Spices as Antioxidants

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Chemical Component

Rosemary Sage

Carnosol, carnosoic acid, rosmanol Rosmanol, epirosmanol Curcumin, 4-hydroxycinnmoyl methane Eugenol

Phenolic glucoside, caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, protocatechuic acid Myristphenone

Sesaminol, 8-tocopherol, sesamol Shogoal, gingerol




Mace and nutmeg Sesame seed Ginger effective against oxidative rancidity of fats and color deterioration of the carotenoid pigments.

Spices can prevent rancidity and extend shelf life by slowing the oxidation of fats and enzymes. Fats are broken down into peroxides (free radicals) with exposure to air or oxygen and finally into aldehydes and alcohols that give a rancid taste. Spices can halt the oxidative process by blocking or "scavenging" the free radicals.

Today, with consumer demand for "natural" products, spices can be used commercially as natural antioxidants in foods. Sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, cilantro, and marjoram are found to have stronger antioxidant properties than other spices. Rosemary and sage are currently used as natural antioxidants in foods, while other spices such as cilantro are being explored.

Rosemary and sage antioxidants are available as oil-solubles, water-dispers-ibles, or dry-solubles, and can be used in seasoning blends, salad dressing mixes, lard, sausage, or instant potatoes. They are used as sprays, dips, or surface coatings in comminuted poultry, seafood, or meats before they are frozen to inhibit "warmed over" flavors that develop after cooking and reheating. For snack foods, they are added in the frying oil or atomized on the surface of snacks or put into the dough. They are also added to glazes and injection marinades for meats, and are extremely heat stable as they withstand extrusion, spray-drying, or baking temperatures.

Rosemary and sage are the most effective of all spices in retaining the red color of processed meats by inhibiting the flavor and color degradation of fats and oils in them. The flavonoids and diterpenes and triterpenes of rosemary and sage are responsible for their antioxidant properties. They exhibit antioxidant properties superior to BHA or BHT. Other effective spices include thyme, turmeric, oregano, ginger, clove, majoram, red pepper, mace, sesame, and nutmeg.

Rosmanol, caffeic acid, myristphenone, curcurmin, eugenol, thymol, and sesa-minol in rosemary, clove, thyme, oregano, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, sage, and sesame seed are found to be strong antioxidants with meat, lard, and soybean oil.

Emerging Functions of Spices Spices as Medicines

The growing emphasis on healthy eating is drawing attention to spices as critical ingredients for not only creating tasty low-fat or low-salt foods but as a natural way for improving health and promoting wellness. Consumers prefer eating a "natural" food product to taking medicine or drugs. With greater research into their medical benefits, spices are becoming more attractive to consumers.

Spices can be used to create these health-promoting products. The active components in spices—phthalides, polyacetylenes, phenolic acids, flavanoids, cou-marins, capsacinoids, triterpenoids, sterols, and monoterpenes—are powerful tools for promoting physical and emotional wellness.

Spices such as celery, parsley, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, mint, licorice, garlic, onion, mustard, horseradish, and chile pepper can be used to stimulate production of enzymes that detoxify carcinogens, inhibit cholesterol synthesis, block estrogen, lower blood pressure, elevate immune activity, and inhibit tumor growth.

Since ancient era, spices have been used not only by Indians and Chinese, but also Latinos, Africans, Egyptians, and Greeks, to relieve ailments and prevent illnesses. In recent years, Western scientists have been isolating the active compounds in spices to study their therapeutic effects to promote wellness: rosemary, sage, and basil fight against tumors; chile peppers inhibit blood clotting, stimulate digestion and circulation, induce perspiration, and reduce pain; ginger prevents motion sickness and aids digestion and stomach ulcers; garlic lowers cholesterol and high triglycerides, prevents colds and flus, and prevents tumor growth; turmeric inhibits tumors, heals wounds, acts as an antidepressant, and fights against Alzheimer's; licorice treats gastric and duodenal ulcers and relieves chronic fatigue, coughs, and cold symptoms; peppermint combats indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammation of gums.

Aromatherapy, using essential oils, can relax or stimulate the body, create certain moods, relieve cold symptoms and respiratory problems, and ease muscle pains. The vapors are inhaled to release neurochemicals in the brain, through receptors in the mouth and nose, that cause the desired effects. Cooking foods with spices is the oldest form of aromatherapy, since their aroma can stimulate gastric secretions that create appetites. Spices are also used as balms or massage oils and are applied on the skin, joints, and muscles to relieve stress and pain. Examples of the health benefits of spices are almost endless.

In the United States and elsewhere, the growing trend of using foods as nutraceuticals that boost energy and improve health will promote spices that were historically used to cure ailments and prevent diseases.

Let's look at traditional healing methods to provide an understanding of how and why spices are used by many global cultures as medicines. This will also help in understanding the basis for the contrasting flavors presented by spices and the many taste sensations experienced in an Asian meal.

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