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Spices of the Holidays

  December 08, 2017

By Leila Elliot

By adding just a bit of the traditional holiday spices — cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger — to season your cooking can also provide a bounty of health benefits. It is well-known that spices are used to enhance flavor but recently spices have been hailed for a healthy purpose: compensation for lower salt, fat, and even sugar levels in foods. A small pinch of the following four spices can reduce inflammation, moderate cholesterol, improve digestion, and even calm nausea from motion sickness. Seasoning your food isn’t the only way to relish these spices health benefits: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger are all available as supplements. Be sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your daily health routine.

Cinnamon is a spiced derived from the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree. There are over 100 varieties of cinnamon; many found in the U.S. are of the species cassia and are typically shipped from Arabia and Ethiopia. Cinnamomum verum known as true cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon is native to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Malabar Coast of India and is a bit more difficult to come by.

Cinnamon has unique medicinal abilities that arise mainly from one of the components called cinnamaldehyde, found in essential oil. According to the National Institutes of Health, cinnamaldehyde can help fight against bacterial and fungal infections. Recent studies show cinnamon slows down the emptying of the stomach, helping to moderate insulin and blood sugar levels. It is also known to help reduce triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol. Cinnamon also relieves inflammation, helping with pain in muscles and joints, and possibly reducing arthritis discomfort. It also prevents excessive platelet clotting, which can reduce blood flow that cause clots that lead to heart attack and stroke.

Cloves are the aromatic nail-shaped flower buds of an evergreen tree from Maluku Islands in Indonesia. They are known for their strong, pungent, sweet and spicy flavor. Cloves can be used in marinades, quick breads and muffins, soups, squash dishes, and traditional holiday spice cakes, and, of course, pumpkin pie.

Clove extracts have been used to treat minor respiratory ailments, such as a cold, and can be found in some sore throat sprays and mouthwashes due to its antibacterial properties. Cloves are also known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Traditionally used in Indian and Chinese medicine, the essential oil was used as a painkiller for dental emergencies. Topical application over the stomach or abdomen is said to aid digestive problems.

Nutmeg is one of two spices — the other being mace —derived from an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas of Indonesia. Nutmeg is a seed inside a speckled yellow fruit. Whole nutmegs are oval, wrinkled, brown and approximately an inch long in size. They are known for their slightly sweet, nutty aroma and taste. Nutmeg is traditionally used in many Italian and Greek dishes, though you may never notice it. A hint of nutmeg can be found in traditional macaroni and cheese and is a staple flavor in many Scandinavian cookies.

Much of nutmeg’s flavor and aroma comes from volatile oils of myristica, which contains myristicin, a narcotic whose function in the plant is as a natural insecticide. Nutmeg — like cinnamon and cloves — also acts as an antibacterial agent.

Commonly referred to as ginger root, this spice is actually a rhizome, which is a self-replicating horizontal stem that sends out roots. Depending on the variety, the flesh can be yellow, white, or red and covered with a translucent flaky skin. Ginger is known for its warm, spicy, and slightly citrus flavor that works well in savory and sweet dishes alike. It is essential in Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Indonesian cuisines.

Ginger offers numerous therapeutic benefits as well. Studies show that a particular enzyme in ginger known as zingibain has strong anti-inflammatory properties, making it effective in relieving arthritis. Researchers determined that ginger reduces nausea due to a strong antioxidant, gingerol, which blocks receptors in the stomach that cause nausea. Recent studies show ginger is useful in relieving morning sickness during pregnancy, in treating postoperative nausea, and reducing motion sickness. Ginger is currently being studied for possible use against cancer cells for its immune boosting action.

These favorite holiday spices provide us with strong and savory flavors to give depth to an otherwise ordinary dish. And with health benefits to match, you may feel like Granny’s Pumpkin Pie recipe isn’t so bad after all. If you feel so inclined to reform Granny’s Pie, here is a recipe for a “Grain-free Pumpkin Pie” that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Photo credit: juliannafunk/iStock, bhofack2/iStock

Grain-Free Pumpkin Pie
Serves: 6-8


For Crust
1 cup Almonds or pecans, finely ground in blender until Flour-like (or almond flour)
3 Tbsp Coconut oil plus some to grease pie pan
1 Egg
Cinnamon powder (1/4-1/2 tsp or to taste)

For Filling
15 oz Can of pumpkin (nothing added) or approx. 2 cups of homemade pureed pumpkin with excess liquid drained
3 Eggs
1/4 cup Honey (or to taste)
1 Tbsp Pumpkin pie spices or about 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1/4 tsp each of cloves, ginger and nutmeg
1 tsp Natural vanilla
Coconut milk to thin (no more than about 1/3 cup)

Preheat oven to 325. Grease pie pan with coconut oil and mix crust ingredients by hand in a medium-sized bowl. Press crust into bottom and sides of pie pan and put in the oven while making the filling. In the same bowl, combine the filling ingredients (except coconut milk) and mix using an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor. A hand-mixer will not get it as smooth! It should be smooth and spreadable, but not really pourable. Add coconut milk if needed to thin slightly.

After 10-15 minutes, remove the crust as it barely starts to brown. Pour/smooth the filling over the crust and return to oven for about an hour or until center is no longer giggly. Will set more as it cooks. Top with coconut cream or whipped heavy cream and some chopped pecans.

Recipe provided by Back to Top

December 08, 2017
Categories:  Nutritional


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