The History and Health Benefits of Spices
The History and Health Benefits of Spices
Did you know that spices are health-boosting powerhouses? We use them to add incredible flavors to our food but many also have fascinating historical stories!
A Bite-Sized Spicy History
“Spices are the flowers, fruit, seeds, bark, and roots typically of tropical plants and range from brown to black to red in color.”
- PennState Extension
According to the University of York’s archeologist Hayley Saul, the earliest known use of spices dates back to 6,000 years ago - right before farming was well-established in northern Europe. These Stone Age chefs used spices for flavor, medicinal purposes, and signs of status. Around 1550 B.C., an ancient Egyptian scroll referred to spices as medicine, specifically citing anise, mustard, saffron, cinnamon, and cassia among others. This scroll is compelling evidence that the spice trade could have existed as far back as 3,500 years ago!
The early Romans also incorporated spices into their diets and medicines as well. Because they witnessed the incredible benefits, they were influential in the introduction and spread in popularity of spices throughout the rest of Europe.
Then Spices Sailed “Across the Pond”
In 1492, Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the “New World” while in search of a shorter water route to Asia for trading items such as cinnamon and black pepper. As Europeans began to colonize what would someday be known as The United States, they brought their adoration for spices with them. The US entered the spice trade in the late 1800s and has since become the largest importer and consumer of spices in the world.
Ask Not What You Can Do For Spices, But What Spices Can Do For You
Spices are known to support heart health, weight loss, immune health, disease prevention, and are anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants.
This sweet and warming spice can help lower blood sugar and has heart-healthy benefits of helping to reduce high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Cinnamon has also been linked to being beneficial for diabetics since its sweet flavor may help quench cravings by reducing the need for added sugar in your favorite dishes.
Meal Tip: Cinnamon is delicious sprinkled on oatmeal, sweet potatoes, stews, and toast!
Rosemary can be a great herb for anyone wanting to boost memory and concentration while relieving stress! It contains high levels of antioxidants and has antimicrobial properties as well. Studies have also shown that rosemary may potentially aid in neutralizing some of the carcinogenic effects of grilled meat when it is used in a marinade.
Meal Tip: Rosemary is excellent on any Pasta Dish, it also pairs well with Quinoa or Zucchini.
Turmeric is correlated with a reduction in inflammation which causes discomfort and illness. Some studies have even shown it to be more powerful than anti-inflammatory drugs for conditions like arthritis. One of the many components of turmeric is called Curcumin. Some research suggests that this substance improves brain function and reduces inflammation in the brain which could be linked to Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Curcumin has also been linked to improvements in memory and a reduction in cognitive decline. For those with arthritis, curcumin may also help reduce pain and swelling. Last but not least, Curcumin contains anti-cancer properties and may aid in reducing heart disease.
Meal Tip: Use this powerhouse spice by sprinkling it on sauteed vegetables and tacos or by including it in curry!
Ginger is mainly known for its stomach-calming effects. It could be helpful in relieving nausea, an upset stomach, and diarrhea. It also has anti-inflammatory effects and may assist with pain management.
Here at Peter Rubi, we LOVE Garlic! Aging and diet are correlated to plaque buildup and the hardening of arteries. Fatty deposits made of cholesterol and other substances could build up on the inside of artery walls. As buildup increases overtime, artery walls may become narrower, making it easier for them to become clogged. Smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol might also contribute to this. These determinants may increase susceptibility to heart attacks and strokes. Studies have shown that consumption of garlic may decrease these risks by reducing cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Garlic has also been correlated with keeping these blood vessels flexible and promoting immune system health!
Meal Tip: Be sure to let your garlic sit for 10 minutes after chopping for maximum health benefits!
Cayenne may aid in easing pain due to a substance in it called capsaicin. Capsaicin has been shown to reduce the number of pain signals sent to your brain. It often works on diabetes-related nerve damage and pain caused by arthritis. It may also help with reducing ulcer growth by restricting the growth of ulcer-causing bacteria. In several other studies, cayenne has also been shown to reduce appetite and increase fat burning.
Meal Tip: Add it to soups, stews, lentils, hummus, rice dishes, or curry.
General Rule of Thumb:
Grilling or frying food with spices could decrease their nutritional value! Stewing or simmering spices is our favorite way to cook with them which potentially increases their antioxidant levels!
Now it’s up to you to research those powerhouse spices in your kitchen cabinet! Get creative with spices and discover new ways to cook with them by adding them to dishes and spicing up your drinks and favorite recipes!
About the Author
Hi! My name is Joni Graves, the daughter of John and Maria Graves. I graduated from Wheaton College in December 2017 and worked abroad in ministry for the past two years in Switzerland and Nepal. I am now back home working for my parent's store as the marketing assistant! I love the new creative challenges, being back home with family, helping out the family business, and eating healthy, home-cooked meals again. Thanks for reading! I hope this was encouraging :)