The Uses and Benefits of Popular Winter Spices

The Uses and Benefits of Popular Winter Spices

Few things can beat cozy winter nights with family and friends, and complete with mulled apple juice or homemade chai. The winter spices in these concoctions evoke warm, happy feelings of contentment and are perfect for when you get home after a leaf-crunching hike in the forest and want to curl up. Best of all – they can be used any time of the year when you need a little cheerful warm-up!

How to Use Winter Spices

What are these magical winter spices, though, and how do you use them? The trifecta of winter spices could be said to be cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, but I’m also rather fond of cardamom, cloves, and allspice. The more adventurous spice seekers may even include star anise in a winter spice mix.

When using these spices for culinary purposes, consider how the flavours and aromas will interact with all the elements of a dish. Savoury foods can be quickly overwhelmed by winter spices, so use them sparingly in pie crusts, sauces or bread. Fruit and fruit juices are better able to contend with the strong flavours, but remember that cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg tend to add sweetness.

Take a light-handed approach with cardamom, cloves, ginger, and star anise as they are pungent and can quickly overwhelm other flavours. Ground coriander seed is something of a peacemaker in culinary endeavours, helping to balance the sweetness and pungency of other winter spices.

Storage Tip: Buy whole spices in small amounts and store them in airtight containers away from heat and light. This helps keep the flavours and aromas fresh and bold by protecting the volatile oils in the spices. Simply grind them when you need them for the freshest taste.

A Closer Look at Winter Spices

Cloves

Cloves

Cloves are often used when mulling wine or apple cider, and have a strong flavour and aroma. Clove oil has been used for centuries to address tooth pain, with its benefits thought to be courtesy of phenolic compounds such as eugenol, which has been seen in some studies to modulate inflammatory processes in the body [1].

Cinnamon

Cinamon

Cinnamon adds a hint of sweetness and has a long history of use as a traditional herbal medicine. A systematic review showed evidence of supporting healthy blood sugar levels [2]. Cinnamon works well in oatmeal, apple juice and apple sauce, homemade cookies and chai. You can also sprinkle a little cinnamon in your coffee!

Cardamom

cardamom

Cardamom is another wonderful winter spice and is most often associated with Lebanese, Turkish, and Indian cuisine. Try adding a little of this spice to mulled apple juice, winter spice cookies, homemade chai, or coffee. Cardamom is also a fun addition to homemade coconut ice-cream and hummus!

Ginger

Ginger

 

The health benefits of ginger have long been established, with this warming spice adding a little oomph to soups, sauces, tea, and juices. Natural Factors offers powdered ginger root in a vegetarian capsule as well as a delicious chewable format. Powdered ginger supplements have been clinically shown to help prevent nausea and vomiting due to motion and/or seasickness [3].

Homemade Chai Tea

Homemade Chai Tea

When you’re craving a cozy beverage this homemade chai tea is just the thing! If you’re making a large batch right away, you might want to substitute the ground ginger for an 8-inch piece of fresh ginger cut into thin slices. You can substitute the Assam black tea for rooibos or yerba mate.

Ingredients:

  • 10 green cardamom pods, freshly crushed or popped open
  • 15 whole cloves (choose clean, reddish-brown cloves topped with a softball shape)
  • 8 whole allspice
  • 6 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 star anise
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • ½ tsp of nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup of Assam black tea
  • 6 litres of water
  • ¾ cup coconut sugar (optional)
  • 20 whole black peppercorns for chai with an extra kick (optional)
  • A whole vanilla bean, sliced down the middle (add this after boiling) (optional)

Directions:

  1. Using a pestle and mortar, grind the spices (minus the nutmeg, vanilla, tea, sugar, and fresh ginger, if using).
  2. Bring the six litres of water to boil in a large pot.
  3. Add the spices and reduce heat.
  4. Let the pot simmer uncovered for an hour, then remove the pot from the heat and add the tea, vanilla, and nutmeg.
  5. Cover the pot and leave to steep for five minutes.
  6. Using a large tea strainer or muslin cloth, strain the mixture into a gallon Mason jar. If you’re making a sweet chai concentrate add the coconut sugar now and stir.
  7. Let the jar cool before refrigerating, and be sure to use to concentrate within two weeks.

To make a cup of hot chai, heat half a cup of unsweetened almond or soy milk (or just water), shake up your chai concentrate and add half a cup to your heated milk. Enjoy!

References:

[1] Chaieb, K., Hajlaoui, H., Zmantar, T., et al. (2007). The chemical composition and biological activity of clove essential oil, Eugenia caryophyllata (Syzygium aromaticum L. Myrtaceae): a short review. Phytother Res, 21(6), 501-6.

[2] Allen, R.W., Schwartzman, E., Baker, W.L., et al. (2013). Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Fam Med, 11(5), 452-9.

[3] Pongrojpaw, D., Somprasit, C., Chanthasenanont, A. (2007). A randomized comparison of ginger and dimenhydrinate in the treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. J Med Assoc Thai, 90(9), 1703-9.