Guest blog by Bec Ponsford, Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Spice Merchant.
Herbs and spices have been used traditionally across cultures for not only their culinary benefits but also their potential to improve health and wellbeing. Here we’re exploring the evidence of some of the most common herbs and spices and their benefits beyond making food taste delicious from anti-inflammatory properties to gut health.
Please note, this information is not intended to replace any medical advice and should not be used to treat any medical condition. Always seek guidance from your health provider regarding the management and treatment of health conditions. Some herbs and spices have potent levels of compounds which need to be monitored for those people with certain health conditions, during pregnancy and when taking certain medications.
One of the most popular, delicious and versatile spices, cinnamon, has been studied in several clinical trials for its potential to improve blood glucose levels. The health properties of cinnamon relate to the unique compounds and essential oils it contains, the main one being cinnamaldehyde. The spice has been studied in both healthy individuals and those with type-2 diabetes and has been found to improve blood glucose levels.
The amount shown to be most effective ranges between 1-6g of cinnamon per day, which is about a half to 2 teaspoons.
Further to this, a systematic review and meta-analysis (the highest level of evidence in scientific research) on cinnamon found it to have positive effects on levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (types of fat) in the blood. These findings may indicate potential protective effects of cinnamon for cardiovascular health.
The benefits of cinnamon extend to other aspects of health too. It is rich in a group of antioxidants called polyphenols, which protect the body from oxidative stress caused by free radicals and benefit gut health. Cinnamon is also known to have anti-inflammatory properties and antimicrobial effects which may help to improve dental health.
It’s important to note that studies have investigated the effects of both cassia and true cinnamon. Both have been found to have positive effects on blood glucose levels.
True cinnamon is grown in Sri Lanka and comes from the family cinnamomum verum. It is often referred to as Ceylon cinnamon or sometimes cinnamomum zeylanicum. True cinnamon has a slightly lighter brown colour and is rolled as thinner, finer, tightly wrapped sheets. True cinnamon is more subtle in its flavour but has a beautiful earthy and floral aroma. It works well in both savoury and sweet cooking.
Cassia bark (Dutch Cinnamon) comes from the cinnamomum cassia tree and originated in Southern China, however it does grow around the world. Cassia is also referred to as Baker's cinnamon, bastard cinnamon and Saigon cinnamon.
When comparing cassia bark to true cinnamon, you’ll notice that cassia has a thicker, less tightly rolled bark with a dark red-brown colour. In terms of flavour cassia has a potent and slightly spicy flavour. Think of cassia as the smell of a fresh cinnamon bun.
Before adding spoonfuls upon spoonfuls of cinnamon to your food, it’s important to understand which type of cinnamon you are consuming. Cassia contains a compound called coumarin, at an amount of approximately 1%. True cinnamon, on the other hand, contains only trace amounts of coumarin (around 0.004%). In large amounts, coumarin may be harmful to liver health, at least as seen in animal studies. It is safe to consume cassia in small amounts, but if you’re wanting to increase your daily cinnamon intake, A-Grade True Cinnamon is best to opt for.
At Gewürzhaus you can find Sri Lankan A-Grade True Cinnamon in its ground form and whole quills. For your more sweet dishes and baking, you’ll also find Cassia (Dutch Cinnamon) as whole bark or ground. Gewürzhaus Cassia is grown in Sumatra and milled in Australia.
How to include cinnamon in your meals
While used as a traditional Ayurvedic remedy for centuries, turmeric has gained enormous attention in recent years for the health benefits of its main active ingredient, curcumin. Curcumin has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Much of the research on curcumin is in relation to managing inflammatory conditions and diseases associated with low-grade inflammation, such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and heart disease.
The curcumin content of pure turmeric is influenced by environmental factors and thus curcumin content can vary between 0.4-7%. Curcumin has also been studied to have positive effects on the brain and may even help in depression and Alzheimer's disease. In terms of supporting the immune system, curcumin has been found to have important antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal activities.
When consumed on its own, curcumin has poor bioavailability due to low absorption and rapid metabolism and elimination. However, there are particular ways to enhance curcumin’s bioavailability. Piperine, the active component of black peppercorn, is known to increase the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%. Curcumin is also fat-soluble, meaning paring turmeric with a source of fat can help to improve its absorption in the body.
At Gewürzhaus you’ll find vivid, earthy and golden turmeric in its ground form, as well as in a number of blends. Turmeric Latte Spice is a notable one to mention, as it contains a blend of turmeric, true cinnamon, ginger and black pepper, providing additional flavour, anti-inflammatory properties and allowing for optimal absorption of the curcumin.
How to include turmeric into your day
If you’re new to using turmeric, you may like to try it in a spice blend like Caribbean Fish and Scampi, delicious served with a squeeze of fresh lime, or Immunity Blend, which adds a boost to stocks, soups and casseroles.
Ginger is part of the Zingiberaceae family along with turmeric, cardamom and galangal. A very versatile spice, ginger adds just the right amount of spicy kick to soups, marinades, curries, Asian dishes and of course sweets like the infamous gingerbread.
Ever been told to take ginger tablets for nausea and motion sickness? Well, there's a good reason for this recommendation! Scientific papers have consistently shown that ginger is useful in gastrointestinal health, particularly having benefits for nausea relief. These studies have found that 1-1.5g of ginger (approx. ¾ teaspoon- 1 teaspoon) is an effective amount to reduce nausea and vomiting symptoms caused by pregnancy, chemotherapy, motion sickness and from sport. Ginger has the ability to increase motility (movement) through the stomach and digestive system and reduce intestinal cramping.
It is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties, which have been seen to help with pain management. One study found that both raw and heated ginger helped reduce muscle pain from exercise. The active ingredient in ginger, gingerol, has been reported to have anti-bacterial and antifungal properties. It is these powerful properties of ginger that may help in fighting infections by inhibiting harmful bacteria species.
Gewurhzaus pure ginger comes in two main forms; Ground Ginger and Kibbled Ginger. The ground form is more versatile to use in cooking and baking, while the kibbled ginger is great to infuse into dishes like soups, stews, pickles and of course to make ginger tea, where it is best to remove just before serving.
You’ll see ginger makes its way into many unique tea and spice blends at Gewürzhaus, so ginger-lovers can rejoice with Lemongrass & Ginger Organic Tea, Organic Gingerbread Tea, Gingerbread Spice, Ginger & Garlic Salt, Immunity Blend, Turmeric Latte Spice and Cold & Flu Tea.
Two very common herbs, peppermint and spearmint come from the plant's mentha pipereta and mentha spicata. Mint is used widely for its fresh minty taste in toothpaste, mints, mouthwash. The active ingredient in mint, menthol, also has a cooling effect which is one of the reasons why it is used widely in products aimed to cleanse the palate and refresh the breath.
Both peppermint and spearmint have been studied in relation to their ability to relieve digestive upset. Peppermint oil has been shown in systematic reviews to significantly improve symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), including abdominal pain. In combination with caraway oil, peppermint oil has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of functional dyspepsia, which is a common gastrointestinal condition affecting the upper part of the digestive tract.
Similarly in another study, spearmint used as part of a herbal blend along with bowel medications and fibre was shown to reduce severity and frequency of abdominal pain in people with IBS. While peppermint and spearmint tea has not been well studied, it’s possible that drinking these herbs in tea may also reduce uncomfortable digestive symptoms. There have also been some studies looking at the effects of spearmint on female hormones. While the evidence is in early phases here, some studies suggest that drinking spearmint tea may help regulate hormone levels in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Spearmint extract may also have benefits on improving working memory and sleep quality in older adults with age-associated memory impairment.
With or without additional health benefits, Gewürzhaus Moroccan Mint Tea makes for a fragrant and refreshing afternoon pick-me-up. This loose-leaf blend contains gunpowder green tea, spearmint, peppermint and rose petal and makes a delicious hot or chilled brew. You’ll also find spearmint in Eva’s Yummy Tummy Tea, for a fresh, floral and calming cuppa.
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and for good reason. Saffron is the stigma plucked from the purple-flowered crocus plant. Each of these flowers contains only three stigmas which must be hand-picked and dried at the right time of day. It only makes sense why it is so expensive! Saffron has a concentrated woody and earthy flavour and only a tiny amount can deliver a bright golden tone to a whole dish.
Saffron also has some very impressive health benefits. The major constituents in saffron are crocins, crocetin, and safranal, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Interestingly, a number of studies indicate that saffron may enhance mood and have antidepressant effects. When compared to conventional treatments for depression, saffron supplementation was found in one study to have similar effectiveness for treating mild to moderate depression.
At Gewürzhaus you can find A-Grade and B-Grade saffron threads. Both are great quality, however, the A-grade has a more concentrated flavour and aroma. It makes a beautiful addition to soups, rice and of course paella. Try using saffron in this Spanish Seafood Paella recipe