Monday, February 20, 2012

Blessing Of Spices

(This post is written by Neal Bringe, who is not only my father, but a Christian who loves God's Word, and a Ph.D. Food Scientist. He'll be writing some posts on this blog along with myself.) 

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of foods of India is spices. When I look at a cookbook of Indian food recipes, simply cooking okra involves additions of turmeric, coriander, Chile powder, curry leaves, ginger, onions, garlic, coconut powder, sesame seeds, salt, oil, fenugreek seeds, onion seeds, and mustard seeds (1). Perhaps people of that culture took the time to combine okra and spices because both grow well in India. About 2,300,000 tons of spices are grown in India, compared to about 200,000 tons in the U.S. Spice consuming populations like India seem to be blessed by lower rates of cancer. In 2000 India had about 7 times less cancer cases per capita than the US (2). Spices have been used for a long time to preserve foods (antibacterial activity) and provide a variety of tasty and attractive meals. They are also used in India as medicine. In recent times scientists are learning that spices have properties that protect our bodies from compounds that cause cell damage, inflammation and disease. God designed every spice with beautifully designed and unique chemicals in addition to some that are in common. The chemicals of different spices and foods work together at low levels to provide healthful outcomes just as every person in the church is unique, and as one body can give much glory to God.

A chemical in an Indian spice called turmeric that has received attention is called curcumin (which gives curries their distinctive yellow color). Not only are anti-cancer properties of curcumin an active area of research (3, 4), but also multiple other medical uses (5, 6) such as its potential to inhibit plaque formation and oxidative damage in the brain that is responsible for the decline of mental function in Alzheimer’s disease (7). An important discovery recently was that curcumin can be absorbed into the blood stream about 60 times better if it is combined with oil (especially phospholipid fraction) (8). This is how turmeric (containing curcumin) is traditionally used in Indian cooking. I would not be surprised that that the other components of the recipe above, in addition to oil, also contribute in a synergistic way with turmeric to provide taste and health benefits. It is interesting to learn that the long living and healthy people of the island of Okinawa, Japan commonly used turmeric for curries, soup, fish and medicine (9). It is reasoned that turmeric was brought from India to the island through the spice trade.

Praise God for providing spices to help make our food safe, attractive, tasty and healthful.


1. Husain, S. 1995. Vegetarian Indian, JR Press, North Dighton, MA 02764)

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