I recently read an article that talked about food and health and it intrigued me to look into this further. First I will talk about spices that you may already have, or you should think about buying and incorporating into your diet. If you are not sure how to use these spices, a good resource on how to incorporate them is a book called The Spice Companion by author Lior Lev Sercarz.

The first one I will discuss is celery seed. I am a big fan of this in potato salad, but it also works well in vinaigrettes, brines and with poached white fish. Celery seed has been used as a cold remedy for thousands of years, but more recently it has been used to treat gout, arthritis, muscle spasms and high blood pressure. Celery seed also can work as a diuretic. It has some natural salt, so be cautious when seasoning the dish.

Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties as well as anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties. Turmeric blends well with fruit, especially in smoothies and citrus vinaigrettes. It also pairs well with cauliflower, potatoes and hearty vegetables.

One of my favorite spices is cumin. Cumin is a very complex spice with many flavor profiles. It has an earthy flavor with hints of nuts and pepper. Cumin has the ability to aid in digestion, which can lead to a reduction of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Cumin is very high in iron, which helps people with anemia and helps promote growth in children. Cumin pairs well with meat as in chili, with roasted vegetables and braised or broiled poultry and is a great spice to use with lamb.

Cinnamon, not one of my favorite spices, is known to be an anti-oxidant. Anti-oxidants prevent or delay certain cell damage. Other diseases it can affect include diabetes, as well as fighting viruses, which is good since antibiotics do nothing against viruses, and cinnamon may work to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Although many people think of cinnamon for desserts, it pairs well with savory foods as well. The pairing works especially well with roasted items like lamb, tagine, squash and surprisingly it works in tomato sauce.

Aleppo peppers help with vision and bone health due to the high vitamin A content. The peppers are a good source of anti-oxidants, which work against many chronic diseases. Additionally, they help with digestion and work to improve the immune system. This spice works very well on pizza, especially ones with olive. Aleppo peppers also flavor fish, guacamole and pasta, and if your tastes go towards flavorful desserts, pair it with chocolate chip cookies or other chocolate confectionaries. The Aleppo pepper is named for the city of Aleppo in Syria and they have mild to moderate heat, but great undertones of fruit.

The last spice I will discuss is green cardamom. This spice is known to positively affect high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and digestive issues. Cardamom seeds come in pods, which have to be opened to release the seeds. The seeds then should be ground before adding to dishes. Ground cardamom is available, and while not as fresh as making your own, is much more convenient. The flavor of cardamom is very complex. It contains flavor profiles including pepper, citrus, sweetness and floral. The ground cardamom is often added to iced tea as well as chicken soup. It also pairs well with rice pilaf, apple sauce and vanilla or chocolate pudding. 

Some other well-known spices that can make you healthier include rosemary, which can affect mental focus and fight foodborne bacteria. Saffron is known to improve people’s mood, but is very expensive. Sage is known to improve memory and can soothe sore throats.

There are many spice shops to make sure you are getting the freshest spices. As the spices age they lose some of their healing properties so you should purchase in small quantities if possible. They should be stored in a dry cool place, never in cold storage such as the refrigerator or freezer; should never be stored by sunlight, humidity or heat; and should be stored in airtight containers and replaced after one year.

Next month in part two of this article I will discuss foods that help improve your health.