Asian traditional secrets of health benefits of spices are revealed
Posted on February 1st, 2015

Dr Hector Perera       London

In cooking we just use certain spices without actually knowing the value of them. Nearly all Asian food are prepared by adding a few spices but most of the people are unaware of the benefits of them that is why I thought to mention some values as follows. One thing, you must not add too much of them because too much spices lose the taste of food so need to use them sparingly.

Molecular movements

When we add these things to food such as curries, these chemicals have intermolecular and intramolecular reactions. These molecules never stay still at any one place, they rotate, vibrate and make any other complicated movements. Nearly all these chemicals have very low boiling points that means they easily evaporate. Anyone can smell any spice if they take it fairly close to the nose that means even without heating these chemicals evaporate to some extent but if heated they quickly evaporate. This what I mentioned these chemicals evaporate quickly and escape unless they are controlled in the process of cooking. The things we cannot visually see some people use the word ghost so you mean these chemicals behave like ghosts? One thing, I have noticed, nearly all Sri Lankans cook the curries with spices and they always open the piping hot curries and stir even they are boiling. I am sure they are unaware of the fact these chemicals evaporate and deposit on them in the process of stirring. Spics are added to flavour the food but not to let them evaporate away wastefully. When chemicals evaporate they exert a certain vapour pressure. In a curry there are a number of spices that means a number of chemicals and they all exert a certain vapour pressure. We need to make use of this property in cooking but if we let them escape by opening the lid of the curries repeatedly, they are lost to the atmosphere and certainly some of them get deposited on the person who cooks these curries. When a curry is boiling it creates some kind of convection current on the liquid that helps the curries to cook. Nearly all food have water as an essential constituent so these convection currents are exerted on the boiling liquid that carries all the essential ingredients. When food get in contact with these convection currents carrying the ingredients, some of them get absorbed into the food to give a flavour. It takes a certain time for the food to get into edible state that is why we cook food for a certain length of time. For example we need to cook rice nearly for half an hour before it converts into an edible state and chicken for about half an hour but harder meat such as beef must be cooked for another 15 minutes longer. If any meat is not properly cooked there will be harmful bacteria and germs hiding in them which can eventually get into the digestive system. Have you not come across any news about food poisoning and some of them are really fatal.


What kind of hybridisation?

When we add these spices into curries such as chicken, fish or even to vegetable curries, some of them go under or in between the chicken or fish so we cannot easily locate where they are that is a kind of hybridisation. We come across in chemistry Sp, Sp3 and many more kinds of hybridisations but I cannot say exactly what kind of hybridisation takes place when we mix these ingredients with curries. Let me give a short list of spices only as follows. The chemical names given are not easy to pronounce and not quite familiar to general public but let me mention them as follows. Then only anyone would realise the number of chemicals involved in spices but again this is not the end of list of spices but just a few chosen ones only.

One example is cinnamon. True Ceylonese cinnamon is much more expensive than the cassia, and has a lighter and more delicate fragrance. The number of chemicals involved in one such as cinnamon is far too many to mention but let me mention some of it here. The names are not easy to pronounce but let me mention some of them as follows.

Chemicals in Cinnamon

The primary constituents of the essential oil are 65% to 80% cinnamaldehyde and lesser percentages of other phenols and terpenes, including eugenol, trans-cinnamic acid, hydroxycinnamaldehyde, o-methoxycinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl alcohol and its acetate, limonene, alpha-terpineol, tannins, mucilage, oligomeric procyanidins, and trace amounts of coumarin. I know already you didn’t like the names but let me carry on for the sake of completion.

Blood sugar control effect

Cinnamon contains an active compound known as MHCP or Methyl-Hydroxy-Chalcone Polymer which is what was thought to be the chemical in the plant that was responsible for its blood sugar controlling affects. There you are this chemical has a good effect on the blood sugar control, so cinnamon is healthy to eat.

Other health effects of cinnamon

The whole system can be treated by using cinnamon as a general tonic in the treatment of many disorders affecting a person at the physical level. Circulation can be stimulated by drinking a hot drink containing the cinnamon, this drink will also induce perspiration, and help in the prevention and resolution of common flues and colds, it can also help treat catarrh and other types of infections affecting a person. Fevers affecting the person can also be treated using the cinnamon which helps in reducing the elevated temperature of the body. The oil of cinnamon can also greatly aid in the treatment of various chest infections and can also alleviate head colds affecting the person the oil is normally inhaled by the patient. The cinnamon has stimulating and general warming properties, which can direct the action and remedial properties of other remedies used in follow up treatments thus it can be taken as an initial treatment and followed by thyme during treatment for bronchial congestion and different respiratory tract infections, it can be used as the initial treatment and followed by blue cohosh for the treatment of uterine disorders and it can also be used in the treatment of irregular and painful periods in women, the cinnamon can also be used in the treatment of heavy bleeding during menstruation, it can be used to treat all sorts of uterine infections and to stop vaginal discharges in affected women.

Bactericidal and antifungal properties

The sedative and analgesic action of the constituent of the bark cinnamaldehyde was confirmed during the 1980s, through Japanese research. This particular constituent of the cinnamon plant is believed to be capable of bringing about a reduction in any fevers and elevated blood pressure in patients. Bactericidal as well as antifungal properties have also been attributed to the cinnamon bark products.

How about the other spices such as cloves and cumin? Once again they are far too much but let me mention what they are:

Chemical Composition and Antioxidant Properties of Clove Leaf Essential Oil.

The antioxidant activity of a commercial rectified clove leaf essential oil (Eugenia caryophyllus) and its main constituent eugenol was tested. This essential oil comprises in total 23 identified constituents, among them eugenol (76.8%), followed by β-caryophyllene (17.4%), α-humulene (2.1%), and eugenyl acetate (1.2%) as the main components. The essential oil from clove demonstrated scavenging activity against the 2,2-diphenyl-1-picryl hydracyl (DPPH) radical at concentrations lower than the concentrations of eugenol, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA).

I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t read all the names or all the chemicals. Now one can imagine how many chemicals escape in the cooking aroma when this is added to curries. Clove is used for upset stomach and as an expectorant. Expectorants make it easier to cough up phlegm. Clove oil is used for diarrhoea, hernia, and bad breath. Clove and clove oil are used for intestinal gas, nausea, and vomiting.

This is another common spice added in cooking. Cumin’s distinctive flavour and strong, warm aroma are due to its essential oil content. Its main constituent and important aroma compound is cuminaldehyde (4-isopropylbenzaldehyde). Other important aroma compounds of toasted cumin are the substituted pyrazines, 2-ethoxy-3-isopropylpyrazine, 2-methoxy-3-sec-butylpyrazine, and 2-methoxy-3-methylpyrazine. Other components include beta Pinene and Gamma-terpinene.

Bonna Kottaamalli, mokatada whisky brandy?”

Another common spice is coriander and the chemical composition and the benefits are far too many to mention here. When we have cough or cold or slight fever, we used to drink coriander boiled with some ginger. I listened to the karaoke style song about this, Bonna Kottaamalli”. The chemical components in coriander are borneol, linalool, cineole, cymene, terpineol, dipentene, phellandrene, pinene and terpinolene.[essential oil of coriander]

Chemicals in ginger

Did you know that in every piece of ginger there are eighteen different chemicals as well as several unique nutrients? Beta-sitosteol   Alpha-pinene, Beta-carotene, Beta-ionone, Beta-sitosteol, Caffeic acid, Camphor and more different chemicals, altogether 18 chemicals.

Now who would not argue the fact that spices are an essential part of Asian style of curries? When they stir the curries while they are piping hot, is it possible for the people to inhale some of these invisible volatile chemicals? Again the question is, are they healthy to inhale that kind of chemicals on daily basis in cooking? 

Bland food in some British TV shows

I have witnessed some British TV chefs, cook bland beef or pork just for few minutes on a hot cooking pan or on the grill then served to the presenter. When it is cut, one can see the red part of the meat, sometimes still see blood that means they are not properly cooked. They rush for the sake of the TV but the food are uncooked that means unsuitable for human consumption. Again they hardly add any spices as well because if spices were present some of them would have reacted on certain germs and bacteria.

More spices to mention

There are a number of other herbal spices added in cooking different style of dishes for example curry leaves and pandam leaves. The herbal spice is also used in many other roles aside from its fungicidal and bactericidal effects and the delicious aromatic spice is used as an effective and wonderful warming or strength boosting remedy to increase resistance to common cold, to beat back the winter chills and in the treatment of a variety of physical conditions associated with the common cold, it is also used in the treatment of internal congestion. The list of spices added in different style of dishes are far too many to mention here but I just managed to mention just a few ingredients only. Your comments are welcomed

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