Take a trip to the Middle East and you’ll find all kinds of aromatic and medicinal culinary spices. Some you are already familiar with, such as cinnamon, ginger and cumin. However, there are a handful of super healthy spices that North Americans rarely use – and are definitely worth trying. So read up, stock up and get cooking some exotic tasting, medicinal cuisine!
Saffron – Derived from the dried threads of the S. crocus plant, this colourful spice is thought to help preserve healthy cells and have anti-carcinogenic (cancer-fighting) properties.[i] Saffron contains numerous antioxidant nutrients including, vitamin C and carotenoids, volatile oils such as limonene and minerals such as selenium and magnesium. It also contains safranal, and preliminary research suggests that safranal may help to protect eyesight and prevent macular degeneration.[ii]
Try it: Saffron has a potent flavour that is somewhat bitter but also sweet and just a pinch can be used to add kick to a variety of dishes. Try adding it to rice-pulov, rice-pudding and sweet Middle Eastern dishes; or use it to add colour and flavour to cakes, ice creams and beverages.
Sumac – Derived from the berries of sumac plants, sumac has a deep red-purple hue, and an anecdotal history of use for the treatment of respiratory and chest problems, the promotion of heart health, and the enhancement of digestion. Although these uses have yet to be scientifically proven, sumac has powerful and clinically proven antioxidant properties that helps protect your cells and DNA from free radical-induced damage.[iii] [iv]
Try it: Sumac has a lemony-tart flavour and it can be used in place of citrus in recipes. Add to any recipe that could use a tart kick! Sumac can also be used to make ‘lemonade,’ and it pairs well with chicken, seafood and hummus.
Coriander – These small seeds are derived from the same plant that yields cilantro (the leafy green herb), but the taste and benefits are different. Coriander seeds contain volatile oils, healthy fatty acids and phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring chemicals that function as disease-fighting antioxidants. Preliminary research suggests that coriander seeds may also help fight diabetes and reduce cholesterol levels.[v]
Try it: Coriander has a rich flavour, with an almost orange-like citrusy sweetness. It can be added to curries, salads, soups, or red peppers sauces. If you really want to get creative, try adding it to Egyptian duqqa (a mix of ground hazelnut and spices, used as a dip).
Cloves – These tiny, black, flower-like buds contain nutritious oils such as eugenol, which may help your body fight inflammation and detoxify environmental pollutants.[vi] Cloves also have potent antibacterial and antifungal properties and they are an excellent source of manganese, (which helps support healthy bones). Chewing on cloves is also a popular and effective remedy for the relief of toothaches.[vii]
Try it: Cloves have a sweet, warm flavour and are delicious when added to gingerbread and pumpkin dishes. They also pair well with split pea and bean soups, baked beans and chili.
Aniseed – Sometimes referred to as sweet cumin (and not to be confused with star anise), aniseed is a member of the parsley family and its greenish-brown seeds have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Aniseed is traditionally used as a diuretic and expectorant, to aid digestive problems, to help treat psoriasis and scabies, to soothe toothaches, and relieve pain. Although the only scientifically validated uses include soothing the digestive tract and relieving bloating, anise has antioxidant properties and is a good source of B-vitamins and the minerals calcium, potassium, manganese and magnesium.
Try it: Aniseed has a sweet, licorice-like taste. Whole or ground seeds can be added to baked goods, curries and seafood dishes.
[i], [ii] http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0043074