Spice of life
'The spice of life' is more than just a figure of speech. While many might think of spices as mere flavour enhancers, for thousands of years they've been used to cure a variety of different ailments. An additional benefit is that by using spices to liven up your cooking, you'll be less tempted to reach for unhealthy alternatives such as salt, ketchup or butter.
So, what is a spice, and how does it differ from a herb? People often use herb and spice interchangeably, but there is a difference. A herb is a plant in its own right; it doesn't produce woody, persistent tissue and generally dies back at the end of the growing season. Examples of herbs are coriander, mint and parsley. A spice, on the other hand, can be any part of a plant that's used to add flavour to a meal, such as the seed, the root or the stem. There are dozens of spices used widely in cooking today, ranging from aniseed through nutmeg and on to vanilla. There are three, however, that are believed to have significant anti-cancer properties: turmeric, cumin and ginger. I describe each of these in more detail below, stating its origin, how it is used, and how it is believed to counteract cancer. I've also provided recipes that incorporate each of these great spices.
Turmeric, otherwise known as curcumin, is the underground stem of a tropical perennial that grows in many hot Asian countries. The stem is a light brown colour on the outside, but, when ground, produces a bright yellow powder. Being very cheap and colourful it has been heaped into curries for thousands of years-with very interesting results. For a long time it had been noted that people in India had relatively low rates of cancer of the oesophagus. Evidence from Swansea University now suggests that turmeric may be effective at blocking NF-kappaB, a protein linked with several cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.
Sweet Potato and Beetroot Casserole
4 medium-sized beetroots
1 large sweet potato
1/2 cup water chestnuts
1 large onion (finely chopped)
1/8 cup chopped or grated ginger root
3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/4 teaspoon clove powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Steam the beetroot and sweet potato. After 10 minutes remove the potato and continue to steam the beetroot for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until soft.
Place the chopped onions in a large saucepan. After 4 minutes add the ginger and the garlic. Continue to saute until the onions are well cooked, but cook over a medium-low heat so the onions will not burn. When the mixture is well done, add the spices and saute over a low heat for a few minutes.
Remove the beetroot from the steamer, rinse under cold water and remove the skin. Remove the skin from the potato, then chop the potato and the beetroot into small cubes. Add the mixture to the onions, ginger and garlic and slowly mix. Add the water chestnuts and continue to mix thoroughly.
You may also sprinkle freshly chopped coriander over the finished dish. Finally, serve with saffron rice.
Cumin is the seed of a small plant related to parsley but found in hot climates, especially North Africa, India and the Americas. The seeds are boat-shaped and resemble caraway seeds, but are lighter in colour and have tiny bristles. They should be roasted before being ground, but can then be used to spice up a whole range of dishes including curries, stews and grills. Cumin is very commonly used in Mexican, Spanish, Indian or Middle Eastern cooking. A word of warning, however: go easy on the cumin – half a teaspoon is ample for a family of four! Cumin has long been believed to help people suffering from disorders of the digestive tract including heartburn, nausea and diarrhoea, probably due to it stimulating the production of pancreatic enzymes. Cumin is also believed to have important anti-cancer properties, due firstly because of its ability to neutralise cancer-causing free radicals, and, secondly, by enhancing the liver's detoxification enzymes.
20 whole cloves
20 green cardamom pods
20 whole black peppercorns
2 inch slice of fresh ginger
20 cumin seeds
1 pinch turmeric
1 tea bag decaffeinated black tea
750ml boiling water
Boil the water in a saucepan. When boiling, add all the spices and watch them dance around in the water! Boil for 15 minutes then add a teabag of decaffeinated black tea. After 2 minutes add 1/2 cup of non-dairy milk. Strain and serve. To sweeten you can add a dash of maple sugar, malt barley extract or blackstrap molasses.
A native of China and India, the creeping stems of this perennial plant have been used in Chinese medicines for many centuries. It has been used in a wide variety of different products including pickles, chutneys, curries, and, of course, ginger ale. Ginger is believed to be effective in relieving symptoms of nausea (such as motion sickness and morning sickness) and inflammation (such as arthritis, bronchitis and ulcerative colitis). Preliminary studies at the American Association of Cancer Research have shown that gingerol - an active ingredient in ginger - may halt the growth of colon cancer.
Slice a 1-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger. Place in a cup and add boiling water. When cooled enough to drink, sip and enjoy!
Finally, I always advise people to cook with a wide variety of different herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables. As research uncovers fresh beneficial links between specific foods and ailments, it is important to remember that we all need a variety of healthy foods to supply us with the range of minerals and vitamins we need for the countless biochemical processes that go on inside us every day. Eating a variety of ingredients is the spice of life!
‘The spice of life’ is more than just a figure of speech. While many might think of spices as mere flavour enhancers, for thousands of years they’ve been used to cure a variety of different ailments. An additional benefit is that by using spices to liven up your cooking, you’ll be less tempted to reach for unhealthy alternatives such as salt, ketchup or butter.
While inevitable that a person's bones will begin to weaken once they reach their mid-30's, there are two important things we can do to avoid osteoporosis: exercise (e.g. go for a brisk 30-minute stroll 3 or 4 times a week) and watch your diet!
Crohn's disease is a long-term inflammation of any part of the digestive system, although it usually occurs around the join of the small and large intestine. Symptoms of Crohn's disease include diarrhoea, indigestion and intestinal cramps. The cause is unknown, but is believed to be the result of an infection.
Watch out - while you're sitting at your desk expanding the boss's profits, you may be expanding your own waist line! If you're in the habit of eating at your desk, you'll be well advised to bear in mind the following top ten tips..