Herbs and spices are used in our daily life. It has ingrained itself into our food such that we do not even realise that we have used a specific herb or spice. So let’s take a tour, a slice from the spice, and find out different herbs and spices and their uses.
Scientific Name: Piper nigrum
Part of Plant Used: Berries (fruit)
Active Ingredients: piperidines, piperazines (Piperine)
Health Benefits: Pepper improves digestion as it signals the stomach to increase the production of hydrochloric acid. This spice also aids in preventing heartburn and indigestion. Pepper is a carminative and helps avoid creation of intestinal gas.
Due to its antioxidant and antibacterial property, it also helps in improving the healthiness of the digestive tract. The skin of peppercorn fuels the breakdown of fat cells.
Flavour: Pepper is not hot but has a spicy and pungent flavour. It has a stimulating effect and refreshes our taste buds.
Pepper gets along with just about all that you cook and is added in mainly all cuisines around the world. If possible, freshly grind or crush it just before using it.
Peppercorns are present in a lot of varieties: black, white and green. They are basically the same; it’s just that they are at the different stages of their ripeness. Black peppercorns are half-ripe, white peppercorns are fully ripe, and green peppercorns are unripe. Black is full of most flavour, but the white and green provide a fine method to insert a little colour and flavour. On the other hand, red peppercorns are truly ripe, but are really difficult to preserve and they are just generally accessible freeze-dried.
Scientific Name: Capsicum annuum
Part of Plant Used: Fruit
Origin: South America
Active Ingredients: 8-methyul-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide (Capsaicin)
Health Benefits: Capsaicin in peppers, promotes relief from, enhancement in metabolism, and has many benefits for the cardiovascular system. Capsaicin inhibits substance P, which is a neuropeptide linked to inflammation. It is suggested to drink cayenne tea during cold or flu as it causes secretions that clear mucous from congested nose and lungs.
Capsaicin as an immune booster: They are great sources of pro-vitamin A carotenoids like beta-carotene which aids to shield the mucous membranes of the nose, lungs, intestines, and urinary tract which is the first defence line against pathogenic attacks.
Topical application of capsaicin: reduces cluster headaches, osteoarthritis pain, and psoriasis pain. Its drawback is the burning sensation at the site of application.
Finally, it has the ability to reduce the levels of cholesterol and triglyceride and lessen platelet aggregation.
Flavour: It’s really very hot spice. Cayenne is mostly used to add a little spiciness to the food. This spice blends in well and has nice heat.
Scientific Name: Cinnamomum zeylanicum Blume
Part of Plant Used: Bark
Active Ingredients: cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, cinnamyl alcohol
Health Benefits: Cinnamaldehyde has anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory properties, which helps the prevention of clumping of platelets and to block arachidonic acid and thromboxane 42 release respectively.
Cinnamon also has anti-microbial property, which is mainly due to its capability to prevent the development of Candida. Cinnamon extracts also stop the yeasts, which are resistant to anti-fungal agents, from growing and hence is used as a preservative.
Cinnamon’s smell has also been revealed to progress brain function. This spice has the capacity to control blood sugar. It helps in increasing the insulin sensitivity, helping to reduce high blood sugar in people suffering from diabetes.
Flavour: Cinnamon has a warm, sweet flavour which compliments all kinds of food whether its apples, chicken or even coffee and hence gives it the name of a workhorse of the kitchen. Even when it comes to blending with any other spice, it’s at the top.
There are four types of cinnamon: Ceylon (also known as true cinnamon), Korintje, Saigon, and Cassia.
Scientific Name: allium sativum
Part of Plant Used: Entire vegetable
Origin: Central Asia
Active Ingredients: Allicin, Allyl disulphides, ajeone
Health Benefits: Garlic has quite a few health properties apart from using this spice for repelling Vampires. Out of the two major components active, Allicin is a sulfur-bearing compound and is released when the clove interior is out in the open air (i.e., when a garlic is crushed or chopped). Allicin also has antifungal, antibacterial and antioxidant compounds. The other component Allyl disulphide has been known to enhance the immune system.
Garlic has demonstrated the capacity to lower cholesterol by 4-6% in studies. Apart from that, it had been found that ajeone also slows blood clotting and reducing the risk of cancer (although large-scale studies are lacking).
Flavour: Garlic gives a nice aspect to almost all dishes. The flavour intensity is directly related to the time garlic is added to the meal while cooking. Raw garlic has a spicy and overpowering flavour but when cooked, it gives off a sweeter and mellowed down sharpness in the flavour (pungency).
Precautions: Over-consumption of garlic (especially raw) can cause irritation of, and possible damage to, the digestive tract. Over-consumption of this particular spice also tends to make your breath smell and can cause a garlicky smell to the body.
Scientific Name: Cuminum cyminum
Part of Plant Used: Seeds
Active Ingredients: para-substituted isopropylbenzene, cumin aldehyde
Health Benefits: Cumin has a high level of iron and manganese; it helps to improve energy and metabolism. It is also known to improve digestion. According to some studies, cumin helps in the secretion of enzymes necessary for digestion and assimilation from the pancreas. Cumin also has anti-oxidant properties.
Cumin is known to boost lactation and aid with morning sickness. It is also reported to be used as a treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, diarrhoea, flatulence, colic, breast and testicular swelling and indigestion. And for the ladies, this spice shows promise as a natural way of increasing breast size.
Flavour: This spice has a distinct nutty-peppery and earthy flavour and is also known as an aromatic spice.
Scientific Name: Capsicum annuum var. angulosum mill.
Part of Plant Used: Fruit, dehydrated and ground
Active Ingredients: capsaicin, vanillyl noneamides, carotenoids
Health Benefits: Paprika has a colour range from bright red to yellow and accordingly the hotness of this spice increases. With exposure to heat, it releases flavour but cooking for an extended period can cause complete loss of flavour.
Bell peppers have high vitamin C present which increases through the process of drying. Paprika also enhances saliva production and promotes digestion by regulating the stomach acid. It has been known to help in improving blood pressure and also acts as a blood-thinning agent. Capsaicin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which helps to protect from cancer.
Flavour: Even though the bright red colour of this spice gives the appearance of that of a hot spice, but it’s not. Paprika has the taste similar to bell peppers and doesn’t have an unusually strong flavour.
Smoked paprika, on the other hand, is made from smoked peppers, and has a strong smoky flavour that works with any kind of meat.
Precautions: Paprika originates from the bell pepper and is hence is of nightshade origin.