Do you want to fight off an impending cold or flu? To keep your resistance up, try warming spices, which are some of the healthiest ingredients in nature's pharmacy.
Warming spices offer a myriad of benefits, including easing joint pain, improving circulation, and, according to Ayurvedic medicine, stimulating your agni, or inner fire, making you feel more alive and energetic.
Coincidentally, these spices -- curry, turmeric, cinnamon, annatto, chili powder, paprika, ginger, and saffron -- mirror the vibrant, defiant colors of the falling leaves. In the fall, everything comes together in a glorious burst of creativity. These balanced, one-dish entrees go along with the plan.
Healthy Spice Rack
Modern research is confirming what healers and traditional medicine practitioners have known for centuries: many spices aren't merely flavorful -- they're healthy, too. When consumed in medicinal amounts, here's what they can do.
It's the spice that gives curry powder and mustard its deep yellow color. Rich in antioxidants, turmeric has long been used for healing in India. Lately turmeric has been the most newsworthy of spices; researchers discovered that it may fight cancer, and that it contains a host of other healthy properties, including inflammation-fighting compounds called curcuminoids. Studies show that curcuminoids may help prevent Alzheimer's disease, joint inflammation, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Turmeric may also help reduce cholesterol and improve certain eye conditions, as well as heal skin infections when used topically.
The rust-colored seeds are a staple in Caribbean and Latin American cooking and have long been used for medicinal purposes. Annatto, or achiote, contains carotenoids often used to treat headaches, cancer, diabetes, inflammation, jaundice, and epilepsy. Some even consider it an aphrodisiac. In cooking, the slightly bitter, mild-tasting seeds are used primarily as a coloring agent and as a complement to spicy dishes.
For centuries, ginger has been used as a digestive tonic, an appetite stimulant, and a treatment for nausea caused by both motion sickness and morning sickness. Its active ingredients, gingerols and shogaols, help neutralize stomach acids. Research confirms ginger's anti-inflammatory properties; the spice shows promise in treating osteoarthritis and, topically, rheumatoid arthritis.
From the bark of a tropical evergreen, cinnamon stimulates the vital functions of the body. It counteracts congestion, aids circulation, eases nausea, and may be useful in the treatment of osteoarthritis and type 2 diabetes.
This blend of spices is mostly chili peppers, plus cumin, oregano, paprika, salt, and garlic powder. Most of the spice's health benefits are from the capsaicin in the red pepper. Capsaicin is most commonly used in skin creams to reduce pain, including that of osteoarthritis. It also has antioxidant and blood-thinning qualities.
Because of its high price and intense flavor, saffron is used sparingly in most recipes. Restraint also applies to its health benefits: Crocetin, the carotene that gives saffron its deep orange color, has potent antioxidant and anticancer qualities, but consuming large amounts of saffron can be detrimental to the central nervous system and kidneys.
A blend of spices that generally includes turmeric, cardamom, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper, curry powder has a wealth of health benefits. Like cinnamon and ginger, cardamom has a stimulating effect. Coriander is used as an herbal digestive aid; it's a natural diuretic, helps the body detoxify, and it eases nausea. Cumin stimulates circulation and can help relieve abdominal cramping. Fenugreek is used to treat indigestion, intestinal inflammation, and allergies.
This spice is made by grinding dried mild to slightly hot red peppers into a powder. Like chili powder, its benefits come from capsaicin, which has antioxidant properties and may help reduce blood-platelet stickiness.
Text by John Stark; recipes by Ying Chang Compestine; photographs by Maria Robledo