Spices are a game changer when it comes to cooking in the cooler months. They are a fantastic way to:
- Turn food into warming meals;
- Boost the flavour of food without the need for unhealthy colours, flavourings, preservatives and alike; and
- Offer a source of antioxidant compounds which help to support immunity, gut health and overall wellbeing.
Some of my go to spices to use during the cooler months include:
- Turmeric: The active constituent in turmeric is called curcumin, which exerts potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It is particularly good for immunity and has also been cited as a beneficial compound to support a health mood (helpful against the winter blues!). Curcumin is poorly absorbed so always needs to be consumed alongside a source of fat and pinch of black pepper.
- Cinnamon: when talking spices and cool weather, cinnamon must make the list. Cinnamon is also a potent source of antioxidants and has also been used in traditional and herbal medicine for conditions such as cold hands and feet and may also have a positive impact on blood sugar. This makes cinnamon a good choice not only for its warming properties but also to help curb sweet cravings during winter (something most of us can relate to!).
- Ginger: one of the more popular spices, ginger has been used to help prevent nausea associated with motion sickness and traditionally used to relieve digestive upset including nausea generally. New research also suggests that the compound 6-gingerol, a constituent of ginger may help to stimulate an enzyme found in salvia, which breaks down substances responsible for bad breath. Ginger itself is very warming when consumed.
- Cardamom: a member of the ginger family and just like ginger, cardamon is rich in polyphenols, which exert anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory actions in the body. Caradmon has also been traditionally used for its antimicrobal properties, making it a good option in winter. Cardamon itself has a very earthy and warming taste which makes it a perfect addition to cool weather cooking.
- Cloves: a very polarising spice. In traditional Chinese medicine, cloves are associated with energy and increased circulation. Cloves have also traditionally been used for their warming properties and to help kill bacteria and viruses.
- Fennel seeds: traditionally used in herbal medicine to relieve digestive upset, menstrual pain and as an expectorant to help relieve coughs.
- Cayenne pepper: the active ingredient capsaicin, is what gives cayenne pepper it’s heat. Cayenne also contains vitamin E, Vitamin C and carotenoids, which all exert antioxidant actions and support immunity. A small pinch of cayenne certainly packs a heat punch, so make sure to use with caution!
Using spices in everyday cooking
Using spices doesn’t have to be a labour intensive task. Similarly spices can be used in an array of dishes outside of curries and slow cooked meals. Here I am sharing some simple ways we can all start integrating spices into everyday cooking, in the lead up to winter:
- Smoothies: add a pinch of fresh or ground ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, or cayenne. A favourite combo of mine is oat milk, pineapple, hemp seeds, turmeric, lemon, ginger and honey.
- Porridge – instead of just sprinkling cinnamon on top, try making up mix of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg and use this to sprinkle on top.
- Pancakes – add spices to the batter such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom.
- Nut butter: mix spices into a homemade nut butter eg cashew and cinnamon/cardamom and use to spread on toast.
- Sprinkle cayenne on eggs / avocado on toast for a nice kick.
- If you like making baked eggs or baked beans, next time you make a tomato based sauce, add spices such as turmeric, pepper, cayenne, fennel, paprika etc to boost the flavour and heat.
- Try turmeric, ginger, cumin and/or coriander in salad dressings. For example, it can be as simple as 1-2 tbsp. tahini, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, pinch turmeric, pinch cumin, pinch cayenne for heat, honey and then water/olive oil to thin.
- Make up a spice mix of cumin, turmeric, nuts/seeds, cayenne (similar to dukkah), when boiling eggs, after shelling, roll the eggs in the spice mix before adding to your plate!
- Pimp up guacamole or hummus by adding spices – cumin, cayenne and paprika work well!
- Transform tzatziki by adding ground cumin, cayenne and coriander along with diced tomatoes, so yummy!
- Crust fish in spiced before baking/frying. The same for haloumi – dust in spices before cooking.
- When roasting potatoes/veg – dust with a mix of spices. Use for lunches or as a dinner side.
- Simmer fruit with spices to create a spiced fruit compote
- Sprinkle yoghurt with cinnamon, turmeric and cardamom and serve with berries, nuts/seeds
- When making baked goods such as banana bread, slices and cookies – make a conscious effort to add spices to the batter.
- As above – add spices to dips such as hummus, babaganoush, beetroot (goes very well with cumin)!
- Try roasting your own nuts or chickpeas with spices – a nice combo is paprika, turmeric, garlic and cayenne.