Flavors – Spices

What is flavor? In this series, we will explore different sources of flavors. In this post, we explore spices.

What are spices?

Spices are the familiar aromatic vegetable substances that function to season our foods rather than impart nutrition. Spices can be found whole, broken, ground, or in other forms, but do not include oils. Familiar spices include basil, pepper, rosemary, thyme and more!
 
Spices can also be used to color foods. For example, paprika and turmeric not only impart flavoring, but they can add rich color to the foods and beverages they’re used in.

How do spices make our foods and beverages flavorful?

Spices impart distinct flavors and aromas into foods and beverages when they’re added in specific quantities. Spices are often combined and form the flavor profile for specific dishes and spice combinations can even be identified to specific parts of the world.
 
For example, the U.S. is known for its Cajun spice blend and for the pumpkin pie spice flavoring found in many fall and winter-themed beverages and dishes. These blends are a specific flavor profile used in U.S. dishes.
 
Other parts of the world have distinct seasoning profiles for dishes too, for example, garam masala spice blend is used frequently in Indian cuisine and Zaatar is used in many middle eastern dishes.

Are spices healthy?

Since spices can be added in small quantities and still impart large flavor, they add very few if any calories to a meal, which can help reduce the need for added fats and salt. 

Are spices safe?

As long as you do not have an allergy to a particular spice, spices are safe when used in appropriate quantities. This means spices are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredients.

In 2013, the FDA began a risk assessment regarding concerns for potential pathogens and other contaminants, primarily Salmonella, found in spices (1,2). The assessment showed more than 99.3% of the spice samples gathered from retail establishments were not contaminated with Salmonella.

Upon the completion of the assessment, the FDA determined that the new protocols established in the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) would remediate lingering concerns found in the risk assessment this includes increasing the frequency of inspections.

It’s also important to note that most consumers add spices during the cooking process, and the heat reduces the risk of pathogen exposure.

What do I need to know about supplements made from spices?

While some studies (1,2,3) suggest specific spices could have beneficial properties such as anti-inflammatory, more research is needed to determine the therapeutic effect and long-term safety of taking specific spices at therapeutic doses.
 
Additionally, while you can purchase dietary supplements that contain spices purported to benefit your health, there is no guarantee that you will be receiving a supplement that contains the specific ingredient at therapeutic levels.
 
Before taking any supplement, it’s recommended that you discuss your needs with a state-licensed and credentialed medical physician.

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