Research Behind Spice Cabinet

Szechuan peppercorns-

Szechuan peppercorns are native to the Szechuan province of China and have a peppery, woodsy taste. Contrary to the name, the Szechuan peppercorns are actually the berries of a tree, not in the pepper family in the slightest. These pepper-berries have been noted to have a numbing quality and analgesic effect and have been used traditionally for toothaches. Modern research acknowledges unique somatosensory neuron activation leading to some of its numbing effects.1



Cardamom is a sweet-spicy seed that comes out of a seedpod. It is native to Scandinavia, the Middle East and northern Africa. Cardamom has long been used as a spice in preservation, but only recently has gained scientific research support. Chemical components of cardamom in essential oil form have been cited as effective anti-microbial and anti-bacterial therapies in respect to pathogens with antibiotic resistance.2

Mustard Seeds-

Mustard seeds are another seedpod spice that originally grew wild in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Mediterranean Europe. Now, they grow all over the world and play a huge role as an American condiment. Mustard is a popular brassica used in Indian cooking as well as European cuisine and is most commonly seen in America through the function off pickling. Traditionally, mustard has been used to ease muscle pain, rheumatism and arthritis. Research supports mustard’s anticancer activity.3


Ginger is a popular medicinal root making health claims for thousands of years in multiple cultures. It is hard for one geographical location to claim this magical root as native, for it is found all over the world in tropical climates. Its popularity is probably strongest in Asian culture with a strong presence in the culinary arts and an unparalleled medicinal history. Ginger is most known for its effects on gastrointestinal health, and is recently being advertised as an anti-inflammatory hero. One study found ginger had apoptotic effects on a protozoa called Leishmania that effects over 12 million people world wide.4 More commonly, ginger is widely accepted as an anti nausea and antiemetic.5 This is a beneficial root to help with the nausea associated with pregnancy and cancer treatments.


This bittersweet flavor comes from a seed that grows inside of a pod. Fenugreek is native to southern Europe, northern Africa and India. Traditionally, fenugreek has been included in curry spices and is a key ingredient in the spice blend garam masala. Multiple components including sulforaphane and diosgenin in Fenugreek have been studied for their antitumor, cytotoxic and apoptotic effects in cancer cells with positive results.6 Fenugreek has been shown to destroy cancer cells in prostate, breast and pancreatic cancers.6 Fenugreek is not limited to anti-cancer effects in its medicinal quality boasting strong effects on lowering blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.7


Cayenne peppers are native to South and Central American culture making frequent appearances in classic culinary dishes. Cayenne pepper is one of the spiciest in the capsicum family with traditional uses as antibacterial and anti-inflammatory powerhouses. Current research endorses these claims; The phenolic and flavonoid compounds in cayenne peppers have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacity.8 Inflammation is the basis of many chronic diseases, which makes cayenne an easy addition to the spice cabinet.8


Native to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean regions, fennel is a sweet licorice-tasting seed that comes from an edible plant with a bulb. Fennel is part of the umbellifereae family, which makes it a relative of carrots, parsley, dill and coriander. Traditional Iranian medicine embraced Fennel for a wide array of helpful mechanisms. F. Vulgare’s medicinal capacity is recognized as antioxidant, cytotoxic, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial, bronchodilatory, estrogenic, galactogogue, emmenagogue, oculohypotensive, antithrombotic, hypotensive, gastroprotective, infant colic relieving, hepatoprotective, memory enhancing and antimutagenic activity. 9


Star Anise-

Similar to fennel, but with more power, star Anise is an evergreen plant originating in China and Vietnam. The seeds are born in a star-shaped pod inside of a fruit, making sense of its name. Star Anise is described as pungent and even harsh in taste, making it a good option in sauces that are cooked for a long time, stews, or tea. In Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, star anise has long been used as a therapy for asthma, bronchitis and rheumatism. Star Anise has been shown in studies to reduce inflammation with specific hope for uses in atopic dermatitis. 10



Cassia is spicy, pungent and bitter, and is a cinnamon variety native to China. Cassia is also related to the senna plant that is commonly used as a laxative. Cinnamon has been found to inhibit substances in pathways that lead to Alzheimers.11 Cinnamon has modest effects on normalizing blood sugars12 sure can’t hurt! Cinnamon bark as also been linked to anti-inflammatory action, even potentially aiding in inflammation related to Pylori infections.13



Paprika is another capsicum family member native to South America, but grows well in Hungary, Spain and Turkey.  Paprika can vary in heat, but generally has a warm, sweet taste. As you can tell by simply looking at paprika, it is a rich source of beta-carotene, but it’s medicinal qualities don’t end there. As a capsicum it shares many of the same healing qualities of cayenne.



Native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia and India this special spice is cultivated from the dried buds of a tree. Cloves are sweet and strong complimenting many spice blends, great for baking and meat dishes. Of course these dried buds are not without their warranted medicinal power. Cloves have traditionally been used for inflammatory conditions and for antioxidant power especially in regards to digestion. One study supports the triad of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory superstars of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. 14



Most people don’t know that one plant produces their favorite herb and spice all at once. Coriander seeds give birth to cilantro leaves, making it a very special plant. Earthy, lemony and sour, coriander can even take on a nutty flavor when roasted.  It is concluded that coriander is probably native to the Middle East and Southern Europe, but it is found in the wild growing well all over the world. Coriander has been described as successful in helping with dyspepsia, colic, diarrhea, hypertension and as a diuretic.15



Chinese Five Spice:

Chinese in origin, this blend incorporates sweet, bitter, savory and sour. It is delicious on many things but particularly so on meat and baked veggies like brussel sprouts, kale and sweet potatoes. Store in a cool, dry and dark area.  Try to use before a year passes, as time degrades the quality of the chemical components. Make sure to check the sell-by date as with herbs at the store and try to buy smaller amounts more often,  the fresher the better. Seeds and barks tend to be more hardy and last longer than leaves. For this reason, the Chinese five spice will last a bit longer than the berbere as it is mostly made of seeds.

1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns

1.5 tsp cassia

1.5 tsp cloves

1 tsp fennel seed

1.5 tsp star anise



This spice originates in eastern Africa as a spicy and bitter rub for meats or compliment to a warming stew. This mixture is best stored in a cool, dry and dark place. I recommend making smaller quantities more often to maintain the freshness and quality of the blend. Try to use this blend before 6 months have passed for ultimate freshness and flavor.

2 tsp fenugreek

3 tbs cayenne

4 tbs paprika

1 tbs Szechuan peppercorns (ground)

1 tbs ginger (ground)

1 tsp mustard seeds (ground)

1 tsp cardamom (ground)

1 tsp coriander (ground)

½ tsp cloves

1 tsp cassia

½ tsp allspice (ground)






1.              Bautista DM, Sigal YM, Milstein AD, et al. Pungent agents from Szechuan peppers excite sensory neurons by inhibiting two-pore potassium channels. Nat Neurosci. 2008;11(7):772-779. doi:10.1038/nn.2143.

2.              Jamil B, Abbasi R, Abbasi S, et al. Encapsulation of Cardamom Essential Oil in Chitosan Nano-composites: In-vitro Efficacy on Antibiotic-Resistant Bacterial Pathogens and Cytotoxicity Studies. Front Microbiol. 2016;7. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.01580.

3.              Augustine R, Bisht NC. Biofortification of oilseed Brassica juncea with the anti-cancer compound glucoraphanin by suppressing GSL-ALK gene family. Sci Rep. 2015;5. doi:10.1038/srep18005.

4.              Mukherjee D, Singh CB, Dey S, et al. Induction of apoptosis by zerumbone isolated from Zingiber zerumbet (L.) Smith in protozoan parasite Leishmania donovani due to oxidative stress. Braz J Infect Dis. 2016;20(1):48-55. doi:10.1016/j.bjid.2015.10.002.

5.              Sheikhi MA, Ebadi A, Talaeizadeh A, Rahmani H. Alternative Methods to Treat Nausea and Vomiting from Cancer Chemotherapy. Chemother Res Pract. 2015;2015. doi:10.1155/2015/818759.

6.              Shabbeer S, Sobolewski M, Kachhap S, Davidson N, Carducci MA, Khan S. Fenugreek: a naturally occurring edible spice as an anticancer agent. Cancer Biol Ther. 2009;8(3):272-278.

7.              Verma N, Usman K, Patel N, et al. A multicenter clinical study to determine the efficacy of a novel fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum) extract (FenfuroTM) in patients with type 2 diabetes. Food Nutr Res. 2016;60. doi:10.3402/fnr.v60.32382.

8.              Zimmer AR, Leonardi B, Miron D, Schapoval E, Oliveira JR de, Gosmann G. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of Capsicum baccatum: From traditional use to scientific approach. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012;139(1):228-233. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2011.11.005.

9.              Rahimi R, Ardekani MRS. Medicinal properties of Foeniculum vulgare Mill. in traditional Iranian medicine and modern phytotherapy. Chin J Integr Med. 2013;19(1):73-79. doi:10.1007/s11655-013-1327-0.

10.           Sung Y-Y, Kim YS, Kim HK. Illicium verum extract inhibits TNF-α- and IFN-γ-induced expression of chemokines and cytokines in human keratinocytes. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012;144(1):182-189. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2012.08.049.

11.           Kang YJ, Seo D-G, Park S-Y. Phenylpropanoids from cinnamon bark reduced β-amyloid production by the inhibition of β-secretase in Chinese hamster ovarian cells stably expressing amyloid precursor protein. Nutr Res. 2016;36(11):1277-1284. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2016.10.002.

12.           Costello RB, Dwyer JT, Saldanha L, Bailey RL, Merkel J, Wambogo E. Do Cinnamon Supplements Have a Role in Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes? A Narrative Review. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(11):1794-1802. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.07.015.

13.           Muhammad JS, Zaidi SF, Shaharyar S, et al. Anti-inflammatory Effect of Cinnamaldehyde in Helicobacter pylori Induced Gastric Inflammation. Biol Pharm Bull. 2015;38(1):109-115. doi:10.1248/bpb.b14-00609.

14.           Baker I, Chohan M, Opara EI. Impact of cooking and digestion, in vitro, on the antioxidant capacity and anti-inflammatory activity of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Plant Foods Hum Nutr Dordr Neth. 2013;68(4):364-369. doi:10.1007/s11130-013-0379-4.

15.           Jabeen Q, Bashir S, Lyoussi B, Gilani AH. Coriander fruit exhibits gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering and diuretic activities. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009;122(1):123-130. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2008.12.016.

Kate Stoddard