger can provide instant relief. This is due to ginger’s diaphoretic properties, meaning it will warm you from the inside and promote perspiration.
Ginger has a potent anti-inflammatory compound called gingerol. Gingerol helps relieve pain and is especially helpful in cases of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
Gingerols prevent inflammation by inhibiting the formation of inflammatory cytokines, the chemical messengers of the immune system.
Ginger is also used to alleviate discomfort and pain in the stomach. It can be used to eliminate excess gas from the digestive system and prevent bloating.
If you experience motion sickness or nausea, chewing on a piece of ginger or having some ginger tea may help reduce your symptoms.
Black pepper is among the most commonly used spices in the world. In ancient times, some countries even used it as a currency.
Ground peppercorns have a sharp and spicy taste. They can boost the flavor of any dish they’re added to, and it’s not uncommon to find the spice on the dining tables of many households right next to the salt.
While used in cuisines worldwide for its cherished flavor, black pepper has a host of health benefits.
It also contains a substance called piperine, which eases digestion and stimulates the stomach to secrete more hydrochloric acid that helps digest proteins in food. Research suggests piperine may also help improve brain health and mood disorders.
Finally, the outer coat of pepper contains phytonutrients that help improve metabolism, potentially aiding in weight management.
Nutmeg is an exotic spice valued for its sweet aroma. It’s grouped under the category of aphrodisiacs.
Nutmeg has a calming effect when consumed in small doses. Its sleep-inducing properties make it a popular choice in Ayurveda for treating insomnia. A pinch of nutmeg in a glass of warm water or milk can produce profound de-stressing effects.
The essential oils found in nutmeg have a carminative effect on our bodies, meaning they help relieve gas. As a result, adding nutmeg to your food can help relieve symptoms of diarrhea, constipation, and bloating.
As an adaptogen, nutmeg can be both a stimulant and a sedative. When the body is stressed, nutmeg can help calm your stress response. When you feel down, it can act as a stimulant.
Nutmeg can also help with detoxification by flushing out toxins from the liver and kidneys.
It’s important to note that overconsumption of nutmeg can lead to toxicity and health complications, so consume this spice in moderation
Cumin is a staple spice in Indian, African, and Mexican cuisines. It’s predominantly used in two forms: as the whole, dried seeds or as ground powder. It has an earthy, rich taste and releases a warm, citrusy aroma. In addition to its flavor, cumin comes with a myriad of health benefits.
Cumin seeds are rich in antioxidants. They contain flavonoids, alkaloids, and phenols that are recognized as potent antioxidants. As mentioned earlier, antioxidants help lower the damage caused by oxidative stress.
Highly carminative in nature, cumin seeds are great for digestion. The seeds have high magnesium and sodium content, known to benefit digestion and provide relief from stomach discomfort.
Cumin seeds are also a good source of iron. This mineral can promote a healthy menstrual cycle and help relieve anemia symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, and cognitive malfunction.
Furthermore, key nutrients in cumin, including iron, essential oils, vitamin C, and vitamin A, help boost immunity throughout the seasons.
Reap the wonderful health benefits of cumin by adding it to savory dishes like soups, rice, beans, and much more.
Packed with bioactive compounds and nutrients, it’s no wonder that cloves have been used for thousands of years in India and China—not only as a spice but as a medicine for many ailments.
Pro tip: You can blend equal parts of all the spices mentioned above and store them in a jar. Add a teaspoon of this mixture to your curries and other savory dishes to reap the benefits of all these wonderful spices.
Building your spice collection can be an overwhelming yet enjoyable task. Whether you’re new to the kitchen or a professional chef, this article will act as a starter kit of the best spices and herbs to support almost all of your frequently used recipes. Some may even swear that these are must-haves.
These healthy spices include turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, basil, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, cumin, and cloves. They not only add flavor to your food but also come with a host of health benefits. Loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, these spices help reduce oxidative damage caused by free radicals. When eaten in moderation and consistently, they boost immunity, alleviate symptoms of some lifestyle conditions, and are a cost-effective way to stay on top of your health.
Ramya Satheesh - Contributing Writer, Physician’s Choice