Spicing things up

I held two spice classes this week for my food as medicine groups, looking at what benefits certain spices have to our health and how we can incorporate them into our daily lives.

Photo From Wikimedia commons

As well as tasting individual spices, we created a variety of blends from different countries and then tasted them in either applesauce, butternut squash or sweet potato - as vehicles for the spice, so you could get the true flavors.

Tasting stations at the ready!

The key spices we focused on were

  • cinnamon - great for diabetes
  • turmeric - anti-cancer and anti- inflammatory activity
  • black cumin - immune system boosting
  • cloves - toothache, mosquito repellent, anti-infection
  • cocoa - great source of flavonols which increase nitric oxide production, and help heart health
  • Plus we looked at those spices that can affect the Cancer "Master Switch" - NFkB
The blends we made we:
  • Chai tea - India - we actually made a tea-less version
  • La Kama from North Africa
  • Garam Masala - India
  • Golden Milk -India
  • Panch Phoron - India
  • Chinese five spice - China
  • Colombo Powder - Latin America
  • Quatre Epices - France
  • Hot Chocolate - Mexican
We then ended up with a chocolate tasting of 6 chocolates with cocoa contents of >75%.  I'll tell you more about that another day!


It was a great class.  People really started to focus on tasting carefully and identifying different flavor and whether spices predominated or harmonized. 
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New food of the week - fresh turmeric

I've posted about turmeric before and all it's wonderful health benefits. However, I've always used just the ground turmeric you buy in little spice bottles.


Our local Whole Foods now has fresh turmeric, so I thought I'd try that for my new food of the week this week.

It's a rhizome, like ginger but it looks a little grub-like when you see it - and not terribly appetizing....Anyhow, I scraped off the outer layer with a spoon (also the best way to remove the "skin" from ginger) and grated some on my salad, using a microplane.


I often sprinkle the dried ground spice on salads as it has so many health benefits so thought this would be a good test, without cooking it.

A couple of points to note. The smell as you grate it is divine.  So pungent. Makes you just want to eat it right away.


The vibrant orange color is gorgeous - but also quite persistent...says she typing with orange finger tips and a microplane that is now stained orange in the center!!!

But the taste is wonderful.  As a spice used in many curries, it doesn't remind me of curry flavors in it's fresh form.  Just interesting flavors that change the longer it is in your mouth.  It opens up many more uses to me - I can see myself adding it to cookies, creating a buzz like the little pink peppercorn cookies did.....

It is such a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-metastatic agent - especially if eaten with pepper.  Interestingly enough, I was recently reading about a curcumin supplement (which is a compound in turmeric)  that had higher absorption rates than regular curcumin supplements which as normally very low. I wanted to find out what they had done to increase it's absorption.  The secret was that they included more of the other compounds in turmeric in the formulation i.e. they made it more like the whole food instead of an isolate!  Seems a perfect result that suggests that you eat the whole food and forget the supplement!

But don't go overboard with your consumption.  Your maximum intake should be 1 tsp a day because turmeric has high levels of oxalates in it, which can increase your risk of painful kidney stones.

Did you try a new food this week?
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Food as Medicine - Turmeric

Turmeric is a rhizome plant of the ginger family.  The rhizomes (roots) are boiled for several hours, then dried and ground to produce a bright yellow powder.  This powder is the principal spice in Indian, Persian and Thai curries.  It is also one of the most common ingredients used in ayruvedic medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties. No other food ingredient has such a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.


The principle molecule responsible for this effect is Curcumin.  In laboratory studies, in addition to its general antiinflammatory effect, curcumin also inhibits growth in a large number of cancers including colon, prostate, lung, liver, stomach, breast, ovarian, brain and leukemia.

At the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, scientists have studied turmeric as they would any new pharmaceutical.  While there were some skeptics that such positive lab results came from a "food", progress has continued and several clinical trials  looking at turmeric as a means to prevent and treat cancer are currently under way.

But before you go out and eat a teaspoon full of turmeric (beware - it's spicy!), this food also illustrates the benefits of culinary traditions in comparison to the consumption of isolated substances.  It has been found that turmeric ingested alone, or in capsules, is very poorly absorbed by the digestive tract. But when it is mixed with black pepper - as it always is in a curry - this increases it's absorption by 2,000 percent!

Recommended usage*:

  • mix 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil and a generous pinch of black pepper.  Add to soups or salad dressings or pour over cooked vegetables.  If the taste is a little bitter, try adding a few drops of agave nectar too.  
  • sprinkle turmeric and freshly ground pepper on/in hummus or other dips
*This should not be construed as medical advice. 
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