Spices: list, properties, nutritional values

The term " spices " comes from the Latin " species " which indicates a special commodity, of value, which differs from ordinary merchandise. Rich in vitamins and minerals, they help reduce the amount of fat and salts used in cooking. Let's find out better.







What are spices

Apart from pepper, nutmeg and a few other " aromas " only a few know the spices in their complexity, often confusing perfumes, aromas and spices as if they were the same thing.

In reality:

  • spices are normally substances derived from some varieties of aromatic plants, mostly from tropical countries. Of these, different parts are used according to the type of spice to be obtained; bark (for cinnamon), roots (for ginger), flower buds (for cloves, and za ff were), seeds (for sesame and mustard), berries (for black pepper), fruits (for allspice and paprika);
  • the aromas or aromatic herbs (basil, chervil, coriander, tarragon, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme), are herbs or vegetables (leaves and stems) generally grown in vegetable gardens but also present in the wild, normally consumed fresh or more rarely dried.

Spice origin

Spices have been known and used since the most remote antiquity, a deep trust in their properties has prompted navigators to find new routes, states to fight wars, doctors to discover new drugs and for centuries the spices have moved the economy of Europe not only for therapeutic and gastronomic purposes but also for the pleasure of perfuming cosmetics, air and to honor the gods.

Magellan made the first circumnavigation of the globe in search of the legendary "spice islands", Vasco da Gama sailed in the dangerous waters of Africa and India; Colombo, in search of a shorter way to reach India, found the chili pepper.

Properties of spices

Compared to eight commonly used spices (chilli, black pepper, coriander, cumin, garlic, asafedita, ginger and ajowan), it is estimated that in southern India the daily consumption per capita is equal to 9.54 g, able to cover from 1.2% to 7.9% the need for different nutrients (minerals, amino acids, vitamins, etc.).

In our culture, on the other hand, although they present a moderate content of vitamins (especially of group B and vitamin C) and of mineral salts (calcium and iron in particular), they are used in such small quantities that it is not possible to keep this nutritional value bill.

Spices, allies of

Spices and aromatic herbs, just used as taste enhancers, are excellent allies for human health since:

  • they can help reduce the addition of fat and salt by enhancing the flavor and palatability of the dishes by stimulating the salivary and gastric production (black pepper, garlic, onion, curry, cumin, dill, basil, ginger, coriander);
  • can help reduce the addition of sugar (Jamaican pimento, Peppercorn, Cardamom, Cinnamon) .

You can learn more about the origin, use and properties of sugar

The heating, drying, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, expectorant and spice-purifying qualities are particularly useful in gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases.

They regulate the appetite (cardamom), improve digestion (turmeric, coriander, ginger, black pepper), avoid intestinal fermentation and disperse gases ( cardamom is useful against digestive problems and irritable bowel ), eliminate parasites (coriander ), effectively treat diseases of the upper and lower respiratory tract (cardamom, black pepper, ginger).

Some, such as ginger and turmeric, have a strong anti-inflammatory action, as demonstrated recently by numerous studies. Ginger, known for thousands of years in the East, also has a strengthening and warming power for the body.

It is interesting to note that the greatest consumption of spices is in countries with a very hot climate, because they have the function of dilating blood vessels and thus allowing a greater dispersion of body heat.

About them

The use of spices and aromatic herbs in the distant past was strictly reserved for the tables of emperors, kings and, later, of the wealthiest, as a sign of power and wealth; they were mainly used to preserve food and prolong the freshness of foods with the aim of preventing the proliferation of bacterial flora (for example, pepper in salami and cloves or cinnamon to prevent the apples from rancid) or to mask flavors and smells of non-fresh foods.

Today, on the other hand, they are indispensable for giving taste and aroma to dishes (thanks to the essential oils they contain which are released when they are broken up, minced or cut), because they enhance the flavors of many dishes and, in many cases, allow them to be reduced seasonings and salt intake: eaten raw, even compared to those consumed in powders (often chemical), they are obviously much more aromatic.

Due to their rather intense and very penetrating taste, they go, however used sparingly, so as not to cover the flavor of the food itself.

Spices and aromas can be found on the market in different forms:

  • whole : the herbs obviously give the best when they are fresh, keeping their aroma for a long time;
  • dried in powder : they are the most widespread, easy to find and the most practical but also the fastest to lose the aroma. One is not surprised to see and savor saffron in the Milanese risotto, in the Maghreb cus cus or in the sweet and delicate Indian jalabi, nor to feel the pungent aroma of clove in the Alpine vin brulee and Indian curry. When buying, however, it is good to check that they do not contain lumps: it is a sign that they are old;
  • in paste : even these last practices in use, keep the flavor for a long time but are rather perishable;
  • extracted : comfortable to dose but often reproduced synthetically; in the latter case the perfume is excessively penetrating or vaguely metallic.

Did you know that

The ancients claimed that smells are " those minute particles that ascend from heaven to the earth ". Spices, in fact, have been known, used, loved since ancient times not only to give flavor to foods but also to make medicines effective and pleasant.

With time but especially with the advent of modern medicine, the appreciation for these drugs has diminished but today, as in the past, spices, in a simple way and without side effects, can come to the aid of man and be used with advantage in numerous diseases .

Their use is widespread in various regions of the East, the Middle East and Africa.

For example, in India, in families living in rural areas, mothers still treat their children with spice preparations with confidence and success.


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