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Spice it Up

By Cheryl Forberg

Herbs and spices are an easy and inexpensive way to make an everyday dinner into an extraordinary meal. They provide complex layers of flavor to replace what salt and fat deliver, plus many of them are loaded with antioxidants and health-promoting plant chemicals. Sweet spices such as cinnamon and ginger can also satisfy cravings and, when added to tea or fruit, may eliminate the need for supplemental sweeteners.

Here are a few well-endowed seasonings that provide health benefits including antioxidants to slow the aging clock!

Cardamom: is used extensively in Middle Eastern cooking. The seeds are ground and used in cooking but also brewed for a pungent tea. Cardamom contains an antioxidant called cineole. It is reputed to boost the immune system, decrease the risk of some cancers and improve digestion. The seeds are sometimes chewed and used as a breath freshener.

Cinnamon: contains a compound called MHCP (methylhydroxy chalcone polymer) that makes insulin more sensitive to help regulate blood sugar. It also contains powerful antioxidants as well as manganese and iron. Studies have shown that it also has antibacterial and anti-clotting effects.

Clove: contains the antioxidant eugenol, which is thought to minimize joint and skin inflammation. Clove oil is sometimes used as a natural topical painkiller. It has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects and is used in mouthwash and sore throat sprays.

Curry powder: is a blend of many different spices. Most recipes include coriander, turmeric, cumin and fenugreek. Additional ingredients such as cardamom, cinnamon, clove, garlic, ginger, fennel seed, mustard seed, mace, nutmeg, and pepper may also be added.

Fennel seeds: contain several antioxidants including kaempferol, rutin and quercetin. Collectively, these plant chemicals are thought to boost the immune system and help lower blood pressure. Fennel has antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-tumor effects.

Ginger: is a member of the Zingiberaceae family of plants, which also includes the spice, turmeric. Only one species of ginger, called Zingiber officinale (official ginger) is actually used for culinary purposes.

Nutmeg: contains the antioxidant eugenol. Nutmeg oil is sometimes used as a topical skin ointment to increase circulation and relieve pain. Though toxic in high doses, nutmeg has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.

Oregano: has loads of antioxidants and antibiotic benefits. It is sometimes used in food products as a preservative because of its antimicrobial properties.

Turmeric: contains a potent antioxidant, curcumin which has anti-cancer properties. This spice is also used for its yellow pigment. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

Put away the salt shaker and try a few new herb and spice combinations in your next recipe. They add layers of flavor as well as an antioxidant bang. This recipe for Curried Vegetable Stew is a perfect example.

Curried Vegetable Stew
Makes 2 quarts
Servings: Eight 1-cup servings
Image of Curried Vegetable Stew
A thick and robust stew, it's hearty enough for a main course. You can add extra broth for a thinner soup. It's loaded with both protein and fiber.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 medium baby carrots, chopped
1 medium stalk celery, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
3 large tomatoes, chopped or 2 cups tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
4 cups fat-free chicken or vegetable broth
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 8 ounces)
1 (12 oz.) pkg. Melissa’s Shelled Edamame (about 1-1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons creamy or crunchy natural almond butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 ounces baby spinach leaves or other fresh greens, torn into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, bell pepper and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and curry powder and sauté until fragrant; do not brown garlic. Add tomatoes and bay leaf. Cook, uncovered, until juices are slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add sweet potatoes.

Simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in edamame and almond butter until combined. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in cilantro and spinach. Season with salt and pepper.
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