If you look inside your kitchen cabinet, you may find cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, or maybe even some turmeric. Why are these ingredients so special? For many years, spices and herbs have been used for both cooking and therapeutic purposes. Providing benefits from antioxidant properties to nausea relief, these ingredients have helped humans combat and treat various medical issues.

In the modern world, spices and herbs are still used in cuisines across the globe. Karina Grande ’20 and I researched different elements of the Spanish cuisine this past Spring Break to understand what spices are utilized for what purposes. Even though spices and herbs like saffron and garlic are widely used in Spanish cuisine, most of the people we interviewed were unaware of the health benefits of these spices; they were instead focused on ways these elements can be used to enhance the taste of their food. 

So, what are the health benefits of spices and herbs? Spices are known mainly to have antioxidant characteristics. This means they work to prevent potential damage to tissue caused by oxidative processes and their byproducts, namely free radicals. As the name may suggest, free radicals are molecules with at least one unpaired electron. This arrangement is very unstable, so the free radical seeks out other sources of electrons within the body to complete the pair. 

Consequently, damage is done to the cells and potentially to DNA. Antioxidants, such as spices including cinnamon, saffron, and oregano, prevent these free radicals from doing damage by donating their electrons to the free radicals. In this way, the free radical is stabilized, and essential cellular components go undamaged.     

This is just one example of the important impact spices and herbs can have on our health. There are many more health benefits from spices that include anti-inflammatory properties, lowering blood sugar, reducing cholesterol to keep the heart healthy, and more. So, the next time you cook dinner, make sure to throw in some ginger or chili to help your out body. 

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