I really love spices! But is there a stronger word for love? I’m obsessed, and I like to use exotic spices in almost every meal I cook. Seriously—everything from pancakes and compotes, to chicken tikka masala and risotto. I even incorporate spices in drinks like hot wine and teas. There’s nothing that I won’t spice up if given the opportunity.
During my trip to Sri Lanka in November, I was really looking forward to trying all of the great, quality flavors the country has to offer. After all, Sri Lanka is famous for its excellent teas and spices.
It’s difficult to express just how happy I was when I stumbled upon this quaint little market in Kandy. It was chock full of delicious aromas coming from stalls that were selling all the things that I adore so much—curry, cumin, ginger, turmeric, chili, and cinnamon to name a few.
The best part was that everything was so cheap! I walked out of there with an overflowing bag of seasonings that night.
If you’re crazy about spices too, then the following information will make you love them even more!
Spices Are Linked to Powerful Health Benefits
Aside from their interesting and delicious flavors, the great thing about spices is that they’re full of powerful nutrients, which offer numerous health benefits.
They’re rich in antioxidants, which help fight oxidative stress. They have anti-inflammatory and anti-infectious properties, as well as cancer-fighting abilities. It’s no wonder that for centuries Indian and Sri Lankan cuisines have incorporated so much spice—it’s all about healing.
Let’s shed some light on the amazing health benefits of my top seven favorite spices.
Health Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric is a very interesting, healthy spice. And while it’s excellent on its own, it’s worth mentioning that when you mix it with pepper, its antioxidant properties significantly intensify.
Turmeric is well known for its powerful anti-inflammatory (1) and antioxidant (2) properties. It protects against cell oxidation, and, as a result, also helps to prevent many diseases such as Alzheimer’s (3) and cancer (4). In his book, “Anticancer”, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber classifies it in his list of disease-control foods.
This remarkable spice also has stimulating, purifying, healing, antibacterial (5), analgesic, and aphrodisiac properties! It’s also quite famous for its digestive properties (6). This spice is effective in cases of allergies and rheumatism (7), as well.
There’s more—turmeric helps to improve blood circulation and body flexibility, it fights diabetes (8), reduces anxiety, and is said to even have a slimming effect. So, even if you find it slightly bitter, don’t neglect it.
As mentioned, these advantages develop even more if you add a little pepper to the turmeric. For all spices belonging to the Zingiberaceae family, including turmeric and ginger, the effects of their active ingredients increase by adding small amounts of pepper.
Summary: Turmeric contains curcumin, which is the powerful substance with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s linked to improved brain function and may be useful in preventing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other age-related chronic diseases. Its benefits are countless, and you should definitely use it without hesitation!
You can use turmeric in Indian dishes, stews, vegetables, soups, and with meats.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Mmm, cinnamon… its smell is far more bewitching than that of turmeric. Remarkably aromatic, it’s also full of virtues. It is, by far, my favorite spice!
Did you know that cinnamon is made from the inner bark of trees? It has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years.
There are two types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon, which is considered to be true cinnamon; and Cassia cinnamon, the most commonly found variety and the one you buy from the supermarket.
Now, regarding the health benefits—cinnamon is a very powerful spice:
It is a strong antioxidant, helping to eliminate toxins from the body, and has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and even anti-cancer properties. (8) Some studies show it can be effective against the HI-virus. (9)
Finally, according to a study published this summer in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, this spice also improves memory. (12)
Summary: Cinnamon is one of the most popular spices in the world. The cinnamaldehyde is the substance which is thought to be responsible for most of cinnamon’s health benefits—such as the anti-inflammatory or digestive properties, and the reduction of the risk of heart disease.
You can use cinnamon in desserts, yogurts, rice pudding, compotes, cakes, gingerbread, tea, and coffee.
Health Benefits of Ginger
Ginger is among the healthiest and tastiest spices in the world. It originated from China, and it’s actually the root of the plant that we use in our food and drink.
Now, the legend has it that ginger is a powerful aphrodisiac. Unfortunately, that has never been scientifically proven, but research shows it does have lots of other health benefits.
Like in turmeric, the antioxidants and bioactive compounds in ginger may improve brain function and protect against Alzheimer’s disease. (18)
It also improves blood circulation and lowers cholesterol. (19)
Summary: Ginger is high in gingerol, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. You can use ginger if you have gastric problems, muscle pain, or osteoarthritis pain. It may also improve heart disease risk factors and lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
You can use ginger in marinades, fish, meat, rice, vinaigrettes, and tea.
Health Benefits of Cardamom
From the same family as turmeric and ginger, cardamom is thought to be a stimulating aphrodisiac. It comes from India, but people use it all over the world.
It’s a seed with a green shell and a slightly lemony, minty taste used in both sweet and savory dishes.
Very stimulating, cardamom has many indications against indigestion and gastrointestinal disorders (20). It’s shown to decrease blood pressure (21) and may help fight cancer cells by increasing the activity of certain enzymes (22).
Many studies have been conducted on mice and in test tubes, and the results are rather promising. For example, a study led in 2015 showed that the γ-Bisabolene, a certain compound in the spice, stopped oral cancer cells in test tubes from reproducing (23).
Summary: The seeds, oils, and extracts of cardamom have been used in traditional medicine for centuries and may be helpful for people with digestive problems. It may also help fight certain types of cancer cells.
You can use cardamom in Indian curries and stews, gingerbread cookies, bread, and coffee.
Health Benefits of Cumin
Cumin is a spice found in many Mediterranean, South American, and Asian dishes. Both the cumin seed and ground cumin are used in these cuisines. Because it has a strong aniseed flavor, only a small pinch of cumin is enough to spice up your meal.
Cumin is very effective in curing digestive problems such as stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea (24). It may also help with digestion when you add it to foods that can sometimes be difficult to digest, such as cabbage and dried vegetables.
Cumin is an excellent source of iron —just one teaspoon of cumin covers almost 20 percent of your daily needs (25). If you suffer from an iron deficiency, you should definitely think of adding some cumin to your diet.
Terpenes, phenols, flavonoids, and alkaloids are some of the compounds found in cumin that are known to be health-beneficial antioxidants (26). They have been linked to fighting heart disease and cancer (27) and may help with diabetes (28).
Also, black cumin can be useful in preventing bone fragility problems and osteoporosis (29).
Summary: Cumin is the seed of the Cuminum cyminum plant, and it’s incredibly effective against digestive problems. It contains a lot of iron and can be very useful to you if you suffer from iron deficiency. Like many other spices, its antioxidants are good for both your heart and blood circulation.
You can use cumin in rice, raw vegetables, dried vegetables, and cheese.
Health Benefits of Nutmeg
Nutmeg originates from Indonesia and gives a nutty, sweet taste to any dish.
With calming properties, nutmeg can have positive effects on your mood. Thanks to this, nutmeg can help you in many stressful situations and even help fight against depression (30).
Many ancient medicines have used nutmeg to fight insomnia. Ayurvedic medicine, for example, recommends drinking a glass of warm milk with a pinch of nutmeg in it just before going to sleep.
Summary: Nutmeg comes from the seed of the evergreen tree, Myristica fragrans. It has calming properties used to fight insomnia and depression for centuries. It also has antibacterial abilities that help to maintain good oral health.
You can use nutmeg in white sauces, fish, soups, and mashed potatoes.
Health Benefits of Saffron
Saffron is a reddish orange spice picked by hand, making it the most expensive spice on the planet. Saffron is used to both season and color food.
According to several studies, the consumption of saffron significantly reduces the symptoms of depression. It helps to calm the nerves and relieve anxiety (33).
Saffron may help relieve pain thanks to its anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities (34) and may help in the treatment of nervous system disorders (35).
Saffron may help with stomach disorders such as constipation, bloating, cramping, flatulence, and even ulcers (36).
Summary: Saffron comes from the plant called the saffron crocus. When used regularly, it has countless health benefits. It can help against depression, upset stomachs, pain, and heart diseases.
You can use saffron in paellas and risottos, but also in desserts such as chocolate cake.
Now that you know all the amazing health benefits of these delicious, remarkable spices, there is no doubt that you should add some to every meal! Consuming it every day yields undeniable benefits.
I recommend you buy whole, fresh, organic spices and grinding them up yourself. As with vegetables, the properties of fresh spices remain intact, while pre-ground spices are significantly less effective.
And you, what is your favorite spice?