In the 15th century, Europe was in search of the spice of life. For them, salt was not enough. They also wanted cinnamon, pepper, cumin, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. It was for spices that the Portuguese sailed around the southern tip of Africa to reach India. During this time a pound of Ginger was equal in value to one live sheep.
In Medieval Europe, cinnamon would have been added to a stew of lamb or chicken. Cumin was baked into bread. They would have added ground nutmeg to potato dishes, green beans and soups. Ginger added a warm flavor to meats. Queen Elizabeth I of England is credited with the first gingerbread man.
Today, we often ignore the culinary treasures of spices in favor of the habit of salt, sugar and fat. While salt, sugar and fat yield a lot of flavor, they do not bring with them the added benefits of spices.
For example, cinnamon reduces inflammation in the body. In a blood vessel a minor injury occurs from normal everyday wear. Over time this injury develops into a plaque that eventually blocks the artery. This condition known as atheroschlerosis or “hardening of the arteries” is the root cause of cardiovascular disease. It is thought that inflammation in the body increases the incidence of the initial injury turning into a plaque. If Flavonoids in cinnamon lower inflammation levels, then this is a spice to use more often.
Learning to cook with spices helps us to reduce our use of salt. The recommended limit of 1500 mg sodium per day is a tough goal for most Americans. With the variety of flavors from spices, we don’t rely so much on salt. But we don’t just eat for health. Spices expand our palate and enrich our food experience. They bring flavor and interest to foods without adding calories. Tastier foods are more satisfying.
A common tool in the medieval kitchen used to grind whole spices was a mortar and pestle. Today, you can find one in any kitchen store. Some prefer a coffee mill to grind things and that also works well. I prefer the mortar and pestle because you can grind small amounts easily and your coffee grinder does not take on the flavor of spices.
If you are not sure where to begin with spices, sContinue reading below...
Spices instead of Salt
tart simply and experiment. Note the spices listed in your favorite recipe and look for the whole versions at your grocer. Grind some whole cumin seeds right before adding them to your favorite chili or pot of beans. Note the fresh aroma of the spice as you grind it. Add a little cinnamon to your chicken and rice. Cloves are a bold flavor. Grind a single whole clove and add just a pinch to any poultry or meat dish for an aromatic zip. If you are adventurous, look at some Indian or Asian recipes.
Their cuisines celebrate a wide array of spices which is not surprising given that many of these flavors originated in the East.
The aroma and flavor of freshly ground spices are much like the intense flavor of home grown tomatoes. You will notice it as soon as you start grinding. And your family will notice the difference in your cooking. How about a little spice in your life?
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin. The Polk Center provides education on diabetes, heart disease and weight loss and sponsors monthly classes and support groups on healthy lifestyle. Call 639-7585 for more information.