Burning gas and cooking aroma has a number of volatile chemicals.
Posted on May 15th, 2015

Dr Hector Perera     London

Many people just ignore the cooking aroma and any gaseous products out given out while cooking. One must understand those chemicals and other gaseous products are not quite healthy to breath. The important thing is to have a good ventilation then to avoid using excess gas or electricity while cooking. The foods without spices or salt added are generally called bland food sometimes medically recommended to eat bland food in certain cases.

Have you not come across in supermarkets, in the World Food Section, some Sri Lanka foods? Unlike in the past the leading supermarkets also stock that kind of food and once you got used to a shop in that area, you will see it’s like a mini Sri Lankan food shop. I used to shop those things in so called Asian shops but now they are in leading supermarket shelves.

Plant-Chem-2 aromas-v5

In general majority of Asian people prefer spicy foods. When some people add spices but they go over the limit then the problem arise. Many British TV chefs have no quantitative or qualitative idea of ingredients; they just add anything because they have already made a name in the TV or in other cooking programmes. Too much chillies, pepper or mustard in certain food burn you from Portsmouth to Lands’ end, see what I mean? Actually they should calm down and show the people clearly what they add than adding this and that without any explanation. Any reaction is faster when the things are cut into smaller parts or by increasing the surface area. In the case of spices, ground form reacts faster than the whole form. Some chefs add whole coriander, cardamom and ajwan seeds but the roasted and ground form gives a better taste. When they are gently warmed or roasted the chemical form also changes. Think of coffee seeds, can you drink ground and raw coffee seeds? Similarly they have to be roasted in some cases.

Some British people do not know much about the curry and the advantages of eating curries, honestly not that I know much about them. The word curry was invented by British colonialists in the 18th century. There is no rigid definition of “a curry,” many restaurants use it as a generic term for sauce-based dishes that can vary in spice content and heat and can contain meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, coconut milk, onions, fresh ginger, kaffir lime leaves and other ingredients. Today, curry powder may also include cloves, coriander, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, fennel, caraway, ajwain seeds [Scientific name: Trachyspermum copticum], dried basil, mustard seeds, mace, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, saffron and cinnamon. These spices have a number of organic highly volatile chemicals with complicated molecular structures. How many so called British TV chefs have any idea about spices and the chemicals in them? They just add this and that without knowing much about where as our Sri Lanka chefs are very knowledgeable about these spices even though they do not know the chemicals in them. They know by sheer long cooking experience, how much of which spice to be added for a particular curry to be tasty.

Chemicals in some spices

Cinnamon alone has 18 cyclic and linear chemicals, some of them have C=C double bonds. The chemical in Clove has methyl salicylate, Eugenol and 2-heptanone as major chemicals.  Eugenol is the major compound that allows clove oil to be used as a remedy for toothache. It has an impressively wide variety of properties: it’s an anaesthetic and antiseptic, and has anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial and insecticidal properties – quite the catalogue.

Some health benefits of spices

Let me mention the some health benefits of only a few spices which normally use in curry powder. One such spice is ajwain seeds which contain health benefiting essential oils such as thymol, a monopterone derivative class of chemical compound, which gives aromatic fragrances to seeds. In addition, they also compose of small amounts other phyto-chemicals such as pinene, cymene, limonene and terpinene. The active principles in the ajwain may help increase the digestive function of the intestinal tract by facilitating release of gut juices (gastro-intestinal secretions). Thymol, the essential oil obtained from ajwain has local anaesthetic, anti-bacterial and antifungal properties.

In most of the curries, they add a spice that gives yellow colouration to the food and that is Saffron. Saffron is used for a number of reason and some are for asthmacoughwhooping cough (pertussis), and to loosen phlegm (as an expectorant). It is also used for sleep problems (insomnia), cancer, hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis), intestinal gas (flatulence), depressionAlzheimer’s disease, fright, shock, spitting up blood (hemoptysis), pain, heartburn, and dry skin. Women use saffron for menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Men use it to prevent early orgasm (premature ejaculation) and infertility. Saffron is also used for to increase interest in sex (as an aphrodisiac) and to induce sweating.

Cloves and Cardamom

One other spice that is used in making curries but I use only a few because too much can have a burning sensation from the mouth to the other end just like chillies. It also has plenty of medicinal values such as to temporarily alleviate tooth ache. Ayurveda suggests making a tea to lessen, or prevent, colds and flu. It is also used as an expectorant, making it easier to cough up phlegm. Cloves are a natural painkiller and also attack germs, so they’ll help you get rid of that sore throat. Use clove oil to massage sore muscles; some also use it for arthritis and rheumatism.

Cardamom is another spice added to flavour food such as fish and meat dishes. Again one or two pods are more than enough to get the unique flavour. There are plenty of health benefits of Cardamom due to the presence of a number of complicated organic chemicals. This exotic spice contains many plants derived chemical compounds that are known to have been anti-oxidant, disease preventing and health promoting properties. The spicy pods contain many essential volatile oils that include pinene, sabinene, myrcene, phellandrene, limonene, 1, 8-cineole, terpinene, p-cymene, terpinolene, linalool, linalyl acetate, terpinen-4-oil, a-terpineol, a-terpineol acetate, citronellol, nerol, geraniol, methyl eugenol, and trans-nerolidol. Now you see how many chemicals are in Cardamom. The chemical structures are very complicated even to draw on a paper. Some are cyclic and many linear bonded C=C bonded chemicals. With heat these bonds tend to break up at certain points and join with others to give different chemical structures. All these chemicals are highly sensitive to temperature and volatile. Would you not think these chemicals are given out in cooking aroma and an essential part in CHICKEN COLOGNE?

How many spices are in a curry?

Now having some of these spices in a chicken or beef curry or even in a vegetable curry, you would expect them to flavour the food. I cannot count actually the number of chemicals in a mixture that normally add to flavour these kinds of foods. These are organic chemicals with some inorganic chemicals attached to the molecule. We marinade the curries then start to cook and some people add these ingredients as they go on even when they are piping hot. Actually some British TV chefs do that kind of adding to the fuming pieces of stake or chicken. I mentioned they are very temperature sensitive that means evaporates very quickly. When the curry is piping hot as well they keep on stirring, am I correct? Of course I have witnessed some Sri Lankan ladies as well do that kind of stirring the piping hot curries. Now one question, who can tell exactly what chemicals are in the vapour? Well some are just water vapour then what else? I am sure some of you are familiar with the smell given out when chicken is cooked or getting ready. Now would you believe that vapour given out while they try to stir the boiling curries have more than fifty or even hundreds of chemicals given out from the spices along with oily vapours. I have seen some people stir the curry then taste it while vapours are almost showering them. Is that possible some of them get inhaled by the people who cook them, am I correct? This is what I sometimes call the CHICKEN COLOGNE AND CURRY COLOGNES. This is part of cooking aroma given out while cooking.

Other gaseous products given out in the kitchen

At the same time some other gaseous products are also given out due to combustion of gas. Those gases are odourless and some are really poisonous. Gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen are given out in the middle of cooking aroma. Now use your imagination and please tell me is that healthy inhale that kind of gaseous mixture? The things in the cooking aroma can vary from one kind of preparation to the other but the burnt out gaseous things are the same. This is one of the main reasons why one must ventilate the kitchen while cooking by switching on the extractor or at least open the window to let in some fresh air.

The more gas we burn, more of those poisonous gaseous products are given out while cooking. Also remember higher the fire, higher the temperature then faster the rate of water and chemicals escape from the cooking pot. One must make use of the chemicals or spices that are added to a curry that is to flavour the food so that it gives a very palatable form of curry. Ingredients are not added not to have a shower of chemicals while cooking they are added for a purpose. Your comments are welcomed perera6@hotmail.co.uk

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