The holiday season is finally arriving. School is the last thing on your mind and you can’t wait to see everyone again. This means waiting in line with your friends to get the first pumpkin spice latte of the season, baking gingersnap cookies for your neighbors, eating hot pot with your family, and so, so much more. While we all love the holidays, the transitioning weather comes with a dreaded frenemy—the flu season. Good news, the spices we all know and love in our delicious treats can actually have numerous health benefits to help us fight off winter’s chill.
Cinnamon is one of our most loved holiday spices. Its versatile taste makes it perfect for flavoring many sweet treats. Apple pie, baked pears, eggnog lattes, french toast, and oatmeal pair perfectly with a touch of cinnamon. Additionally, research indicates that cinnamon is chock full of cognitive and physiological benefits. Cinnamon is said to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, antimicrobial, and even anticancer benefits.
Nutmeg is also a prime seasoning in festive dishes. With nutmeg, try making our holiday favorite: a gingerbread latte. Simply combine brewed black coffee with steamed milk in a 1:3 ratio. Add two tablespoons of gingerbread flavored syrup, and a few pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg. This subtly sweet spice is also associated with a long list of benefits that go beyond our understanding, which includes its ability to improve blood circulation, relieve digestive discomfort, and reduce insomnia. Other popular nutmeg uses involve using it as an essential oil or combining it with cinnamon and water to create a paste to use as an acne cream or as toothpaste.
3. Pumpkin Spice
Pumpkin spice is basically a blend of five different spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves. For a hot and tasty snack, sprinkle a half tablespoon of pumpkin spice over diced chunks of roasted sweet potato. The mild flavor is enough to satisfy a sweet tooth, but not overpower our taste buds. This delicious mixture carries all the benefits of each individual spice it contains with both ginger and allspice said to alleviate nausea, lower cholesterol, and fight off germs. If you’re a big fan of ginger, grate some fresh ginger over your sweet potato for a boost of gingerol, an anti-inflammatory and fragrant compound only found in fresh ginger.
Coveted for its medicinal uses and sharp flavor, cloves can be used to marinate meats or added to curry and soups. Cloves can also be used in cookie recipes to add a strong and fragrant aroma, or added in a coffee cake recipe to enhance the cake’s vibrant taste. Research suggests that cloves have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits. It’s said to aid our digestion, control blood sugar levels, and boost our immune system. Cloves have also been used to relieve headaches by making a paste of cloves with rock salt added to a glass of milk.
Cardamom comes from green pods and is known for its unique, spicy-sweet flavor. Though cardamom may be pricy, a little bit goes a long way. Add one and a half teaspoons of ground cardamom into your favorite bread pudding recipe for a kick of flavor or add a teaspoon of cardamom to mashed baked yams for a tasty side dish. Aside from flavoring sweet dishes, cardamom can also be used in curry dishes as the main meal. It’s popularly known as an anti-depressant, anticancer, and anti-asthmatic. For sore throats, boil cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon together and gargle every morning to alleviate throat pain.
Esther Chen is a fourth year student studying clinical nutrition at University of California, Davis. She hopes to complete a dietetic internship and become a registered dietitian.