Spices and Herbs that are missing in the Western Diet

Most of us have herbs and spices sitting in our kitchen cabinets have been there unused for who knows how long. They often get added to the random recipes here and there; however, most herbs and spices have a plethora of health benefits. Think about it. All herbs and spices come from plants, seeds, bark, fruits, and flowers that have antioxidant and antiviral properties, as well as the ability to decrease blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, help with digestion, etc. Interestingly, the Western diet often lacks these health boosting herbs and spices that are a staple in other parts of the world.

As a young girl, I have the most picturesque memories of walking into my mother's kitchen and being pleasantly overwhelmed by the smell of her cooking as she placed a dash of turmeric, a pinch of saffron, cumin, and other aromatic spices to taste. It always felt like forever but the wait for every dish was always worth it, as she created a symphony of flavors that were nothing but amazing. As I grew from a young girl, and I gave more assistance in the kitchen, she taught me so much about the art of seasoning and the cooking of my country, Iran. These seasonings are close to my heart, as they are common place in Middle Eastern cuisine and remind me of my home, as well as for the ability of each to give a tasteless meal a definite WOW factor. But taste is not the only reason to give herbs and spices a place in your home. For years, research has shown all the health benefits of incorporating these spices into one's diet.

1) Turmeric: This is my go-to spice, and I splash it almost on everything I cook. This "Golden Spice of the World" has a peppery, warm, and bitter flavor with a mild fragrance of orange and ginger that gives your meal a lively bright yellow color and can heal your body. You might know it as an ingredient that is used to make curry. Turmeric has long been used as a healing remedy, known for its anti-inflammatory properties in Chinese and Indian medicine. It is a rich source of iron, manganese, vitamin B6, and potassium. With its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric has long been used to treat wide variety of conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arteritis, cancer, cirrhosis, Alzheimer's, and most importantly aids with digestion. Curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric, is thought to be the primary potent, but yet safe, pharmacological agent in turmeric. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory effects that are comparable to some drugs, such as hydrocortisone, phenylbutazone, and Motrin. So next time you are cooking, remember that the recipe you are using does not HAVE to call for this spice, adding turmeric will not only enhance the flavor and the color of your meal but also provides many health benefits.

2) Saffron: This is one of those spices that is rare (and expensive) that not everyone has tasted. It is known for its color, flavor, and of course, medicinal properties. The antioxidant properties of saffron may protect against cancer, hypertension, depression, vision loss, cardiovascular function, and a natural way of boosting the immune system. It is a rich source of vitamin A, riboflavin, folic acid, niacin, and vitamin C. This mineral-rich spice contains magnesium, manganese, selenium, calcium, zinc and phosphorous that may help with muscle relaxation, memory, cellular development, heart function, and much more. In Middle Eastern cuisine, it is used to give rice an orangish-yellowish color by dissolving the saffron strands in hot water and mixing it with rice, but you can also use it to marinade beef, poultry, fish, etc.

3) Cumin: This one too, is my absolute favorite. It has a very distinctive flavor and a divine aroma that adds an earthy and warming feeling to food. Cumin, either in the form of whole seeds or ground, goes great with rice and pasta, but it can also be added to meat for a smoky flavor and to soups, chili, gravies, and some pickles and pastries. Dried cumin seeds have been long used in Ayurveda system (traditional Indian medicine) for their medicinal properties and was used to for enhancing appetite, taste perception, digestion, vision, strength, reducing diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal distention, and edema. One tablespoon of cumin provides one gram of fiber, in addition to thiamin, potassium, phosphorous, copper, calcium, iron, and magnesium.

4) Coriander: This next spice is also known as cilantro. It comes in the form of dried seeds, ground, or fresh leaves. When added to recipes, coriander gives it a pleasant aromatic, fresh, grassy, lemony citrus flavor which goes perfect with other spices used in the recipe. Coriander/cilantro is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. It contains an abundance of antioxidants which can delay spoilage of food. It also is a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid, vitamin-A, beta carotene, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. In addition to the distinctive taste, the anti-inflammatory properties of it may help with arthritis, increase HDL cholesterol, reduced LDL, stomach indigestion, and nausea. You can make a mouth-watering paste of coriander leaves, peanuts, onions, green chilies, and add a dash of lemon juice and use as spreads on sandwiches, or use the fresh leaves complimentary to green salads.

5) Cardamom: This is the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla. I remember as a child when I had a sore throat, to help, my grandmother would always put cardamom and a stick of cinnamon in her teapot when making tea. I remember the taste as intensely aromatic and fragrant. It comes in black, green, and ground forms. The green cardamom can be used as a spice for sweet dishes, as well as flavoring coffee and tea. With its anti-inflammatory properties, this old spice has long been used for digestion problems like heartburn, intestinal spasm, irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal gas, constipation, liver and gallbladder problems, bad breath prevention, teeth and gum infection, and loss of appetite. A 1.5 tablespoon of cardamom provides about 5% of your daily requirement of zinc, magnesium, and iron.

So, the next time you are looking for a way to excite your taste buds, or a healthy alternative to that salt shaker, remember to use the rainbow of salt-free spices and herbs that will bring new aromas, flavors, colors, and many health benefits to your dish in a very inexpensive way.

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