Winter food can be lovely and comforting, with the addition of a variety of fragrant and warming spices. Along with stimulating the winter senses, there are lots of hidden health benefits to all these spices, that you may not even be aware of. Spices are made from dried bark, roots, buds and berries, and the drying process concentrates their flavour and health benefits. Adding spices to food enhances flavours and reduces the amount of salt required. They have powerful antioxidant and antibiotic qualities, aid digestion, clear the sinuses and even boost the metabolism!
Benefits: cardamom breaks up chest congestion, making it a good addition to a winter head cold brew. It also boosts the metabolism and helps burn fat more efficiently, aids good circulation and stimulates digestion.
Best with: almond, apricot, banana, carrot, chocolate, coconut, coffee, lamb, pear, vanilla.
Uses: cardamom is a lovely addition to brown rice, adding a fragrant warmth to a winter dish.
Benefits: chilli is most known for balancing blood sugar levels, boosts the metabolism, boosts the immune system, boost circulation and detoxification. It also helps clear congestion, relieves sinuses and reduces cholesterol.
Best with: almond, aubergine, avocado, beef, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicken, chocolate, coconut, egg, garlic, lamb, lemon, olive, orange, pineapple, pork, potato, spinach, sweet potato, tomato.
Uses: add to tomato salsas, curries, bean hotpots and added to soups for a hot kick. If you’re a bit sensitive to the heat of fresh chillies try the dried variety such as paprika, mild chilli powder blends or a pinch of cayenne.
Benefits: cinnamon balances blood sugar levels, boosts the metabolism, aids digestion, is rich in antioxidants, and is an anti-inflammatory. It also helps fight bacteria and viruses and is traditionally used to help recover from colds and sore throats.
Best with: almond, apple, apricot, banana, beef, blueberry, carrot, chocolate, coconut, coffee, lamb, pears, pork, sweet potato, tomato.
Uses: sprinkle it onto morning porridge to warm you up for the day, add it to a bowl of chopped fruit with a dollop of natural yogurt and a handful of seeds or use it to naturally sweeten up green smoothies. It’s also the perfect addition to stews and soups. In fruit crumbles and desserts it adds a natural sweetness which reduces the need for an added sweetener.
Benefits: coriander is a strong anti-inflammatory, lowers cholesterol and aids digestion. It also has antibacterial properties that fight against salmonella, E.Coli and MRSA.
Best with: apple, coffee, garlic, lemon, orange, pork.
Uses: adds a citrus hint to stews, soups and curries. Coriander is usually found partnered with cumin in most Indian cuisine. The citrus character of coriander balances the nutty, earthy flavours of the cumin.
Benefits: cumin is a powerful antioxidant, antiseptic and antibacterial. It aids digestion, boosts the immune system, relieves nausea, bloating and constipation. It has also been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Best with: apricot, beetroot, carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, egg, lamb, lemon, pork, potato, tomato.
Uses: cumin is one of my favourite spices. I add it to all my soups & stews. On most winter Saturday in my kitchen you’ll find a big bean and tomato-based hotpot made with whatever vegetables I have in the fridge and load of cumin, coriander, turmeric and paprika. Cumin is also a lovely addition to warm winter salads. Try in it a simple couscous and grated carrot salad with a glug of olive oil.
Benefits: ginger is known for settling upset stomachs, but it offers so much more. It can ease the symptoms of colds and flu, fights inflammation, boosts the metabolism, boosts the immune system, has powerful antioxidants, helps prevent Alzheimer’s, helps relieve migraines and reduces bloating and gas.
Best with: almond, apricot, aubergine, beef, cabbage, chocolate, coffee, lemon, onion, orange, pork, rhubarb, sweet potato, tomato, vanilla.
Uses: for a winter head cold or sore throat make a pot of tea with a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, the juice of half a lemon, half a teaspoon manuka honey and half a teaspoon of turmeric (fresh or powdered). Sipping the tea throughout the day will dramatically reduce the duration of your cold. Ginger can also be used as a tea made with cinnamon and and a bit of natural sweetener to relieve migraines.
Benefits: nutmeg aids digestion, eases upset stomachs and wind, is an anti-inflammatory and relieves joint and muscle pain. It’s also said to be an aphrodisiac!
Best with: apple, aubergine, avocado, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chocolate, eggs, lamb, onion, parsnip, potato, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato, tomato, vanilla, walnut.
Uses: grate some over a baked sweet potato or add to mashed potato. For an easy dinner, chop up some root vegetables, add a few cubes of frozen spinach, sprinkle with nutmeg and seasoning and bake in the oven for 30min. To add a bit of protein, crack an egg into the roasted veg and bake for the last 10min of baking time. Nutmeg is also nice and warming added into a hot chocolate or cup of warmed almond milk with a pinch of cinnamon.
Benefits: turmeric has been in the spotlight recently for its powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. But it has so much more than that. It suppresses the growth of fat cells, improves digestion, boosts the immune system, reduces bloating and gas, prevents and treats arthritis, aids cardiovascular health, prevents and treats Alzheimer’s and contains anti-cancer substances.
Best with: almond, aubergine, avocado, beef, eggs, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicken, chocolate, coconut, egg, garlic, lamb, lemon, orange, pork, potato, spinach, sweet potato, tomato.
Uses: add to rice dishes, stews, curries, soups or toss it with roast veg. Try a pinch of it in your scrambled eggs. It can be added to a morning hot lemon water, with a pinch of cinnamon, to boost digestion, kickstart the metabolism and start the day with a alkalised system. It also works as a cold remedy when partnered up with ginger as described above.
Ruth Delahunty Yogaru