Monday, May 19, 2014

The Health Benefit of Cooking with Spices

picture provided by our healthy diets

Hey Everyone!

I've had the most wonderfully spectacular weekend working with dried herbs and spices. Danielle has also been working on some delicious recipes that she will be featuring later this week! I am very excited to get a sneak peak at what she has been creating in her kitchen.

You all know by now that I am from the Midwest. Stereotypically Minnesotans are thought of as respectful (Minnesota Nice) with a strong sense of community and love for all foods without flavor. Although presently the Twin Cities has become extremely culturally diverse our state was originally inhabited by the Germans, Scandinavians and Irish- all of which use vinegar as their main seasoning. I grew up hearing the phrase "Minnesota Spicy"- which meant whatever you find void of heat minus 50. I am not trying to bash on my home state but we do have a way of being a bit afraid of the unknown when it comes to seasoning. My grandfather in particular was very sensitive to strong flavors in his foods- always complaining about how he preferred his food without "the green stuff" or how "it would taste better without all the garlic".

However, I grew up in a household that really embraced the culturally diverse food selection in Minneapolis. We were always trying the newest restaurants and exploring new recipes in our own kitchen. My mom in particular has always loved to experiment with foods outside of her comfort zone. This meaning we were not afraid of spice. My step dad grows over nine different types of peppers and my moms herb garden is absolutely unique including Vietnamese coriander and Egyptian green onion.

Over the past couple years there has been an increased interest in leading a healthy lifestyle. People have seen that choosing to make good decisions about their health might mean the difference between life and death. I have noticed over the past couple years there has been a lot of "talk" about herbs and spices in your food and the added health benefits.

We spent some time last week exploring the medicinal uses for some herbs but this week I thought I would turn up the heat and talk about those herbs and spices that tend to pack a punch. Just in time too we will be featuring Gray Duck Chai on Wednesday and they have a spicy and delicious tea that includes many of these spices which have such great medicinal characteristics.

I have focused my attention on ten of my favorite spicy herbs I tend to use often in my kitchen. There are many many more but I thought it would be great to start here.

1. Cinnamon-
 Cinnamon is an herb that comes from the branches and bark of the cinnamomum trees that are native in the Caribbean, South America, and Southeast Asia. Cinnamon is sweet and spicy and is most often seen in baking. It is also used in curries, chai, and stewed dishes. It adds depth of flavor and color. Cinnamon can be used to help treat muscle spasms, vomiting, diarrhea, the common cold, loss of appetite, and it helps reduce inflammation.

2. Black Pepper-
Black pepper is the fruit of the plant from the Piperaceae family. Black pepper has a very strong earthy flavor and can add heat without the lasting burn to most foods. Pepper can increase the hydrochloric acid production in the stomach which helps aid digestion in acts as an anti-bacterial to break down the proteins associated with certain bacterium. Black pepper is also a great source of manganese, iron, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C. All of which are necessary vitamins and minerals we need to keep our bodies functioning

3. Ginger- 
Ginger is a root that is aromatic, sweet and spicy. Like cinnamon it is used in baking as well as in savory cooking. Ginger is magnificent for calming the stomach. It aids in digestion and has characteristics that are used to help calm the stomach. The root can also help  when fighting a cold, it acts as a decongestant and anti-histamine.

4. Nutmeg-
Nutmeg is the fruit from the Myristica tree. These trees are indigenous to Indonesian islands.  The active principles in nutmeg have many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines as anti-fungal, anti-depressant, aphrodisiac, and digestive properties.

5. Hot Chili Peppers -
 This is the plant that puts fire on your tongue and maybe even a tear in your eye when you eat spicy Mexican, simmering Szechuan, smoldering Indian, or torrid Thai food. Red chili peppers, such as cayenne, have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body's ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance integral to the formation of blood clots.

 6. Coriander-
The fruit of the coriander plant contains two seeds which, when dried, are the portions used as the dried spice. Coriander is high in vitamins A, K and C. It also has great anti-bacterial properties that in some cases have shown to boost the system to fight against foreign intruders in the body such as Salmonella.

7. Cardamom-
Native to the Middle East and North Africa cooking cardamom is a very fragrant herb. Cardamom is found in pods and a little pinch can go a long way. As cardamom is a diuretic fiber and potassium rich spice, it is very good for people with high blood pressure as it lower downs the elevated blood pressure level in the body. It is also known as an anti-spasmatic and is used in some culture as a natural way to get rid of those nasty hiccups.

 8. Cumin-
An herb that many associate with Latin American foods, but it is also widely used in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. In traditional herbal medicine, cumin is used as a diuretic and to treat stomach upset and flatulence. It is thought to promote a healthy digestive system. Cumin stimulates menstruation, and also can be added to gargles to treat swollen tonsils and sore throats. Poultices of cumin are used to treat swellings of the breasts or testicles.

9. Garlic-
Garlic is an amazing herb. While it is absolutely delicious it has many many uses medicinally.  Garlic contains a large amount of sulfur that in the body can help metabolize iron,  and help blood vessel and cell health. It also contains selenium which research has shown can help keep blood sugar levels at a constant. Allium vegetables like garlic are also high in manganese, vitamins C, B6 and B1, along with calcium.

10. Mustard-  
Mustard seed is part of the cruciferous vegetables. They are known to help aid digestion along with some anti-inflammatory properties. Mustard seeds are also a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids which are needed for many things in the body including heart health. 

I hope that this can provide you with a great guide in your exploration into the world of spicy herbs. They can be a great way to add flavor to any dish without the addition of table salt. Come back tomorrow to get an inside look into making your own homemade bitters.

Disclaimer: PRTLIVING (and all of those feature and interviewed) is limited to providing self-help education in natural health matters and advocating of a healthy lifestyle. If you have a medical problem, please seek the advice of your medical doctor.

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