Our culture is finally starting to view the food that we eat as a potential medicine chest. Every day, scientists are discovering more and more that certain herbs, spices, and leaves offer curative powers that can help us overcome disease. Bharat B. Aggarwal, Ph.D. has understood this concept since childhood. He was raised in India, a land devoted to the spice box. Indian cuisine often relies on 10–20 spices in just one recipe. “Spices originated in India, Indonesia, and other parts of south and southeast Asia,” says Aggarwal in his book Healing Spices.
He goes on to say, “Sanskrit writings from the India of 3,000 years ago describe the varied, therapeutic uses of spices, and ancient medical texts from China are filled with remedies using spices for hundreds of ailments.” In researching my book, FoodTrients: Age-Defying Recipes for a Sustainable Life, I came to understand what Aggarwal means when he says, “Modern medical and nutritional researchers are discovering unimaginable riches of health in the spices that have been such an integral part of human history.”
Three spices that I use heavily—garlic, turmeric, and mustard—contain FoodTrients for your health. Garlic’s power to prevent diseases like stroke, cancer, and heart failure comes from the FoodTrient allicin. My cookbook recipes for Garlic Crab Royale and Whole-Wheat Garlic Noodles, for example, will provide some of the allicin you need to keep your blood platelets from sticking together, lower your cholesterol, and reduce plaque buildup in your arteries.
Turmeric is full of the FoodTrient curcumin, which reduces inflammation in the arteries and joints and helps prevent certain cancers. Make a batch of my Fresh Turmeric Juice and add it to orange juice for a healthy and refreshing beverage, or make a turmeric sauce for turkey, like my Turkey in Turmeric Sauce, or add some to a marinade for fish.
Mustard is made up of sulfur compounds, which support joints and connective tissues. I also include spices like black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves in my recipes for their therapeutic effects and high levels of antioxidants. My cookbook recipes for Mustard-Crusted Tri-Tip and Cinnamon Coffee are delicious ways to incorporate these spices when you’re entertaining friends or family.
I recently found two sources for buying organic spices and I want to share them with you. Spicely packs its organic, non-genetically modified products without adding any artificial colors, MSG, cornstarch, or preservatives. Their products are kosher, vegan, gluten-free, and packed in eco-friendly recycled containers. Red Monkey produces all-natural organic spice blends without any additives. They specialize in interesting spice blends like a mango habanera rub for meats that includes orange peel, turmeric, and natural smoke flavor.
You may not realize it, but salt can have beneficial properties, if you buy the right salt. I like the pink salt mined from the Himalayan Mountains because it contains iron, magnesium, potassium, and copper—minerals that our bodies need to function properly. A company called Himalania imports all-natural Himalayan salt in coarse and fine grinds. It can be found at Whole Foods and Sur La Table nationwide. Himalayan salt has a wonderful, unique flavor. You can detect it best when it’s sprinkled on mild foods, like popcorn or fish.
I think of olive oil as a spice because it’s the basis of so much of my cooking. Olive oil contains the FoodTrient oleocanthal. By now we’re all familiar with the heart and circulatory benefits of cooking with olive oil versus butter. A company called Terra Delyssa makes organic, kosher, extra-virgin olive oil from Tunisia. If you haven’t found an olive oil whose taste you love yet, give Terra Delyssa a try. Olive oil has a wide range of flavors from peppery to fruity. You should be using an oil that delights your taste buds as it heals your arteries.
Hippocrates, a Greek physician who practiced medicine over 2,000 years ago (and from whom we derived the Hippocratic oath to do no harm to patients), is credited with writing, “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.” I say: let your spice box be where you begin building your FoodTrients medicine chest.