Every cuisine has its signature spices. These seasonings not only lend local dishes their unique flavors, but they also provide a surprising amount of beneficial nutrients. Incorporate them into your cooking repertoire for a welcome infusion of both taste and nutrition.
East Asia: Ginger
A staple of Asian cooking, ginger imparts a distinct, spicy piquancy to many a dish and beverage. Scientific studies confirm its anti-inflammatory properties, and research in the Journal of Pain< suggests ginger supplements can greatly reduce muscle pain. It’s also known to reduce nausea from pregnancy, chemotherapy and motion sickness, at least in supplement form.
Use it in: stir-fries, tea, muffins and breads, soups
South Asia: Turmeric
Not only does this yellow spice lend curry its unique flavor, but it also contains curcumin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. That doesn’t mean eating curry twice a week will solve all your inflammation problems, but there’s no question that turmeric is a healthy way to add flavor-depth and color to your meals.
Use it in: curries, egg dishes, stir-fries, rice, pancakes and muffins
Middle East: Saffron
Saffron’s orange-yellow color is easy to spot, but its flavor is hard to pin down—descriptions range from honey-like to musky. Some scientific evidence indicates that, as a supplement, saffron can mitigate depression and PMS symptoms, strengthen the blood-circulation system and thwart macular degeneration.
Use it in: rice, soups and stews, baked goods
Tip: Saffron is spendy, but a little goes a long way—use too much and your food might taste bitter. Also, for the best flavor, use the freshest saffron you can find.
Cinnamon isn’t native to Europe, but its widespread use there dates back centuries. Its mildly spicy flavor is familiar worldwide, but less well-known are its many health benefits. Multiple studies document its ability, in supplement form, to stabilize blood sugar, improve cholesterol levels and fight inflammation.
Use it in: baked goods, tea, stews, yogurt and applesauce, beef and lamb marinades
Tip: For the best flavor and health results, look for Ceylon cinnamon, also known as true cinnamon or Mexican cinnamon.
South/Central America: Cayenne
Spicy cayenne pepper enlivens dishes with its fiery flavor and bright-red hue. And it’s every bit as bold inside your body, too. In supplemental doses, it appears to tamp inflammation, regulate blood sugar and address some circulatory problems.
Use it in: Mexican dishes, chili and soups, coffee and hot chocolate, meat marinades and ground-meat mixes