When we think about spices this time of year, we think of those that create warmth and provide comfort. Anise, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg are popular spices in the fall and winter. They are interwoven into the season for the warmth they create but can be used year-round. Spices have been used for centuries for their medicinal purposes, and as flavoring agents and to preserve food. While including spices in your meals is a great way to enhance flavor, it significantly increases their healthfulness since they are a rich source of polyphenols and antioxidants. Here we break down each of these spices, tell a little about their health benefits and give you a few ideas on foods they pair well with.
Anise: Anise comes in different varieties; seed, fennel, and star. It is known for its licorice flavor that comes from a compound call anethole. Anethole is found naturally in high concentrations in the oils of anise and is used in a variety of medicines and pharmaceuticals (1). Anise pairs well with fish and stews. Star anise is one of the main ingredients in Chinese 5 spice powder and Chinese cuisine (2).
Allspice: Allspice is derived from the dried berries of the Caribbean tropical tree, Pimenta dioica. It is used in Central American cuisines (i.e. think jerk dishes in Jamaican cuisine) for seasoning meat and desserts. It is rich in polyphenols known for their anti-bacterial, anti-hypotensive, anti-neuralgic, and analgesic properties and studies in animals show some of the compounds it contains may offer protection against tumor growth (3,4).
Cardamom (Green): Cardamom is a part of the same family as ginger and is made from the seeds of different plants. Studies have shown it plays a role in oxidative stress by enhancing anti-inflammatory enzymes. Its benefits are diverse in that it’s been linked to improvements in blood sugar and lipid markers (5), gastrointestinal health as well as a potential role in chemoprevention (6). It has a sweet and pungent taste and pairs well with chicken and lamb and is used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of several trees. While it's popular for its role in many foods as a flavoring agent and condiment, it is well known in the literature for lowering blood sugar levels (6). Cinnamon pairs well with many spices, apples, cocoa, breakfast and brunch options and can be found in Indian, Mexican, Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Cloves: Cloves have one of the highest polyphenol counts clocking in at 16047.50 mg/100 g. It has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties which are largely attributed to its high polyphenols and unique oils. When it comes to food they pair well with baked ham and pork and work well with many other spices too.
Ginger: Ginger is a root derived from the Ginger plant, a member of the turmeric family. It is thought to have originated in India. It is used in foods for its hot, fragrant spice but also is popular in medicine (1). Studies have shown its role in combating nausea, minimizing inflammation, managing blood lipids, aiding in tumor suppression and growth, and as anti-bacterial agent, too.
Nutmeg: Nutmeg and mace are relatives in that they come from different parts of the same tree. They are derived from an evergreen tree indigenous to the Spice Islands in Indonesia (1). Nutmeg leans a bit sweeter in taste and while there are many foods it can be used with it pairs well with cheese/cheese dishes, cream, milk and spinach. This is one of the primary spices you’ll find in Eggnog during the holiday season (2). A little goes a long way when it comes to flavor.
Favorite Fall and Winter Spices
Did you know that your favorite seasonal spices can easily be made at home as they are just combinations of the spices above?
Gingerbread Spice: Ginger, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, and Allspice
Pumpkin Pie Spice: Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, and Cloves
Apple Pie Spice: Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, and Cardamom
Why Dr. Sears Like Using Spices
The best raw fruits (primarily berries) contain about 0.1 % of weight as polyphenols, raw vegetables about 0.2%. Dried spices are about 5% of their weight as polyphenols. This why they are so bitter. The ultimate benefit of polyphenosl is to activate AMPK which in turn inhibits Nuclear Factor Kappa B (NF-kB). This reduces cytokine formation. Most polyphenols are totally water-insoluble and therefore can't be absorbed. However, they can be metabolized by bacteria in the colon to smaller fragments containing phenolic structures that can be absorbed. This is why we recommend consuming various sources of polyphenols during the day; fruits, vegetables, spices and also maqui berry. The beauty of maqui berry polyphenols is they are directly absorbed by the body to have maximal impact on activation of AMPK.
Tips For Incorporating into Your Foods
We tend to be creatures of habit with our meal prep, but spices have a way of elevating the taste of anything we make to have it feel new and different. To avoid over-powering your dishes start adding a sprinkle or pinch first and then add small amounts as needed. Here are a few ways to add them into your day.
- Add them into your roasted vegetable mixes and stir-fries
- Rub on top of your meats for cooking or use them in your marinades
- Mix into yogurt and oatmeal
- Add into sour cream, plain yogurt and hummus for dipping vegetables and fruit
- Sprinkle them on top of your coffee grounds or into your tea before brewing
- Add into your sauces, soups, and stews
- Incorporate into salads and salad dressings
- Rosa Vázquez-Fresno, Albert Remus R. Rosana, Tanvir Sajed, Tuviere Onookome-Okome, Noah A. Wishart, David S. Wishart. Herbs and Spices- Biomarkers of Intake Based on Human Intervention Studies – A Systematic Review. Genes Nutr. 2019; 14: 18
- Page, K. Dornenburg, A. 2008. The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs Hardcover. Little Brown and Company.
- Lei Zhang, Bal L. Lokeshwar. Medicinal Properties of the Jamaican Pepper Plant Pimenta dioica and Allspice. Curr Drug Targets. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2014 Jan 14.
- Lei Zhang, Nagarajarao Shamaladevi, Guddadarangavvanahally K. Jayaprakasha, Bhimu S. Patil, Bal L. Lokeshwar. Polyphenol-rich extract of Pimenta dioica berries (Allspice) kills breast cancer cells by autophagy and delays growth of triple negative breast cancer in athymic mice. Oncotarget. 2015 Jun 30; 6(18): 16379–16395
- Daneshi-Maskooni M, Keshavarz SA, Qorbani M, Mansouri S, Alavian SM, Badri-Fariman M, Jazayeri-Tehrani SA, Sotoudeh G. Green cardamom supplementation improves serum irisin, glucose indices, and lipid profiles in overweight or obese non-alcoholic fatty liver disease patients: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019 Mar 12;19(1):59.
- Ajaikumar B. Kunnumakkara, Varsha Rana, Dey Parama, Kishore Banik, Sosmitha Girisa, Sahu Henamayee, Krishan Kumar Thakur, Uma Dutta, Prachi Garodia, Subash C. Gupta, Bharat B. Aggarwal. COVID-19, cytokines, inflammation, and spices: How are they related? Life Sci. 2021 Nov 1; 284: 119201.