Improve Your Health with Herbs and Spices

Research shows that spicy herbs are good for you .

| November/December 1998

Adding onions, garlic and other spices to food does a lot more than make meals taste better. Research shows that the spicy cuisine of some cultures developed not because of taste alone—rather, spices hold antibiotic properties that kill bacteria that would otherwise contaminate food.

Garlic, onion, allspice and oregano contain powerful bacteria-fighting compounds and are the most powerful of the antibiotic spices, according to researchers at Cornell University, whose findings were published in the March 1998 Quarterly Review of Biology. Those spices killed all thirty microorganisms they were tested against, including E. coli and Salmonella, two bacteria that cause food poisoning.

Further, the study found a direct link between a country’s climate and the type and amount of spices used in cultural dishes. The researchers theorized that spicy cuisine—which is usually associated with warm-climate cultures and commonly contains high amounts of garlic and onion—may be born of necessity: Food spoils faster in warmer climates, and spices inhibit that.

The researchers noted that chiles and other hot peppers also are common ingredients in dishes in warmer countries; they found that capsicums, a name that refers to various pepper plants, kill up to 75 percent of bacteria in laboratory tests.

Spice Use North to South

Paul Sherman, an evolutionary biologist and professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell, and colleague Jennifer Billing analyzed forty-three spices used in more than 4,500 traditional meat recipes from thirty-six countries. The spices ranged from the relatively bland parsley and sage to the more pungent bay leaves and mustard. Spices that don’t have strong antibiotic power—those that kill only 25 percent of bacteria in tests—include white and black pepper, ginger, aniseed, celery seed and the juice of lemon and lime, according to the study.

The researchers also analyzed spice use by individual countries and found that hot spices were commonly used in the warmer climates of Thailand and India, for example, but sparingly or not at all in such cold-climate countries as Norway and Sweden.

11/24/2015 6:03:27 AM

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