Nutrition: Culinary herbs & spices

Tuesday 08 May 2018

As a result of doing this blog it soon became very clear what a huge subject this is, because of this I have decided to keep it to quite general information with an emphasis on the practical applications with the understanding that we are encouraged to use herbs and spices in our cooking for many reasons which will become clear as you read the blog.

Herbs and spices have a long history and have been used in many different ways for many different things.

  • They were used for food preservation and to help mask the unpleasant flavour of some foods that did not keep so well.
  • They were of course used medicinally, something that we all know and this practice is carried on today particularly by the Herbalists who use them in their practice of healing. Many of us know for example that ginger aids digestion and cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar.
  • The more rare and expensive spices were even used as a form of currency.
  • Some were considered a luxury commodity reserved for the wealthy, one that allowed them to show off their fortune and social status.

So we could say that they have been used for both affluence and influence.  Their Influence continues today.

Health benefits
A vast number of research papers have shown that they are now thought to have a wide range of anti -oxidant, anti- inflammatory and cancer cell growth inhibiting and detoxifying actions. These have been well documented and it is for these very good reasons that it is recommended that they are used on a regular basis as part of a healthy diet.

Turmeric is one of the ones that has caused the most excitement in cancer circles due to the very impressive results that have come out of labs. In fact many nutritional therapists believe that all cancer patients should take Turmeric as a matter of course.

I have also looked at garlic another well documented spice that has been shown to be hugely beneficial to us

Herbs and spices are grouped according to their properties.

Labiates the family of leafy herbs that include mint, thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil and rosemary have been shown to contain essential oils with anti -inflammatory properties called Terpenoids. They are thought to help cancer cells to self-destruct and may be used to reinforce conventional cancer treatments.

Apiums, the group of herbs that include parsley, celery and celeriac. These have been shown to contain antioxidant compounds such as Apigenin whose anti -tumour properties have been shown in laboratory studies to inhibit angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels that supply tumours with nutrients.

Other herbs and spices with anti- cancer properties include Capsaicin found in cayenne and red chilli peppers. Also fennel, fenugreek, ginger, rosemary and cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, bay leaf, sage and black pepper have all been shown to be beneficial.


Reducing use of salt  I think that their benefits also lie in the fact that they can be used to flavour food and so allow us to reduce the amount of salt that we use. (salt is acid forming and it is preferable to have a more alkaline body) You can find out more on this  from a previous blog Acid V Alkaline

Loss of sense of taste? They are also very useful for those who lose their sense of taste. Using herbs and spices can really pep up a meal and may help to overcome this problem. I have actually met many people who have had chemotherapy who actually crave spicy foods. I do know of course that some have to avoid them because they do stimulate peristalsis and a problem for those who get diarrhoea.

Cooking with herbs and spices
When using them in cooking there is a basic rule of thumb. Fresh herbs should always be added at the end of the cooking time to preserve their colour and freshness while dried herbs and spices should be added at the beginning of the cooking time so that they have the opportunity to release their full aroma and flavour. In many Indian recipes the spices are toasted and then ground or made into a paste before use to intensify their flavour. Dries herbs and spices are such a good store cupboard ingredient as once you have got them they will keep for months and are always handy.

There are of course many simple ways to use herbs and spices

  • My favourite is to add cinnamon to fruit and yogurt, or on a baked or stewed apple.
  • Grated nutmeg on the top of a rice pudding.
  • Dried cumin and coriander added to a carrot soup. I use equal quantities.
  • Fresh chopped herbs added to a salad. Basil or coriander seem good for this.
  • Bake a piece of fish or chicken in a foil parcel but add some fresh rosemary or thyme sprigs to the parcel with the seasoning.
  • Of course basil is great with tomatoes whether it is a soup or just freshly sliced tomatoes sprinkled with a little olive oil, seasoning and freshly chopped basil on top.
  • Parsley, which grows very easily, can be chopped and added as a topping on almost anything. Or made into a soup or a sauce.
  • Some fresh root ginger peeled and diced and put in a mug topped up with boiling water and sipped. This is very good for aiding digestion and relieving the feelings of nausea
  • Basically anything goes and it is worth experimenting to find combinations that you enjoy.

For those who are a little more adventurous here are 2 delicious marinades that you might like to try.

Marinade for a Morocco Chermoula. In North Africa the chermoula is a popular emulsion made of fresh herbs and oil and used as a marinade for oily fish, chicken or vegetables.

6-8 tbsp of fresh coriander chopped.
3 tbsp of fresh parsley
3 tbsp of olive oil.
2 cloves of garlic roughly chopped.
2 tbsp of paprika
1 tsp of each of cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt, freshly grated ginger.
Juice of ½ lemon.

Simply blend all the ingredients together and use as a marinade. It will store in the fridge in a sealed container for a week.

Marinade 2 Another Marinade idea which I use to make a vegetable tagine but it is equally as good baked on top of a piece of chicken or fish.

2 red onion peeled and roughly chopped.
3 garlic cloves.
Small knob of fresh root ginger
Juice of 3 lemons.
100mls of olive oil
1 tbsp each of honey, cumin, paprika, and turmeric.
1 tsp of hot chilli powder.
handful of fresh coriander.

Simply whiz all the ingredient s together in a blender and use. This will also keep well in the fridge for up to a week.

 See also: garlic blog (boosting immunity 2) July 2012

Acid v alkaline  blog  June 2012 

Blog originally written by Caroline October 2013

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