Spicy Perfection isn’t to Prevent Infection

This is the chef’s kiss of scientific discovery

The next time you tuck in to a tikka masala you might find yourself asking a burning question: are spices used in dishes to help stop infection?

It’s a question many have chewed the fat over. And now thanks to new research from The Australian National University (ANU) we have an answer.

The quick takeaway is: probably not.

Professor Lindell Bromham and her colleagues asked why hot countries across the world tend to have spicy food? This pattern has led to what some have termed “Darwinian gastronomy” – a tummy-led cultural evolutionary process in countries with hotter climates.

To find out the answer to their question, the researchers feasted on a true smorgasbord of data, examining more the 33,000 recipes from 70 cuisines containing 93 different spices.

“The theory is that spicy foods helped people survive in hot climates where the risk of infection from food can have a big cost in terms of health and survival,” Professor Bromham said.

“But we found that this theory doesn’t hold up.

“Spicier food is found in hotter countries, but our analysis provides no clear reason to believe that this is primarily a cultural adaptation to reducing infection risk from food.”

The study instead shows that while use of spice is related to the risk of foodborne illness, it’s also associated with a wide range of health outcomes. In fact, spice use is even related to causes of death that have nothing to do with infection risk, such as fatal car accidents.

“So there is a significant relationship between life expectancy and spicy food,” Professor Bromham said.

“But this doesn’t mean that spicy food shortens your life span or makes you crash your car. Instead, there are many socio-economic indicators that all scale together, and many of them also scale with spice use.”

Professor Bromham said that because the spiciness of cuisines scales with many socio-economic factors, like gross domestic product per capita and life expectancy, it is difficult to tease apart the key causes. However, the researchers could rule out some possible explanations of why some areas use more spices in their cooking.

“Spicier foods are not explained by variation in climate, human population density or cultural diversity,” she said.

“And patterns of spice use don’t seem to be driven by biodiversity, nor by the number of different crops grown, nor even by the number of spices growing naturally in the area.”

Whatever the key drivers for the use of spice, one thing is certain – our palettes and plates are a lot better for it!

The study’s findings are published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Source: The Australian National University

Adding a Blend of Spices to a Meal May Help Lower Inflammation

Katie Bohn wrote . . . . . . . . .

Adding an array of spices to your meal is a surefire way to make it more tasty, but new Penn State research suggests it may increase its health benefits, as well.

In a randomized, controlled feeding study, the researchers found that when participants ate a meal high in fat and carbohydrates with six grams of a spice blend added, the participants had lower inflammation markers compared to when they ate a meal with less or no spices.

“If spices are palatable to you, they might be a way to make a high-fat or high-carb meal more healthful,” said Connie Rogers, associate professor of nutritional sciences. “We can’t say from this study if it was one spice in particular, but this specific blend seemed to be beneficial.”

The researchers used a blend of basil, bay leaf, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, oregano, parsley, red pepper, rosemary, thyme and turmeric for the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Nutrition.

According to Rogers, previous research has linked a variety of different spices, like ginger and tumeric, with anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, chronic inflammation has previously been associated with poor health outcomes like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and overweight and obesity, which affects approximately 72 percent of the U.S. population.

In more recent years, researchers have found that inflammation can spike after a person eats a meal high in fat or sugar. While it is not clear whether these short bursts — called acute inflammation — can cause chronic inflammation, Rogers said it’s suspected they play a factor, especially in people with overweight or obesity.

“Ultimately the gold standard would be to get people eating more healthfully and to lose weight and exercise, but those behavioral changes are difficult and take time,” Rogers said. “So in the interim, we wanted to explore whether a combination of spices that people are already familiar with and could fit in a single meal could have a positive effect.”

For the study, the researchers recruited 12 men between the ages of 40 and 65, with overweight or obesity, and at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Rogers said the sample was chosen because people in these demographics tend to be at a higher risk for developing poorer health outcomes.

In random order, each participant ate three versions of a meal high in saturated fat and carbohydrates on three separate days: one with no spices, one with two grams of the spice blend, and one with six grams of the spice blend. The researchers drew blood samples before and then after each meal hourly for four hours to measure inflammatory markers.

“Additionally, we cultured the white blood cells and stimulated them to get the cells to respond to an inflammatory stimulus, similar to what would happen while your body is fighting an infection,” Rogers said. “We think that’s important because it’s representative of what would happen in the body. Cells would encounter a pathogen and produce inflammatory cytokines.”

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that inflammatory cytokines were reduced following the meal containing six grams of spices compared to the meal containing two grams of spices or no spices. Rogers said six grams roughly translates to between one teaspoon to one tablespoon, depending on how the spices are dehydrated.

While the researchers can’t be sure which spice or spices are contributing to the effect, or the precise mechanism in which the effect is created, Rogers said the results suggest that the spices have anti-inflammatory properties that help offset inflammation caused by the high-carb and high-fat meal.

Additionally, Rogers said that a second study using the same subjects, conducted by Penn State researchers Penny Kris-Etherton and Kristina Petersen, found that six grams of spices resulted in a smaller post-meal reduction of “flow mediated dilation” in the blood vessels — a measure of blood vessel flexibility and marker of blood vessel health.

Source: The Pennsylvania State University

Top 10 Spices for Meatless Monday Meals

Under-seasoned food tastes of…disappointment, but you can effortlessly breathe new life into your meals with the addition of a few key seasonings and spice blends.

Spices instantly elevate the subtle flavors of vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and plant-based proteins without piling on extra calories (or dirty dishes in the sink).

From sea salt to shichimi togarashi, we’ve got the 10 spices that you need to add to your spice rack.

Adobo (all-purpose seasoning)

Adobo is the ultimate all-purpose seasoning, and, although it’s traditionally used with animal proteins, its salty-garlicy flavor can give that same savoriness to any number of plant-based dishes — from crispy tofu to vegetarian stews. Adobo seasonings vary in their composition, but they generally include a blend of granulated garlic, salt, oregano, black pepper, and turmeric.

Ancho Chile

Ancho chile, known as a poblano when fresh, has a deep, smoky, slightly sweet flavor comparable to a spicy chocolate-covered raisin. Its mild-to-medium heat makes it an appropriate addition to moles, enchilada sauce, soup, traditional chili, or even pasta.

Black Peppercorns (in pepper mill)

Pre-ground black pepper tastes vapid and boring compared to the fresh stuff; thankfully, many spice brands offer miniature grinders complete with whole peppercorns ready to be crushed. A couple rotations of the pepper mill adds a sharp, citrusy flavor, floral-like aroma, and crunchy texture to the tops of salads, soups, pastas, and these delicious tempeh fajitas.

Cumin

The fragrant seed is a member of the parsley family, but it’s often sold as a powder rather than in its whole form. Cumin is aromatic and complex and can add a powerful smoky flavor to black bean burgers, curried potatoes, vegetarian chili, and lentil soups. Just remember to use this strong spice sparingly.

Curry Powder

“Curry Powder” is a mixture of different seasonings that differs slightly based on what brand you buy. That being said, many contain some combination of coriander, mustard, cumin, fenugreek, cayenne, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and turmeric, which gives curry powder its iconic yellow-orange color. Add some to roasted vegetables, blend into hummus, sprinkle on popcorn, or use as the base of this Thai tofu pumpkin curry.

“Everything Bagel”

Available at Trader Joe’s and a spattering of other retailers, the “Everything Bagel” spice blend is the ultimate compliment to any roasted potato or sautéed vegetable. Add some to a tahini dressing or sprinkle some on an avocado half with a squeeze of lemon and a squirt of sriracha. The spice mixture is a combination of all the wonderful bits you’d find on the outside of an everything bagel: sesame seeds, sea salt, dried minced garlic, onion, and poppy seeds.

Red Pepper Flake

Although it probably already exists somewhere on your spice rack, the raw, uncalibrated heat of red pepper flake brings a brutish pop to roasted cruciferous vegetables and elegant pastas.

Sea Salt

Don’t roll your eyes just yet. In terms of utility in a dish, sea salt offers the same taste-enhancing qualities as traditional table salt, but when it comes to look, flavor, and texture, sea salt is in an ocean of its own. Its slightly “richer” flavor and crunch make it a natural fit for both savory entrees and desserts.

Shichimi Togarashi

Adorning the table of many ramen soup shops, shichimi togarashi is a complex spice blend that includes a combination of red chile pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger, and seaweed. Sprinkle this on literally anything — noodles, fried rice, stir-fried tofu, soups, marinades, rubs, dressings, tempuras, roasted vegetables, etc. — to instantly add a flurry diverse flavors and tastes.

Star Anise

Star anise is often sold in its ornamental whole form, but it’s much easier to incorporate into dishes as a powder. Its flavor is somewhere between licorice, cinnamon, and clove. Try adding it to broths, chutneys, mulled wine, or desserts, like this warm cranberry poached pear.

Source: Meatless Monday

23 Spice Products Sold in Hong Kong Have Cancer-causing Substances

Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has found 23 spice products sold in the city contained substances that could cause cancer, with the amount in two goods exceeding local regulatory limits.

The Consumer Council revealed on Tuesday that more than half of the 44 dried spices tested were found to have either aflatoxins (AFs), ochratoxin A (OTA) or both.

AFs and OTA are mycotoxins produced by fungi, and carcinogenic, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

It urged manufacturers to improve their production to minimise the chances of mycotoxin contamination during the process and to preserve the finished products in good condition.

“It’s hard for consumers to tell which spices are problematic, so a quality check is very important,” the council’s chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said.

Among the 15 spices found to have AFs, the amount in two nutmeg products, often used to make western pastries such as pumpkin pies – went beyond the upper limit set by the Centre for Food Safety’s regulations of 15 micrograms per kilogram (mcg/kg).

The IARC said AFs were linked to liver cancer and may affect unborn babies.

Deep-fried vegetable chips could contain twice the amount of carcinogen in potato chips, Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns

Ground Nutmeg from McCormick, marked as from the United States, contained 17.7mcg/kg of AFs.

Of the 17.7 micrograms of AFs, 12.4 micrograms were B1-type AFs – the most toxic kind of such mycotoxins – which exceeded the European Union’s maximum limit of 5mcg/kg.

Another nutmeg product from Yuan Heng Spice Co was found to have 17.5 micrograms of AFs, of which 14.6 micrograms was the B1-type substance.

The council has asked the local food authorities to follow up.

The study found these and two other spice products exceeded the stricter cap of 10mcg/kg set by the European Union.

An agency representing McCormick argued the council’s findings were abnormal, saying another test report by an independent laboratory suggested the product had less than five micrograms of B1-type AFs per 100kg. It said a small sample might produce unreliable results and that safety was its first priority.

Yuan Heng Spice Co’s agency representative said its investigation suggested there had been problems when stocking the products and the company had recalled and destroyed the batch of goods in question.

Nora Tam Fung-yee, from the council’s research and testing committee, insisted the test was conducted in accordance with international standards but admitted results from different batches might vary.

But Wong said no matter whether the manufacturers agreed with the results or not, they were responsible for finding out the cause of the problem and to check whether the products were safe to sell.

Meanwhile, the council’s tests also found 18 out of 44 samples contained OTA, which could cause cancer. They included capsicum spp. spices and turmeric which are essential for making curry, as well as nutmeg products.

The council noted there was currently no regulatory oversight on the maximum concentration of OTA in spice products.

Wong said the European Union had such regulations and another international body also had a recommended upper limit, so Hong Kong should keep up with the times and the test results warranted attention.

“But we want to bring a little bit of comfort to consumers. In Hong Kong food culture, the application of spices is not in high quantity. Unlike other Asian countries which consume curry more and use it more frequently. So relatively, the seriousness is not that high,” she said.

The council urged consumers to inspect the product packaging with care and check whether the spice was mouldy or had an unusual appearance.

It added once opened, the spice should be tightly closed and stored in a cool dry place.

Source: SCMP

5 Reasons Why Spicy Food is Good for You

Tanya Zuckerbrot wrote . . . . . .

The Spice Girls were onto something when they released their hit song “Spice Up Your Life” in the ’90s. Turns out, a wealth of research supports the idea that adding spice to your food can offer some major health benefits.

Although there’s a slew of unexpected perks to giving your food a kick, capsaicin is the ingredient to keep in mind. The compound is found in jalapeños, habaneros, cayenne and most other chili peppers, and it’s the underlying reason spicy foods can help you lose weight and live a longer, healthier life.

Here are 5 reasons to consider spicing up your food:

1. You’ll lose more weight.

Capsaicin is a thermogenic substance, meaning it causes the body temperature to rise, temporarily boosting metabolism and revving its ability to burn calories. Capsaicin may also decrease appetite and help curb cravings. A 2005 study in the International Journal of Obesity found that exposure to capsaicin increased participants’ satiety, and reduced their calorie and fat intake.

Consider adding tabasco sauce to your eggs at breakfast to give your metabolism an early-morning boost.

2. Your heart will thank you.

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death among men and women in America, but spicing up your food may help reduce your risk of developing the ailment. Studies suggest capsaicin may lower LDL, or bad, cholesterol, which accumulates on artery walls and constricts blood flow to the heart. Spicy food can help dilate blood vessels, promoting circulation and helping to manage your blood sugar, research presented during a 2012 American Chemical Society meeting suggests.

Unfortunately, eating spicy food won’t totally undo a bad diet. For optimal heart health, skip greasy foods like hot wings in lieu of adding peppers or hot spices to your favorite dish with lean protein like turkey or chicken.

3. You may reduce your cancer risk.

You probably already know maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can reduce your cancer risk, but consider adding a kick to your dish to further lower your chances. A 2006 study in the journal Cancer suggests capsaicin may inhibit the spread of prostate cancer cells. Spicy foods also are known to boost immunity. Studies suggest they can act as a decongestant, protecting against irritants and pollutants, like dust and smoke.

4. You’ll eat more mindfully.

Research suggests people who eat spicy foods are often more satiated than those who don’t, which can reduce the chances of overeating. That may be because spiciness in food naturally slows the eating process, giving the brain more time to realize the body is full. The end result: fewer calories consumed.

If there’s a food you tend to eat mindlessly, try turning up the heat with a squirt of Sriracha sauce to slow you down.

5. You may live longer.

If the aforementioned perks weren’t persuasive enough, consider this suggested benefit: Eating spicy foods may help lengthen your life. A Harvard University study suggested that people who ate spicy food every day saw a 14 percent lower risk of death compared to people who ate spicy food only once a week or less. Consider sprinkling dried chili flakes on whole-wheat pasta, vegetables or soups to add a kick of flavor and potentially lengthen your life.

Source: FOX News