Get spicy this Autumn!
Top 10 spices to warm you up as the days cool down
The evenings are drawing in and the days are cooling down, it’s time to think about changing our diet to match.
Spices have a host of health benefits and are deliciously warming at this time of year. Here’s our top 10 and how to use them:
A popular and versatile spice containing the active compound, cinnamaldehyde. Cinnamon is probably best known for its balancing effect on blood sugar, where it has been shown in studies to be very effective. It’s also a powerful antioxidant and has shown positive effects on the heart, including cholesterol and triglycerides.
HOW TO USE: Cinnamon can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Try sprinkling it on your morning porridge or using it to season your evening meal.
A beautifully warming spice for both sweet and savoury cookery, Ginger has been used in Asian culture for thousands of years to treat nausea and stomach upsets. Research has shown it to be effective against both pregnancy sickness and motion sickness. The anti-inflammatory gingerols may also help against osteoarthritis and muscle pain.
HOW TO USE: Ginger can be chewed fresh, added to stir fries or made into a soothing tea
Cayenne is a type of chili pepper common in Mexican, Cajun and Southwestern American dishes. It contains a substance called capsaicin which can provide pain relief by reducing the number of pain signals sent to the brain. It has also been shown to regulate appetite and promote fat burning – although the results are less effective in people who have built up a tolerance to it.
HOW TO USE: Try it in chili, soups, stews or hot chocolate. One gram added to a meal is enough to regulate appetite and increase fat burning in those who do not consume it regularly
Turmeric is widely known as an anti-inflammatory thanks to the active ingredient curcumin. As well as helping with joint pain, research also shows the anti-inflammatory effects may benefit the brain - reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and depression, and improving memory when taken long-term. Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant.
HOW TO USE: Turmeric is commonly found in curry dishes, and can also be rubbed onto roasted vegetables and meats, sprinkled into stir fry dishes, or taken as a tea.
5. Black pepper
Black pepper is known as the king of spices! It contains piperine, which aids digestion by assisting protein breakdown and promoting nutrient absorption. In particular it has been shown to boost the effect of turmeric via the absorption of curcumin. Studies also show black pepper to be a powerful antioxidant as well as promoting weight loss
HOW TO USE: Versatile and popular, black pepper can be used to season any savoury dishes. Grind it over vegetables and pasta dishes or mix it into scrambled eggs, mashed potato, stews, soups and sauces.
The dried and ground fruit of a West Indian tree, Allspice has a long history in folk medicine in the Caribbean and Central America. Allspice has carminative properties which aid digestion and can help relive gas, bloating, and stomach upsets. It also contains quercetin, an antioxidant flavonoid with anti-inflammatory effects.
HOW TO USE: Allspice is delicious in stews, soups, roast meats and breads.
This popular spice is made from the seeds of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia. It can be bought whole and grated, but is more commonly sold as a ground spice. As with many other spices, nutmeg has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also has a history of traditional use for boosting libido.
HOW TO USE: Nutmeg’s warm, slightly nutty flavour can be used to enhance curries, sauces and desserts, but is also perfect in drinks like mulled wine and chai tea.
An aromatic spice popular during the colder months, Cloves are the flower buds of the evergreen tree Syzygium aromaticum. They are very rich in Manganese - an essential mineral for maintaining brain function and building strong bones, while the active ingredient – eugenol - is a powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial which is effective at promoting oral health.
HOW TO USE: Dried cloves are a great addition to baked fruit dishes or fruity curries, and bring warmth to meats, fruits, drinks, cakes and pies.
Paprika is extremely high in carotenoids and just one tablespoon provides almost 20% of the daily requirement of Vitamin A. The carotenoids in paprika include beta carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein – these antioxidants are particularly beneficial to eye health, with long term use being associated with a lower risk of cataracts and age related macular degeneration.
HOW TO USE: Paprika can be used to season grilled vegetables and rubbed onto meat. Due to its distinctive colour, it is also commonly sprinkled over boiled eggs, potato salads, and creamy sauces.
Cardamom has been used for centuries across the Middle East, both in cooking and as a medicine. It belongs to the same family as ginger, and has similar anti-inflammatory and digestive properties. In Ayurvedic medicine it is traditionally used for strengthening and detoxifying the liver.
HOW TO USE: Cardamom’s distinctive flavour complements both sweet and savoury dishes. The seeds or pods can be added to curries, meat dishes and desserts, as well as used to flavour chai tea.
Getting the benefits of spices
The beneficial effects can be gained from fresh or dried spices, but beware that cooking at high temperatures (e.g. grilling or frying) can decrease the antioxidant properties while simmering, stewing or even microwaving preserve and may even enhance the effects. Most spices need to be taken regularly to gain maximum benefit, so get into the habit of seasoning your food generously with a variety of spices instead of adding salt or stock.
(Note: Some of the above are also available as supplements, but these should only be taken under the advice and guidance of a qualified professional)