Darwinian gastronomy: Why we use spices

Darwinian gastronomy: Why we use spices

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Darwinian gastronomy: Why we use spices
Bioscience; Washington; Jun 1999; Paul W Sherman;Jennifer Billing;

Volume: 49
Issue: 6
Start Page: 453-463
ISSN: 00063568
Subject Terms: Spices
Flowers & plants
Food contamination & poisoning
Humans have borrowed plants' chemical "recipes" for evolutionary survival for use in cuisine to combat foodborne microorganisms and to reduce food poisoning. This explains the use of spices.

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Copyright American Institute of Biological Sciences Jun 1999
Spices taste good because they are good for us

Spices are plant products used in flavoring foods and beverages. For thousands of years, aromatic plant materials have been used in food preparation and preservation, as well as for embalming, in areas where the plants are native, such as Hindustan and the Spice Islands (Govindarajan 1985, Dillon and Board 1994). During and after the Middle Ages, seafarers such as Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan, and Christopher Columbus undertook hazardous voyages to establish routes to trading ports in primary spice-growing regions (Parry 1953). The spice trade was so crucial to national economies that rulers repeatedly mounted costly expeditions to raid spice-growing countries, and struggles for the control of these countries precipitated several wars. When Alarich, a leader of the Goths, laid siege to Rome in AD 408, he demanded as ransom various precious metals and 3000 pounds of pepper (Scheiper 1993).

Today, spice use is ubiquitous, but spices are far more important in some cuisines than others. Most people have experienced this variability firsthand, when traveling in foreign lands, dining at international restaurants, or preparing exotic recipes at home. Japanese dishes are often "delicate," Indonesian and Szechwan dishes "hot," and middle European and Scandinavian dishes "bland." Usually these differences are merely chalked up to cultural idiosyncrasies. Several years ago, we became curious about this interpretation. We wondered if there are any predictable patterns of spice use and, if so, what factors might underlie them. In this article, we summarize the results of our inquiries. We found that spice use is decidedly nonrandom and that spices have several beneficial effects, the most important of which may be reducing foodborne illnesses and food poisoning.

What is a spice?

"Spice" is a culinary term, not a botanical category-it does not refer to a specific kind of plant or plant part (Farrell 1990). Indeed, spices come from various woody shrubs and vines, trees, aromatic lichens, and the roots, flowers, seeds, and fruits of herbaceous plants (Figure 1). Cookbooks generally distinguish between seasonings (spices used in food preparation) and condiments (spices added after food is served), but not between herbs and spices. However, herbs, which are defined botanically (as plants that do not develop woody, persistent tissue), usually are called for in their fresh state, whereas spices generally are dried (Figure 2). Salt is sometimes thought of as a spice, but it is a mineral.

Each spice has a unique aroma and flavor, which derive from compounds known as phytochemicals or "secondary compounds" (because they are secondary to the plant's basic metabolism). These chemicals evolved in plants to protect them against herbivorous insects and vertebrates, fungi, pathogens, and parasites (Fraenkel 1959, Walker 1994). Most spices contain dozens of secondary compounds. These are plants' recipes for survival-legacies of their coevolutionary races against biotic enemies.

Patterns of spice use

Conventional wisdom tells us that cuisines of tropical countries are spicier than those of northern countries, but patterns of spice use around the world have not been quantified. To do so, we located "traditional" cookbooks, which were written primarily to archive the author's native cuisine. We analyzed recipes in 93 traditional cookbooks from 36 counties (at least two books from each country) and quantified the use of 43 spices in these countries (Table 1).

In gathering our data, we did not distinguish between seasonings and condiments or between herbs and spices. We focused on meat-based recipes (those in which at least onethird of the volume or weight consisted of meat) rather than vegetablebased recipes for two reasons. First, traditional cookbooks have many more meat-based dishes than vegetarian dishes, enabling us to obtain adequate sample sizes (Table 1). Second, unrefrigerated meats spoil faster than vegetables and are more often associated with foodborne disease outbreaks (Sockett 1995). Thus, any relationship between spoilage and spice use should be more apparent in meatbased than vegetable-based recipes.

In summarizing the data, we encountered two problems. The first was whether or not to treat onions (Allium cepa: chives, leeks, and shallots) and chilis (Capsicum frutescens: capsaicin-containing peppers) as spices. Although these plants are often used solely as spices, they are also served as main dishes. Following the lead of previous authors (e.g., Farrell 1990, Tainter and Grenis 1993, Hirasa and Takemasa 1998), we decided to include both plants as spices because, regardless of the quantities called for, they always contribute their phytochemicals to the cuisine. The second problem was how to treat the comparative information statistically, because not all countries are equally "independent" (e.g., due to shared ancestry or recent immigration). However, because it is unclear how to assess independence of a specific cultural practice, such as spice use, and because our sample was so broad (representing every continent and 16 of the world's 19 major linguistic groups [Ruhlen 1987]), we treated all countries as if they were independent and used nonparametric analyses.

We tabulated the ingredients in 4578 meatbased recipes and discovered that most of them (93%) call for at least one spice. On average, recipes called for 3.9 + 1.7 (SD) spices, although some lacked spices entirely and others had up to 12 spices. In 10 countries-Ethiopia, Kenya, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, and Thailand-every meatbased recipe we examined called for at least one spice. whereas in Scandinavian countries one-third of the recipes did not call for any spices.
Table 1.

The frequency of use of individual spices also varied widely (Figure 3). Black pepper and onion were called for most frequently, in 63 % and 65 % of all meat-based recipes, respectively. Other commonly used spices included garlic (35% of recipes), chilis (24%), lemon and lime juice (23%), parsley (22%), ginger (16%), and bay leaf (13%). However, the majority of spices were used infrequently. Of the 43 spices we analyzed, 35 (81%) were used in less than 10% of the recipes, and 29 (67%) were used in less than 5% of the recipes.

Antimicrobial properties of spices

Why are spices used? The obvious answer is that they enhance food flavor, color, and palatability. Of course this is true as far as it goes. However, such a proximate (immediate cause) explanation does not address the ultimate (evolutionary) questions of why cuisines that contain pungent plant products appeal to people and why some phytochemicals are tastier than others. Answers to proximate and ultimate questions are complementary, not mutually exclusive, and full understanding requires explanations at both "levels of analysis" (Sherman 1988).o analysis" (Sherman A clue to the ultimate reason for spice use may lie in the protective effects of phytochemicals against plants' biotic enemies. After all, meat and other food items are also attacked by bacteria and fungi, indeed by some of the same species that afflict plants. Throughout recorded history, foodborne bacteria (especially species of Clostridium, Escherichia, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, and Vibrio) or their toxins have been serious health concerns, and they still are (Hui et al. 1994, WHO 1996). If spices were to kill such microorganisms or inhibit their growth before they could produce toxins, use of spices might reduce foodborne illnesses and food poisoning (Billing and Sherman 1998). If this antimicrobial hypothesis were true, several predictions should be fulfilled.

Prediction 1. Spices should exhibit antibacterial and antifungal activity. Microbiologists and food-product developers have conducted laboratory experiments that involve challenging numerous foodborne bacteria, fungi, and yeasts with phytochemicals extracted from spice plants. Multiple techniques have been used to investigate inhibition, and the primary data vary considerably in quality and quantity for different spices. Nevertheless, it is now clear that many spices have potent antimicrobial properties (e.g., Hargreaves et al. 1975, Shelef 1984, Deans and Ritchie 1987, Zaika 1988, Beuchat 1994, Nakatani 1994, Hirasa and Takemasa 1998).

We were particularly interested in the ability of spices to inhibit bacteria because bacteria are more commonly incriminated in foodborne disease outbreaks than yeasts or fungi (Varnam and Evans 1991, Todd 1994). All 30 spices for which we located laboratory test results were found at some concentration to kill or inhibit at least 25% of the bacterial species on which they had been tested, and 15 of these spices inhibited at least 75% of bacterial species (Figure 4). Garlic, onion, allspice, and oregano were found to be the most potent spices: They inhibited or killed every bacterium they were tested on. Most of the tested microorganisms are widely distributed geographically, so they have the potential to contaminate foods everywhere.

Prediction 2. Use of spices should be greatest in hot climates, where unrefrigerated foods spoil especially quickly. Uncooked meats and meat dishes that are prepared in advance and stored at room temperatures for more than a few hours typically build up massive bacterial populations, especially in tropical climates (Hobbs and Roberts 1993). Therefore, we used each country's average annual temperature as a relative indicator of its rate of meat spoilage. Our test assumes that traditional meat-based recipes were developed before widespread refrigeration. We cannot directly evaluate this assumption because the cookbooks we examined rarely discussed the history of individual dishes. However, the assumption seems reasonable because any recipe that has been around for more than five generations (approximately 100 years) would pre-date electrical refrigeration. Most of the recipes we examined probably were at least that old.

We used climate atlases (e.g., Bair 1992) to tabulate information on mean temperatures in all 36 countries (Table 1). Temperatures ranged from 2.8 oC (Norway) to 27.6 oC (Thailand). Consistent with the prediction, we found that as average temperatures increased among countries, there were significant increases in the fraction of recipes that called for at least one spice, the mean numbers of spices per recipe, and the numbers of different spices used (Figure 5). For example, India's cuisine included 25 different spices, of which an average of 9.3 were called for per recipe, whereas Norwegian cuisine included only 10 different spices and called for an average of 1.6 per recipe. In Hungary, which has a temperate climate, the cuisine included 21 spices, of which an average of 3.0 were called for per recipe.
Figure 1.
Figure 2.

The relative use of many individual spices also varied with climate. Among countries, as average temperature increased, so did the frequency of use of chilis, garlic, and onion (Figures 6 and 7), as well as that of anise, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, celery, cloves, green peppers, mint, nutmeg, saffron, and oregano (see also Hirasa and Takemasa 1998). The first 10 of these spices are "highly inhibitory" (at least 75% of tested bacterial species inhibited; see Figure 4), and the positive relationships were statistically significant. There were negative relationships between temperature and frequencies of use for 10 other spices, but they were significant only for dill and parsley, neither of which has potent antimicrobial activity.

Prediction 3. A greater proportion of bacteria should be inhibited by recipes from hot climates than from cool climates. In support of this prediction, as average annual temperatures increased among countries, the mean fraction of recipes that called for each one of the highly inhibitory spices used in those countries increased significantly (Figure 8a). However, this correlation did not hold for less inhibitory spices (Figure 8b). There was also a positive relationship between the fraction of bacterial species inhibited by each spice and the fraction of countries that used that spice, indicating widespread use of the spices that are most effective against bacteria.

To further test this corollary, we tried to determine if spices used in each country are particularly effective against local bacteria. Unfortunately, however, no comprehensive lists of indigenous bacteria are available for any country in our sample. To estimate inhibition, therefore, we chose 30 meat-based recipes at random from the cookbooks for each country and tallied how many of 30 "target" bacterial species would be inhibited or killed by at least one spice in each recipe. The target bacteria were those that have been challenged experimentally with the greatest number of spices, including such widespread species as Aeromonas hydrophila, Bacillus cereus, Bacillus subtilus, Clostridium botulinum, Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli, Salmonella pullorum, Staphylococcus aureus, and Streptococcus faecalis. Results of this analysis (Figure 9) showed that as annual temperatures increased, the estimated fraction of food spoilage bacteria inhibited by the spices in each country's recipes increased significantly. Therefore, the cuisine of hotter countries potentially has greater antibacterial activity.

Prediction 4. Within a country, cuisine from high latitudes and elevations (i.e., cooler climates) should contain fewer and less potent spices than cuisine from lower latitudes and elevations. We located regional cookbooks for only two countries, China and the United States. Consistent with the prediction, in both countries the total number of spices used, the fraction of recipes that called for at least one spice, and the frequency of use of highly inhibitory spices were greater in southern regions than in northern regions. The mean number of spices per recipe was greater in southern China than in northern China, but no such difference was evident in the United States (Table 1 ). In both countries, the spices called for in an average southern recipe had significantly greater antibacterial potential than those in northern recipes, mirroring the among-country pattern (Billing and Sherman 1998). Because altitude-specific cookbooks are rare, we were unable to evaluate how altitude affects spice use.

Prediction 5. Quantities of spices called for in recipes should be sufficient to produce antimicrobial effects, and cooking should not destroy the potency of phytochemicals. The primary literature in food microbiology that we surveyed usually reported the minimum concentrations of purified phytochemicals that were necessary to inhibit growth of foodborne bacteria in vitro. Typically, these were solutions containing 0.5-4.0% purified spice chemicals (i.e., 30-2000 pg/ml), which is within the range of spice concentrations used in cooking (Shelef 1984, Giese 1994, Hirasa and Takemasa 1998). However, there are as yet no analyses of how different amounts and types of spices affect microorganisms in cuisine. Evaluating the antimicrobial efficacy of various spices in vivo (i.e., restaurants and homes) would be a fascinating (and potentially lucrative) project.
Figure 3. Figure 4.

Regarding the effects of cooking, most phytochemicals are thermostable, although a few are destroyed by heat (Moyler 1994). Some spices (e.g., garlic, pepper, rosemary, and onion) are typically added at the beginning of cooking, whereas others (e.g., parsley and cilantro [i.e., coriander leaf] ) are added near the end (Figure 10). According to cookbook authors, the "delicate" flavors of the latter would be destroyed by heat. If, as seems likely, thermostable spices are the ones added early and thermolabile spices are added later (or are used primarily as condiments), differences in timing of use may function to maintain beneficial antimicrobial properties (and corresponding flavors) until food is served.

Spice synergism

Pepper and lemon (and lime) juice are among the most frequently used spices (Figure 3), but they are unusual in that the frequency with which they are used does not change much across the temperature gradient (Figure 11). Moreover, they are among the least effective bacteriocides (Figure 4). Do these patterns weaken the antimicrobial hypothesis, or do these two spices function in a different way than "typical" spices?
Figure 5.

We believe that the second explanation is correct, and we suggest that pepper and citric acid play special roles-that is, as synergists. Citric acid potentiates the antibacterial effects of other spices because low pH disrupts bacterial cell membranes (Booth and Kroll 1989). Foods to which lemon or lime juice are added require less heating to cause the same levels of bacterial mortality that take place in foods cooked at higher pH and temperature for a longer time. Black pepper comes from Piper nigrum, an exclusively tropical plant that has several useful properties. For example, the compound piperine inhibits the ubiquitous, deadly bacterium Clostridium botulinum (Nakatani 1994). Black pepper is also a "bioavailability enhancer," meaning that it acts synergistically to increase the rate at which cells, including microorganisms, absorb phytotoxins (Johri and Zutshi 1992).

Many other spices exhibit greater antibacterial potency when they are mixed than when used alone (Ziauddin et al. 1996). Some are combined so frequently that the blends have acquired special names. An intriguing example is the French "quatre epices" (pepper, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg), which is often used to make sausages. Sausages (botulus in Latin) are a rich medium for bacterial growth and have frequently been implicated as the source of botulinum toxin. Other blends, such as curry powder (which contains 22 different spices), pickling spice (15 spices), and chili powder (10 spices), are broadspectrum antimicrobial melanges.

Other uses of spices In addition to their uses in cooking, individual spices and blends are employed as coloring agents, antivirals (including suppressing HIV), brain stimulants, and aphrodisiacs (Hirasa and Takemasa 1998). Among traditional societies, many spice plants also have ethnopharmacological uses, often as topical or ingested antibacterials and vermicides (Chevallier 1996, Cichewicz and Thorpe 1996). A few spices, particularly garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and chilis, have for centuries been used to counteract a broad spectrum of ailments, including dysentery, kidney stones, arthritis, and high blood pressure (Johns 1990, Duke 1994).

However, the use of spices in food preparation differs from medicinal use in three ways. In cooking, spices are used without regard to diners' health status, they are used in tiny quantities, and they are routinely added to specific recipes. This pattern suggests that the "targets" of spice chemicals are on or in the food before it is ingested. By contrast, in medicinal usage, spices are taken in response to particular maladies, in large quantities, and not with any particular dish-more like swallowing a pill than preparing a meal.

An interesting question is whether other animals also "spice" foods. Presently, the answer appears to be "no." However, "vegetation" does form a small but significant fraction of the diet of most wild carnivores, including foxes, coyotes, and cougars (e.g., Parker 1995). Undoubtedly, much of this plant material serves as nutrition, for example, when meat is scarce. Nevertheless, frequent ingestion of vegetation is potentially interesting in the context of the antimicrobial hypothesis because most wild carnivores scavenge carrion, so they are frequently exposed to food-spoilage bacteria and fungi. Moreover, some animals that store food add plants with antibacterial and antifungal properties to their caches (e.g., brown bears sometimes cover carcasses with Spaghnum moss [Elgmork 1982], and some stingless bees build honey pots by mixing plant resins with wax [Roubik 1983]). These possible prophylactic uses should not be confused with consumption of aromatic plants by wild primates as a potential means of "self-medication" (e.g., Huffman and Wrangham 1994).

Costs of spices

In light of the beneficial effects of spices, why aren't spices used equally often everywhere? The answer probably lies in the costs of spice use, including financial costs to procure parts of plants that do not grow locally (e.g., consider the price of Spanish saffron), illnesses caused by ingesting spices that are themselves contaminated (e.g., with bacteria, fungi, or animal feces), and other hazards of ingesting too many plant secondary compounds and essential oils. Indeed, Ames et al. (1990) and Beier and Nigg (1994) reviewed evidence that phytochemicals in many common spices have mutagenic, teratogenic, carcinogenic, or allergenic properties. As one example, in small quantities chilis have antimicrobial and therapeutic effects, but ingestion of large amounts of capsaicin has been associated with necrosis, ulceration, and carcinogenesis (Surh and Lee 1996). The implication is that too much of a good thing can be bad. In hot climates, benefits of avoiding foodborne illnesses and food poisoning apparently outweigh the various costs of spices. But in cool climates, where unrefrigerated foods decay more slowly, benefits of further retarding spoilage may not be worth the costs and risks. Even in countries where spices are heavily used, pre-adolescent children (Rozin 1980) and women in their first trimester of pregnancy (Profet 1992) typically avoid highly spiced foods, especially meats. These differences in spice use may have a similar adaptive basis. For example, Profet (1992) suggested that morning sickness may function to reduce maternal intake of foods containing teratogens during the early phase of embryogenesis, when delicate fetal tissues are most susceptible to chemical disruption. Indeed, women who experience morning sickness are less likely to miscarry than women who do not (Weigel and Weigel 1989). Young children, who are growing rapidly, may also be particularly sensitive tc environmental mutagens. Once pregnancy has progressed into the second trimester and once children reach puberty, the dangers of food poisoning and foodborne illnesses may again outweigh the mutagenic risks associated with phytochemicals (Flaxman and Sherman in press). Interestingly, maternal ingestion of spices late in pregnancy or during lactation can slightly bias offspring toward accepting spices (e.g., Altbacker et al. 1995).
Figure 6.

Alternative hypotheses to explain spice use

The antimicrobial hypothesis is not the only explanation that has been proposed to explain spice use; however, careful consideration of the alternatives reveals that all have significant flaws. For example, one proximate hypothesis is that spices disguise the smell and taste of spoiled foods (Govindarajan 1985). Our finding that traditional meat-based recipes from hotter countries more frequently called for spices, and more pungent spices, is consistent with this idea because there would more often be foul smells and bad tastes to "cover up" due to rapid spoilage. However, the problem with this hypothesis as an ultimate (evolutionary) explanation is that it ignores the potentially serious negative consequences of ingesting foods laced with bacteria or their toxins. Even poorly nourished individuals would often be better off if they recognized and passed up foods containing potentially deadly spoilage microorganisms.

A second proximate alternative to explain spice use is that spicy foods are preferred in hot climates because they increase perspiration and help cool the body evaporatively. However, although chilis and horseradish can cause sweating in some people, most spices do not have this effect (Rozin and Schiller 1980). Thus, evaporative cooling cannot be a general explanation for the increased spice use in hot climates. Moreover, physiological mechanisms of temperature regulation obviously operate to keep us cool without the necessity of finding, eating, and dealing with the potentially negative side effects of phytochemicals.

One alternative ultimate hypothesis for spice use is that wherever spices are difficult to obtain and are therefore expensive, individuals signal their wealth and social status (e.g., to rivals or potential mates) by using them lavishly. This hypothesis would apply primarily to spice plants with restricted ranges (e.g., pepper, allspice, fenugreek, nutmeg, and cinnamon). However, it does not predict or explain the multiple positive correlations between temperature and spice use we found for spices that are available ubiquitously (e.g., Figure 7). Also, this hypothesis is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the rarest spices tend to be used most commonly in the tropics, because it is in these locations where the plants are endemic and, presumably, therefore, least expensive.

A second alternative ultimate hypothesis is that spices supply chemicals that, in small quantities, have beneficial effects other than inhibiting food spoilage microorganisms. For example, certain phytochemicals, especially those found in garlic and onions, can aid digestion, modulate energy metabolism, and even help postpone some degenerative diseases, such as diabetes and cancer (Johns and Chapman 1995). Some other phytochemicals, particularly those in cloves, rosemary, sage, pepper, and mace, are powerful antioxidants (Lin 1994, Hirasa and Takemasa 1998). By retarding the oxidation of oil or fat, phytochemicals help preserve foods and also reduce the production of free radicals, which have been linked to cancer and aging. These effects are undeniably important, but they probably do not represent the primary reason for spice use because not all spices have these beneficial properties. Moreover, the need for micronutrients or antioxidants does not predict or explain the use of spices in recipes or the multiple positive correlations between temperature and spice use shown in Figures 5, 7, 8, and 9).

Finally, it is also possible that spice use may not confer any benefits. Under this hypothesis, patterns of spice use arise because people just take advantage of whatever aromatic plants are available to improve the taste of their food. Perhaps the phytochemicals in spices happen to resemble those found in sought-after foods, such as fat and sugar (Rozin and Vollmecke 1986), and as a result spices taste good. If this idea were correct, spice chemicals should be highly palatable, and spice-use patterns should correspond to local availability of spice plants.

However, neither prediction is fully supported. Although some spices are initially appealing (e.g., cinnamon, basil, and thyme), pungent spices, such as garlic, ginger, anise, and chilis, are distasteful to most people, especially children (Rozin 1980). Indeed, the capsaicin receptor is a heat-activated ion channel in the pain pathway (Caterina et al. 1997). For most unpalatable substances, an initial negative response is sufficient to maintain avoidance throughout life. However, preferences for spices develop during individuals' lifetimes, usually under familial guidance. Parents encourage their children to use spices, and most children eventually come to like (or at least accept) them, implying that spice use is beneficial.
Figure 8.
Figure 9.

In addition, spices are not necessarily more available in hot climates than in cool ones. There is no relationship between the number of countries in which each spice plant grows (i.e., its native and domesticated range) and either the number of countries in which it is used or their annual temperatures (Billing and Sherman 1998). Because spices have been cultivated for thousands of years in the Old World (Zohary and Hopf 1994) and hundreds of years in the New World (Coe 1994), it seems likely that these patterns of spice plant availability reflect those that occurred when traditional recipes were developing.

Thus, correlations between spice use and annual temperature must be due to people in hot countries using a larger proportion of whatever spices are available locally (or importing more spices). Indeed, for 22 of 30 spices ( 73 % ), a larger percentage of recipes called for the spice in countries where the plant grows than where it does not grow; for 14 of the spices, these differences were significant (P < 0.05, Mann-Whitney tests). Of course, the spice trade (Figure 2) facilitates the use of nonindigenous spices. For example, onion and pepper are the two most frequently used spices in the world (Figure 3). Allium grows in all 36 countries we examined, but Piper grows in only 9 countries. Pepper is the world's most frequently traded spice (more than 90 million pounds per year are imported into the United States alone; Tainter and Grenis 1993). Thus, although local availability certainly influences spice use, use is not dictated solely by local availability.

Origins of spice use

How did spice use begin? We hypothesize that people may have begun cooking with spices whose flavors were initially appealing or that made them feel good (due to digestive or vermicidal effects, among other things). As a result, spice-using families may also have been less likely to suffer from foodborne illnesses or food poisoning than families that did not use spices, especially in hot climates. Furthermore, spice-using families probably would have been able to store foods longer before they spoiled, enabling them to tolerate prolonged periods of food scarcity. Observation and imitation of the food-preparation habits of these healthier families by neighbors could have spread spice use rapidly through a society. Families that used appropriate spices would presumably rear more healthy offspring, who would then learn spice-use traditions from their parents. It even seems possible that people who lived in areas where certain spices were traditionally used might have developed physiologically heightened abilities to taste those phytochemicals. The possible existence of such intergroup variations in taste receptor sensitivity to spices are just beginning to be explored (Drewnowski and Rock 1995).
Figure 10. '

Eventually, however, new foodborne bacteria or fungi would immigrate, or indigenous microorganisms would evolve resistance to local spices. Individuals eating foods contaminated by these microbes would become ill. After humans, like many other creatures, eat something that makes them sick, they tend to avoid that taste (Milgram et al. 1977, Pelchat and Rozin 1982). The adaptive value of such "taste-aversion learning" is obvious (Rozin and Vollmecke 1986, Letarte et al. 1997). Adding a different spice to a food that caused such an illness might change its flavor enough to make it palatable againbecause it tastes like a new food. At the same time, if the spice were to kill the microorganism(s) that caused the illness in the first place, then the food would again be rendered safe for consumption. As a result of this sequence of events, food aversions would more often be associated with unspiced (and unsafe) foods, whereas food likings would be associated with spicy dishes, especially in climates where foods spoil rapidly. Over time, the number of spices per recipe would proliferate due to iteration of this process-that is, sequential changes in taste, associated with inhibiting different bacteria and fungi.

Antimicrobial value of spices today

Despite the widespread availability of electrical refrigeration, antimicrobial properties of spices may still be useful. For example, there is an order-of-magnitude difference in the frequency of foodborne illnesses between modern Japan and Korea, nearby countries with similar temperate climates. During 1971-1990, food poisoning-primarily of bacterial origin-affected 29.2 out of every 100,000 Japanese but only 3.0 out of every 100,000 Koreans (Lee et al. 1996). Lee et al. (1996) suggested that the difference may have been due to cultural variations in food handling and preparation, and this explanation may well be correct. But, in addition, Korean meat-based recipes are spicier than those of Japan. Although meat-based recipes of .Japan collectively used more kinds of spices (14) than those of Korea (8), Korean recipes more frequently called for at least one spice, contained more spices per recipe (Table 1), and more frequently called for highly inhibitory spices (Billing and Sherman 1998). As a result, an average Korean recipe most likely inhibits a significantly greater fraction of bacteria than an average Japanese recipe. One possible explanation for the fact that traditional Japanese recipes do not call for more spices is that they date from times when fresh seafood was continuously available from local waters. Today, more food is imported, and it comes from farther away. Traditional Japanese recipes may simply not include enough spices (antimicrobials) to cope with the pathogens in the imported food supply.

Of course, spice use is not the only way in which humans attempt to hold foodborne pathogens at bay. Meat products have traditionally been preserved by thoroughly cooking, smoking, drying, and salting them. Indeed, salt, which is available the world over, has been used for preservation for centuries (Multhauf 1996). And today, of course, the "front line" of defense against spoilage is refrigeration and freezing. We hypothesize that all these practices have been adopted for essentially the same reason: to minimize the impact of microorganisms that colonize our food.


Use of spices takes advantage of plant defensive compounds. Not surprisingly, in view of their evolved functions, these phytochemicals have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. The use of spices essentially borrows plants' recipes for survival and puts them to similar use in cooking. Over time, recipes should "evolve" as new bacteria and fungi appear or indigenous species develop resistance to phytochemicals, requiring the addition of more spices or new spices to combat them effectively. However, there is a limit to how much of any one spice can be added before beneficial phytochemicals become phytotoxins. Thus, cookbooks from different eras are more than just curiosities. Essentially, they represent written records of our coevolutionary races against foodborne diseases. By cleansing foods of pathogens before consumption, spice users contribute to the health, longevity, and fitness of themselves, their families, and their guests. A Darwinian view of gastronomy thus helps us understand why "some like it hot" (spicy, that is!).


We thank John Alcock, Thomas A. Gavin, Thomas Neuhaus, H. Kern Reeve, Laurel Southard, and Cynthia Kagarise-Sherman for ideas and encouragement; Lee A. Dugatkin, Thomas Eisner, Paul W. Ewald, Rebecca Chasan, Gail Jarrow, Mary Ann Shallenberger, Philip S. Sherman, and an anonymous reviewer for suggestions on the manuscript; the librarians at Cornell University's Mann and Nestle Libraries for assistance with references; and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Science Foundation, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University for financial support.
Figure 11.
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Flaxman SM, Sherman PW. In press. Morning sickness: A mechanism for protecting the embryo. Quarterly Review of Biology. Fraenkel GS.1959. The raison d'etre of secondary plant substances. Science 129: 14661470.
Giese J. 1994. Spice and seasoning blends: A taste for all seasons. Food Technology 48: 87-90.

Govindarajan VS. 1985. Capsicum production, technology, chemistry, and quality. Part 1: History, botany, cultivation, and primary processing. CRC Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 22:109-176. Hargreaves LL, Jarvis B, Rawlinson AP, Wood JM. 1975. The antimicrobial effects of spices,

herbs and extracts from these and other food plants. Scientific and Technical Surveys, British Food Manufacturing Industries Research Association 88: 1-56. Hirasa K, Takemasa M. 1998. Spice Science
and Technology. New York: Marcel Dekker. Hobbs BC, Roberts D. 1993. Food Poisoning and Food Hygiene. 6th ed. London: Edward Arnold.

Huffman MA, Wrangham RW. 1994. Diversity of medicinal plant use by chimpanzees in the wild. Pages 129-148 in Wrangham RW, McGrew WC, DeWaal FBM, Heltne PG, eds. Chimpanzee Cultures. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press. Hui YH, Gorham JR, Murrell KD, Cliver DO, eds. 1994. Foodborne Disease Handbook. Vol. 1: Diseases Caused by Bacteria. New York: Marcel Dekker.
Johns T. 1990. With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It: Chemical Ecology and the Origins of Human Diet and Medicine. Tucson (AZ): University of Arizona Press. Johns T, Chapman L. 1995. Phytochemicals ingested in traditional diets and medicines as modulators of energy metabolism. Recent Advances in Phytochemistry 29: 161188.

Johri RK, Zutshi U. 1992. An Ayurvedic formulation "Trikatu" and its constituents. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 37: 85-91. Lee W-C, Sakai T, Lee M-J, Hamakawa M, Lee S-M, Lee I-M. 1996. An epidemiological study of food poisoning in Korea and Japan. International Journal of Food Microbiology 29: 141-148.
Letarte A, Dube L, Troche V.1997. Similarities and differences in affective and cognitive origins of food likings and dislikes. Appetite 28: 115-129.
Lin RI-S. 1994. Pharmacological properties and medicinal use of pepper (Piper nigrum L.). Pages 469-481 in Charalambous G, ed. Spices, Herbs, and Edible Fungi. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Milgram NW, Krames L, Alloway TM. 1977. Food Aversion Learning. New York: Plenum Press.
Moyler DA. 1994. Spices-recent advances. Pages 1-71 in Charalambous G, ed. Spices Herbs, and Edible Fungi. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Multhauf RP. 1996. Neptune's Gift: A History of Common Salt. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Nakatani N. 1994. Antioxidative and antimicrobial constituents of herbs and spices. Pages 251-272 in Charalambous G, ed. Spices, Herbs, and Edible Fungi. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Parker G. 1995. Eastern Coyote: The Story of Its Success. Halifax (Canada): Nimbus Publishing.

Parry JW. 1953. The Story of Spices. New York: Chemical Publishers.
Pelchat ML, Rozin P. 1982. The special role of nausea in the acquisition of food dislikes by humans. Appetite 3: 341-351. Profet M. 1992. Pregnancy sickness as adaptation: A deterrent to maternal ingestion of

teratogens. Pages 327-365 in Barkow J, Cosmides L, Tooby J, eds. The Adapted Mind. New York: Oxford University Press. Roubik DW. 1983. Nest and colony characteristics of stingless bees from Panama (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 56: 327-355. Rozin P. 1980. Acquisition of food preferences and attitudes to food. International Journal of Obesity 4: 356-363.
Rozin P, Schiller D. 1980. The nature and acquisition of a preference for chili pepper by humans. Motivation and Emotion 4: 77100.

Rozin P, Vollmecke TA. 1986. Food likes and dislikes. Annual Review of Nutrition 6: 433-456.

Ruhlen M. 1987. A Guide to the World's Languages. Vol.1: Classification. Stanford (CA): Stanford University Press.
Scheiper R.1993. Hot Spice. Contact 57. Springfield (NJ): Haarman and Reimer Shelef LA.1984. Antimicrobial effects of spices.
Journal of Food Safety 6: 29-44. Sherman PW. 1988. The levels of analysis. Animal Behavior 36: 616-618. Sockett PN.1995. The epidemiology and costs of diseases of public health significance, in relation to meat and meat products. Journal of Food Safety 15: 91-112.
Surh Y-J, Lee SS. 1996. Capsaicin in hot chili pepper: Carcinogen, co-carcinogen, or anticarcinogen? Food and Chemical Toxicology 34: 313-316.

Tainter DR, Grenis AT. 1993. Spices and Seasonings. New York: VCH Publishers. Todd ECD. 1994. Surveillance of foodborne disease. Pages 461-536 in Hui YH, Gorham JR, Murrell KD, Cliver DO, eds. Foodborne Disease Handbook. Vol.1: Diseases Caused by Bacteria. New York: Marcel Dekker. Varnam AH, Evans MG. 1991. Foodborne Pathogens. London: Mosby-Year Book. Walker JRL. 1994. Antimicrobial compounds in food plants. Pages 181-204 in Dillon VM, Board RG, eds. Natural Antimicrobial Systems and Food Preservation. Wallingford (UK): CAB International. Weigel RM, Weigel MM. 1989. Nausea and vomiting of early pregnancy and pregnancy outcome: A meta-analytical review. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 96: 1312-1318.
[WHO] World Health Organization. World Health Report 1996. The State of World Health. Geneva: World Health Organization.

Zaika LL. 1988. Spices and herbs: their antimicrobial activity and its determination. Journal of Food Safety 9: 97-118. Ziauddin KS, Rao HS, Fairoze N. 1996. Effect of organic acids and spices on quality and shelf-life of meats at ambient temperature. Journal of Food Science and Technology 33: 255-258.
Zohary D, Hopf M. 1994. Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Cultivated Plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley. 2nd ed. Oxford (UK): Oxford University Press.

[Author note]
Paul W. Sherman is a professor at Cornell University. He studies the behavioral ecology of various birds and mammals and teaches animal behavior and Darwinian medicine. Jennifer Billing was an undergraduate Honors student at Cornell when she began studying spices. She now teaches biology and chemistry at The Dalton School in New York City. 1999 American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

Life Enhancement:: Goodbye to Antibacterial-Resistant Bacteria - Nov. 1999

Life Enhancement:: Goodbye to Antibacterial-Resistant Bacteria - Nov. 1999

New & Improved Bye-Lori
Goodbye to Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
Mastic Plus New Phytonutrients
for Improved Gastrointestinal Health

by Will Block

oodborne illnesses affect tens of millions of Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The consequences are grim, with as many as 5000 deaths, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 76 million cases of gastrointestinal illness reported each year in the United States.1 In what officials call a new picture of the devastation of foodborne disease, the CDC has found fewer deaths than previously estimated, but far more illnesses. Each year, approximately one out of every four Americans falls prey to a foodborne illness.

Foodborne illnesses are not new to the world. In fact, they have been the rule rather than the exception throughout history. There are many variables contributing to food contamination, including the safety of the water supply, waste disposal, and personal hygiene. The overriding problem is the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria that are immune to medicine's best antibiotics. More virulent populations of bacteria make infections more difficult to treat, requiring newer, stronger antibiotics - and so the cycle keeps repeating.

Figure 1.Overwhelming all defenses. Percentage of hospital-acquired enterococcal bacteria reported as resistant to vancomycin (the antibiotic of last resort). Enterococcus faecium is the third leading cause of bloodstream infections that are now running rampant in hospitals, owing to antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is growing, warn medical experts who have seen the writing on the wall.1 Alarm is growing at hospitals across the nation, where the potency of even the antibiotic of last choice, vancomycin, has been greatly diminished (see Figure 1). Many antibiotics commonly prescribed for respiratory tract infections are losing their effectiveness, according to researchers who have been tracking the medical statistics. Dr. Ronald Jones, a leading investigator in a program called Sentry, at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, is alarmed that antibiotic resistance of the organism Pneumococcus, a common cause of respiratory tract infections, has jumped from 4% to nearly 40% in less than 20 years.

Jones is urging caution in the use of antibiotics, for patients as well as doctors. Many patients insist on antibiotics when they aren't needed or would not even be effective, such as for a viral infection, and too many doctors go along, even though they should know better. It is estimated that up to 50% of all antibiotics prescribed are for conditions for which they have no value. About 2/3 of all complaints in a doctor's office relate to the respiratory tract, and this, according to Jones, is where resistance is growing most rapidly. He has appealed for an emergency approach that focuses on education, surveillance, and new research. Just 11 years ago, e.g., ciprofloxacin was effective against most major pathogens. Now more than 10% of organisms are resistant. One of the problems with some of the older antibiotics is that they promote mutations in microorganisms, making them stronger, so resistance develops quickly.

It is interesting, but predictable, that in countries where antibiotics are available over the counter, resistance is even higher than in the United States. In Mexico, for example, bacterial resistance to penicillin is 60%, vs. only 35% north of the border.

One possible solution to the problem is to use more spices, for their antibacterial properties. Throughout history, spices have been used in food preparation worldwide, although their use has differed considerably among cultures and countries. Two researchers, Billing and Sherman, analyzed the data on the frequency of use of 43 spices in the meat-based cuisines of the 36 countries for which they could locate traditional cookbooks.3 They also looked at the temperature and precipitation statistics in each country, the range of available spice plants, and the antibacterial properties of each spice.

The researchers found that many spices do inhibit or kill microorganisms that cause food spoilage and that there was a positive correlation between the use of spices in food preparation and average annual temperature. The traditional view - that spices provide no medical benefits, but are used only to provide macronutrients, to disguise the taste and smell of spoiled foods, or increase perspiration and thus evaporative cooling - was not supported by the evidence. Billing and Sherman believed that the ultimate reason for spice use was, in fact, to help cleanse foods of pathogens and thereby to contribute to the health, longevity, and reproductive success of people who find their flavors enjoyable. When they tallied the amount of spices used in the typical recipe, 0.25 to 3 grams per kilogram of food, they found that it tended to fall within a range "sufficient to yield useful antibacterial effects."

The food-poisoning rates in Japan and Korea are different. In Japan, there were 30 incidents of food poisoning for every 100,000 diners between 1971 and 1990. In Korea during the same period, the incidence was only 3 out of 100,000, or 10% of Japan's rate. Although the two countries have similar climates, Koreans eat their food spicier. In fact, for every two potent antimicrobial spices in Japanese recipes, there are three in Korean recipes, or 50% more. These data seem to bear out the argument made by Billing and Sherman, who state, "The estimated proportion of foodborne bacteria inhibited by an average recipe is significantly higher in Korean (51%) than Japanese cuisine (12%)."

The discovery of America was the accidental result of the search for spices. Christopher Columbus was quite knowledgeable about medicines, since he supplemented his readings with trips to famous regional pharmacies.4 Having visited the Greek archipelago, including the Isle of Chios, he knew that the concept of disease-preventing spices encompassed more than just the flowers and seeds of small plants. It could also entail the roots, leaves, bark, and even the sap, of trees. One tree, in particular, had been cultivated to produce a highly antibacterial sap that was believed to be more curative and thus more valuable than all the other "spices," and that was the mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus.

As proof of his belief in mastic sap, Columbus wrote several letters upon his return from his first voyage to America, one to Luis De Sant Angel, Treasurer of Aragon, announcing his discovery of mastic in the New World:

To speak, in conclusion, only of what has been done during this hurried voyage, their Highnesses [Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain] will see that I can give them as much gold as they desire, if they will give me a little assistance, spices, cotton, as much as their Highnesses may command to be shipped, and mastic as much as their Highnesses choose to send for, which until now has only been found in Greece, in the isle of Chios, and the Signoria can get her own price for it.5

Columbus thought, as presumably many botanical pharmacists did, that mastic could cure cholera, and other ailments as well. So to encourage sightings after landing in the New World, he offered a reward to the sailor who first located mastic. What Columbus found, however, was not mastic - to this day it is cultivated successfully only on Chios - but gumbo-limbo, or turpentine tree (Bursera simaruba). Columbus was told (in sign language) by the natives that gumbo-limbo - which exudes a resin that bears a striking resemblance to the real mastic sap and, like it, has a turpentine-like taste - was "good for a stomach ache." Since mastic was beneficial for the gastrointestinal tract, it is no wonder that in his rush to identify "mastic," he mistook gumbo-limbo for the real thing.

In the centuries before and after Columbus, so powerful was the mystique of mastic (also know as mastiche) that some believed it could even cure the plague (see Discovering Antibacterial Mastic - Page 1 - April 1999, Explorer Columbus - April 1999, and Goodbye Pylori - March 1999). In an article in the journal Lloydia, J. L. Hartwell cites hundreds of historical references, including materia medicas, natural histories, medical treatises, medieval pharmacopoeias, clinical reports, and Egyptian medical papyri, on the wide usage of mastic over the ages for gastrointestinal ulcers, diarrhea, and a wide variety of other medical problems.7

In retrospect, many pharmacognosists have concluded that the claims about mastic were fabrications, representing a search for the Holy Grail of medications. Yet such is our current understanding of the science underlying mastic that it now appears that the "exaggerations" about mastic's miraculous qualities were probably closer to the mark. Their error was only about the diseases that it could cure, not about its power.

Bye-Lori, Life Enhancement's gastrointestinal support product, is revolutionary, because it is the first identified natural product that can deliver a serious blow to the armor of what is undoubtedly one of the most feared gastrointestinal bacteria in the world, Helicobacter pylori. It has been estimated that about 40% of the entire population of the planet is infected with H. pylori. This means that about 2.4 billion people on earth would probably lead healthier lives if H. pylori were eradicated from their stomachs.

Because H. pylori has been intimately connected with peptic, gastric, and even duodenal ulcers, as well as carcinomas of the stomach, the widespread use of a mastic-containing product such as Bye-Lori would be a boon to human health worldwide.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 38 human subjects with duodenal ulcers, 1 gram of mastic powder was given once per day before breakfast to 20 subjects for a period of two weeks, while a 1-gram lactose placebo was given to the other 18 subjects.7 A high level of symptomatic relief was reported in 80% (16 subjects) in the mastic group, and when their stomachs were examined with a viewing scope, 70% (14 subjects) were proven to have significant healing. The site of the original ulcer had been completely replaced by epithelial tissue (the cells that normally line the gastrointestinal tract), without any appearance of new ulcers. According to the authors, the differences attributed to mastic were highly significant. There were no side effects reported in this study.

In another study, five male patients and one female patient with benign gastric ulcers who had not been treated for ulcers within two months received 2 grams per day of mastic powder, 1 gram in the morning before breakfast and 1 gram at bedtime, for four weeks.8 Complete symptomatic relief was found in all six subjects, including one man with a double gastric ulcer. When the sites of the ulcers were viewed, five of the six subjects, including the double-ulcer man, had completely new epithelial cell growth over the ulcer at the end of the four weeks. No side effects were reported. The authors noted that they had previously documented another 14 cases of gastric ulcers treated successfully with mastic, as confirmed by upper gastrointestinal viewing during a one-year period of treatment and follow-up.9 The amount of mastic used in this study did not exceed the quantities used by the general public chewing mastic gum.

With the enormous success of Bye-Lori, we wanted to create an even more advanced formulation, to provide a natural alternative for individuals dealing with difficult or intractable gastrointestinal problems. So we looked at the data for a wide variety of plants that possess antibacterial properties.

When the extracts of several plants were examined for their effect on H. pylori, cinnamon and thyme were found to be effective.10 Both extracts, but particularly thyme, had a significant ability to inhibit H. pylori growth and limit its urease activity. Urease, an enzyme that breaks urea down into carbon dioxide and ammonia, is an important virulence factor for H. pylori and is critical for bacterial colonization of the human gastric mucosa. The amount of thyme needed to inhibit H. pylori completely was readily achievable with either powdered thyme or a liquid extract.

St. John's wort, an herb used for antidepressant purposes,* contains an ingredient, hyperforin, that has been found to possess antibacterial properties. This was shown as far back as 1959 and 1971 by Russian researchers.11,12 A study performed in Romania in 1988 demonstrated a specific antibacterial role for an extract from St. John's wort, a gastrointestinal effect. When the extract was given to rats with aspirin-induced ulcers, a protective, anti-ulcer effect was displayed.13

* Curiously, hyperforin seems to invoke conditions necessary for Hebb's rule (see The Genetic Leap to Greater Memory - November 1999 and Kaehler ST, Sinner C, Chatterjee SS, Philippu A. Hyperforin enhances the extracellular concentrations of catecholamines, serotonin and glutamate in the rat locus coeruleus. Neurosci Lett 1999 Mar 12;262(3):199-202). Thus, it may be regarded as a "speed association" phytonutrient, in addition to its antibiotic role. By containing hyperforin, Bye-Lori now "speaks" to the brain, as well as the stomach.

The chemical structure of hyperforin is unlike that of any other known antibiotic. Even in low concentrations in laboratory studies, hyperforin is effective against a wide range of bacteria, including E. coli and other Gram-positive bacteria, and multiresistant bacteria.14 It is capable of inhibiting penicillin-resistant and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Toxicity levels are low.

A bioavailability study showed that a 300-mg oral administration of St. John's wort containing 5% hyperforin was well tolerated and resulted in serum levels sufficient to support the systemic antibiotic use of hyperforin.16

You need only open the pages of your newspaper, turn on the tube, or click onto the Web to hear about virulent bacteria breaking through the best defense lines thrown up by conventional medicine. Not that antibiotics are not of great value - that's not in question. The real question is, are we diminishing their value by overusing them and allowing bacteria to mutate, reprogramming themselves to do us severe harm and even threaten our lives?

A good defense is a good offense, and Bye-Lori - now including hyperforin, thyme, and cinnamon, along with the strength of classic mastic powder - is here. In these days of bacterial consciousness, Bye-Lori could provide the natural, healthy alternative you're looking for.


1. Mead PS, Slutsker L, Dietz V, McCaig LF, Bresee JS, Shapiro C, Griffin PM, Tauxe RV. Food-related illness and death in the United States. Emerg Infect Dis 1999 Sep-Oct;5(5) (in press). http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol5no5/mead.htm#5
2. Zoeller J. Antibiotic Resistance Is Growing, Researchers Report 1999 Sept 17. Tribune Medical Web: http://www.medtrib.com
3. Billing J, Sherman PW. Antimicrobial functions of spices: why some like it hot. Q Rev Biol 1998 Mar;73(1):3-49.
4. Griffenhagen G. Materia medica of Columbus. Int Pharm J 1990;4:271-2.
5. Hart and Channing. American History Leaflets CD Sourcebook of American History 1995 Compact University.
6. Hartwell JL. Plants used against cancer. Lloydia 1967:30/4;379-436.
7. Al-Habbal MJ, Al-Habbal Z, Huwez FU. A double-blind controlled clinical trial of mastic and placebo in the treatment of duodenal ulcer. J Clin Exp Pharm Physiol 1984;11:541-4.
8. Huwez FU, Al-Habbal MJ. Mastic in treatment of benign gastric ulcers. Gastroenterol Japon 1986;21:273-4.
9. Al Habbal MJ, et al. Upper G.I.T. endoscopy in Arbil. Iraq Med J 1982;29:25.
10. Tabak M, Armon R, Potasman I, Neeman I. In vitro inhibition of Helicobacter pylori by extracts of thyme. J Appl Bacteriol 1996 Jun;80(6):667-72.
11. Derbentseva NA, Rabinovych AS, Aizenman BIu, Zelepukha SI, Mandryk TP, Shvaiger MO. Antimicrobial substances from Hypericum perforatum. Mikrobiol Zh (Kiev) 1959;21(5):52-7.
12. Gurevich AI, Dobrynin VN, Kolosov MN, Popravko SA, Riabova ID. Antibiotic hyperforin from Hypericum perforatum L. Antibiotiki 1971 Jun;16(6):510-3.
13. Hriscu A, Stanescu U, Ionescu A, Verbuta A, Gusetoaia F. Study of gastro-protective effects of extractive fractions from Hyperici herba in experimental ulcers of rats. Farmacia (Bucharest); 1988;6:43-50.
14. Schempp CM, Pelz K, Wittmer A, Schopf E, Simon JC. Antibacterial activity of hyperforin from St. John's wort, against multiresistant Staphylococcus aureus and gram-positive bacteria. Lancet 1999 Jun 19;353(9170):2129.
15. Biber A, Fischer H, Romer A, Chatterjee SS. Oral bioavailability of hyperforin from Hypericum extracts in rats and human volunteers. Pharmacopsychiatry 1998 Jun;31 Suppl 1:36-43.

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Indian Spices

Indian Spices

Indian Spices -Tastes of Paradise


V.Krishna Moorthy,Bhaskar Karnick


01. Introduction

02. Importance of spices

03. Usage

04. India and Spices

05. History of Spices

06. Sources of Spices
07. Culinary Herbs

08. Spices as Aphrodisiac
09. Perfumes and Incenses

10. Spices as Medicine

11. Anti-microbial Functions of Spices
12. Business of spices
13. The Indian share

14. Spices Time Line
15. Glossary of Common Indian Spices
16. Common Indian Spices and Description
17. Taste and Hotness of Spices
18. Links to Spice Resources

1. Introduction

Spice, aromatic vegetable product used as a flavoring or condiment, normally refers to the derivatives from certain herbs like Seeds, Leaves, Bark, roots etc They are used mainly for enhancing taste of the food. The name spice is derived from the word species, which was applied to groups of exotic foodstuffs in the Middle Ages.

Spice term was formerly applied also to pungent or aromatic foods, to ingredients of incense or perfume and to embalming agents. Modern usage tends to limit the term to flavorings used in food or drinks, although many spices have additional commercial uses, e.g., as ingredients of medicines, perfumes, incense, and soaps. Aromatically scented herbal products have been used since ancient times to flavor food and for preparing incenses and perfumes.

The earliest literary record in India on spices is the Rig Veda (around 6000 BC), and the other three Vedas - Yajur, Sama and Atharva. The Rig Veda, one of the ancient Hindu scriptures, lists more than a thousand healing plants. The story of Indian Spices dates back to 7000 years into the past. In the modern world, major trade is related to eating and spices provide the major thrust - traditionally a country of agriculture, India leads the trade.

The very word "Spice" kindles the taste buds and brings pleasure to the mind. A well equipped Indian kitchen has all major verities of Spices stocked. In India, Spices are available in almost all grocery shops. The common Spices which are used in their raw and fresh forms are available in vegetable shops. Spices provide a rich source of home remedies. Some of the daily used Spices have been taken for granted as part of daily food item and are used routinely without a second thought. Even with the giant progress in science, Spices have no replacement, in fact they form the basis of many medical research. Spices are packed in convenient forms - either as powder, liquid, coarsely ground or just farm fresh. Herbs are extensively used as medicine, preservative, perfume etc.

Spices trade is a big business from time immemorial. Spices from India and Far Eastern Asia were in demand from ancient times; they were carried by caravan across China and India to ports of the Mediterranean Sea or the Persian Gulf and thence to the marketplaces of Athens, Rome, and other cities, where they were sold at exorbitant prices.

When overland trade routes from Asia were cut off by the Mongols and Turks, the European demand for spices was a major factor in motivating a search for new trade routes around Africa and across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The high price obtainable for spices was partially responsible for the bitter rivalry of European powers for the control of spice-producing areas and of trade routes. Even after adequate supplies of spices were found and means of transportation made available, the cost, long remained very high in Europe and in America. This was largely because of the transportation costs, expenses incident to attempts to retain monopoly of markets and to deliberately limit crops in order to secure high prices.

2. Importance of spices

The spice trade is very ancient. To understand the amazing prestige of spices in ancient times we must remember for one thing that in ancient time food was neither good nor palatable. There were no potatoes; no corn, tea, coffee or chocolate. There were no lemons with which to prepare refreshingly acid beverages, and neither was there sugar with which to sweeten them. However, a dash of pepper, a little cinnamon or ginger, mixed with even the coarsest dishes, could make them palatable.

The earliest trading caravans known in the human history carried spices. The early civilizations of the Mediterranean craved for the spices from India and the other Eastern lands. The Egyptians used herbs and spices in their daily activities. The Egyptian spice expeditions to east coast of Africa are recorded as early 2000 BC. The Roman started sailing to India from Egypt in the first century AD. Stars were the only navigation system available to these early spice traders. A round trip to India took as long as five years. When Europeans were living in a relatively underdeveloped atmosphere, a thriving commerce between East and West flourished through out Indian Ocean and Asia. However, that was destined to change with the introduction of steamed ships.

The demand for spices spread like a wave over Europe - even beyond the fringes of civilization. Alaric the Visigoth demanded as ransom, , when he lay siege to Rome, 3000 pounds of pepper Later he demanded, an additional quota of 300 pounds a year. In a short period of history People of Europe, quickly learnt that spices can make their food tastier and can keep their meat fresher. This led to many wars lost and won.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, a pound of ginger was worth the price of a sheep; a pound of mace would buy three sheep or half cow; cloves cost the equivalent of about $20 a pound. Pepper, always fetched greatest price. Pepper was counted out corn by corn. The guards on London docks even down to Elizabethan times, had to have their pockets sewn up to make sure they didn't steal any spices. In the 11th Century, many towns kept their accounts in pepper; taxes and rents were assessed and paid in this spice and a sack of pepper was worth a man's whole life.

3. Usage

Spices can improve the palatability and the appeal of dull diets or spoiled food. Piquant flavors stimulate salivation and promote digestion. Pungent spices can cause sweating, which may even cause a cooling sensation in tropical climates; on the other hand they can add a sense of inner warmth when present in cooked foods used in cold climates. Local and inexpensive herbs and flavors, such as garlic, onion and horseradish, sufficed for the poorer people of old Europe, but influential, rich hosts would wish to impress or politically intimidate their guests with the liberal use of rare exotic spices. These expensive imports could be added in large amounts and in complex mixtures to each course and to accompanying alcoholic beverages to provide a gustatory statement about the wealth, power and initiative of the host. Thus, spices served to make a political statement when a baronial lord invited possible rivals to an expensive display of profligacy at a sumptuous banquet.

On the contrary in India, traditionally, spices formed a part of common man's daily food.

Cultures are defined as much by their foods, especially, Spices - as by music, art, and dress. Selection of spices reflected different ethnic cultures. Active ingredient culturally associated are:

Curry (mixture of turmeric, cumin, coriander, pepper)
Red pepper (capsaicin)
Jalapeno (capsaicin)
Garlic (allicin)
Cinnamon (cinnamic aldehyde)
Oregano (thymol oil)

In the medieval period, there were many reasons for the rise in spice usage and their trade. Primarily , the monotony of a lifetime consuming of bread and gruel resulted in a powerful desire to, literally, spice up the food. Even today it is people in India and other poorest countries of the Third World who are most likely to use spices in their food. Secondly, there was the need for the emerging new class of bourgeoisie to culturally demonstrate power and superiority by purchasing luxury items like spices, used in foods, medicines, and ointments. Additionally, there was a insatiable desire for gold and silver among the Mediterranean’s trading partners in the East viz. the Indians and the Chinese.

4. India and Spices

Indian Spices paid important role in the history of various lands, discovered or destroyed, kingdoms built or brought down, wars won or lost, treaties signed or flouted, favours sought or offered. Spices have also played a political role in the history. The use of spices from the East became a status symbol by the year 1200 and the European preoccupation with the world of spice was born. The use of spice in food meant money and power, and the desire to acquire these precious status symbols led to world exploration pan-global communication, trade, alliances and wars.

Indian Spices also fitted into philosophic concepts of improving health, since it was understood that they could affect the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile) and influence the corresponding moods (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic). Thus, ginger would be used to heat the stomach and improve digestion; clove was believed to comfort the sinus; mace would prevent colic and bloody fluxes or diarrhea; nutmeg would benefit the spleen and relieve any bad cold.

Cinnamon, one of the most popular flavors in cooking, was considered to be particularly good for digestion and for sore throats. Hot pungent spices were used more liberally in winter diets or to treat cold diseases accompanied by excess phlegm. It is noteworthy that rheumatism was believed to be caused by abnormal rheum, or phlegm; the appropriate therapy would be pepper just as it is today, with the topical use of capsaicin - a chili pepper extract.

5. History of Spices

3000 BC to 200 BC

The Arabs develop the spice trade. For centuries, Arabs controlled this dangerous but lucrative trade, bringing pepper and cloves from India, cinnamon and nutmeg from the Spice Islands and ginger from China. They sold their spices in markets in Nineveh, Babylon, Carthage, Egypt and Rome. Caravans with as many as 4,000 camels traveled "the Golden Road of Samarkand" that stretched across the deserts of southern Asia and the Middle East between kingdoms in the East and markets in the West. The Bible refers to the spice trade in Genesis when Joseph's brothers sell him to a spice trading caravan bound for Egypt, and in the book of Kings when the Queen of Sheba pays tribute to King Solomon in spices, gold and precious stones. In 1453 BC the first Olympians are crowned with wreathes of laurel (bay leaves).

200 BC to 1200AD

The Romans dominate the trade. As their empire grew, Romans began sailing from Egypt to India to trade spices. It was a two-year voyage across the Indian Ocean to obtain pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. During the reign of Tiberius Caesar, sailors discovered that the monsoon winds in the Indian Ocean blew east in the summer and west in the winter. By sailing with the trade winds, they could shorten their voyage to less than a year. There were constant losses from piracy and shipwreck, but the demand for spices made the trade highly profitable. Wealthy Romans valued spices as highly as gold. In 65 AD, they burned a year's worth of cinnamon in a funeral tribute to Nero's wife. When the Goths defeated Rome in 410, they demand a ransom of 3,000 pounds of pepper, along with gold, jewels and silk, to spare the life of the citizenry. Afterward, they required Rome to pay them 300 pounds of pepper per year.

1200 to 1500

As Europe began to develop in the Middle Ages, the demand for spices helped build world trade. Spices were so valued that they were used as currency. In the 11th century, pepper was counted out peppercorn by peppercorn and often used to pay taxes and rents. Europeans began to deal directly with Eastern merchants, and explorers were constantly seeking new trade routes. In 1271, a young Venetian named Marco Polo set out on a journey that would help open trade with the Orient and establish Venice as a major port. Venice remained dominant until around 1498 when the Spanish and Portuguese, weary of paying high prices, began their own explorations. Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gama sailed around Africa's Cape of Good Hope to reach Calcutta. He returned with pepper, cinnamon, ginger and a trading partnership with India. His voyages made tiny Portugal the richest nation in Europe. In 1492, Columbus discovered the Americas instead of a western route to the Spice Islands. He returned from the West Indies with allspice, vanilla and red peppers.

1400 to 1700

Demand for spices grew along with the middle classes during the Renaissance. The Portuguese remained dominant until the end of the 16th century when the Dutch made multiple expeditions to the East, establishing trade with local rulers. The Dutch conquered the city of Malacca in 1641, thus controlling the Malay Peninsula and nearby islands. In 1658 they gained control of the cinnamon trade in Ceylon. More Indonesian islands fell under their power, so that by the end of the17th century, they monopolized the Asian spice trade.

During the 1500s, the English sought to build their own spice trade. Elizabeth I chartered the British East India Company, which began to gain supremacy on the Indian mainland. In 1780, the Dutch and English fought a war, which was ruinous for the Dutch East India Company. By 1799, the Dutch had lost all spice trading centers and the Dutch East India Company closed. England became dominant; London's Mincing Lane was the spice-trading center of the world.

1600 to 1900

In 1672, Elihu Yale, a former clerk of the British East India Company in Madras, India, began his own spice business. He made a fortune and later founded Yale University. But America did not become a major force in the spice trade until 1798 when Captain Jonathan Carnes sailed into Salem, Massachusetts from Indonesia with a load of pepper. He had traded directly with the Indonesians rather than going through the European monopolies. Salem became the center of the American spice trade. More than a thousand ships made the trip to Sumatra during the next 90 years. Ultimately, pirates put America out of the spice trade. Ships were repeatedly robbed and the young government decided against backing its merchant ships in international waters. The U.S. relied on other countries for its supply.


Pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, mace and cardamom supplied from India. China and its neighboring countries supplied ginger, cassia, star anise, licorice and rhubarb. Chile peppers in addition to potatoes from Bolivia and Peru. The allure of trade for the valuable spices that could be transported successfully over vast distances was spurred by an increasing appetite in Europe for new spicy culinary experiences. The desire to monopolize major spices and the need to control the profitable sea routes were the driving forces that led to many of the dramatic events of history during the past 2000 years.

In ancient times, Arabia, Syria and Egypt provided well-organized marketing sites along the major recognized spice routes from which Asiatic spices were sent on their final land or sea journeys to the great spice ports of Europe, such as La Spezia, Venice and Genoa in Italy, Seville in Spain, Lisbon in Portugal, and the major port cities of England, Belgium and Holland.

Origins of Some Common Spices


cinnamon--Cinnamomum verum (= C. zeylanicum)--Lauraceae--bark; C. cassia inferior substitute
mace (aril), nutmeg (endosperm)--Myristica fragrans--Myristicaceae--nutmeg toxic in quantity
cloves--Syzygium aromaticum--Myrtaceae--flower buds--flavoring, antiseptic, tobacco; flavor can be synthesized
cardamom--Elettaria cardamomum--Zingiberaceae--pods--originally medicinal--Indian cooking, Danish pastry
pepper--Piper nigrum--Piperaceae--drupes, black or white depending on processing
turmeric--Cucurma longa--Zingiberaceae--root--yellow coloring


ginger--Zingiber officinale--Zingiberaceae--rhizome--powdered or candied
star anise--Illicium verum--Illiciaceae--immature fruit--as flavoring

Mediterranean, Mid- and Near East

bay leaf--Laurus nobilis--Lauraceae--leaves (do not eat them!)
caper--Capparis spinosa--Capparidaceae--flower buds--relish and flavoring
poppy--Papaver somniferum--probably from Medit.--flavoring, also narcotic
saffron--Crocus sativus--Iridaceae--stigmas--most costly condiment: 150,000 flowers/kg
sesame--Sesamum indicum (S. orientale)--Pedaliaceae--seeds, seed oil

New World

allspice--Pimenta dioica--Myrtaceae--fruits--flavor of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
red peppers, hot peppers, paprika--Capsicum annuum, etc.--Solanaceae--berries (capsaicin); C. frutescens--tabasco
vanilla--Vanilla planifolia--Orchidaceae--berry--only crop from large family; synthetic is inferior and often adulterated

The most important of the exotic spices in Medieval Europe was Indian pepper; this could be transported, stored and traded as peppercorns without any loss in its taste.

7. Culinary Herbs

While it is true that ancient recipes suggest that spices were added in extraordinary large amounts to banquet recipes, it is not clear how many people were meant to be served. It is likely that in practice large amounts were used only if a huge number of people were to participate in the feast. Thus, the actual amount of spice per individual may have been closer to what is acceptable today. Moreover, banquets were an opportunity to enjoy a prolonged bout of gorging, and it is likely that little food remained to be preserved from putrefaction over the ensuing post-banquet days. The evidence does not support claims that spice imports were driven by a need to either disguise the taste of spoiled food or to prevent putrefaction of cooked dishes. Furthermore, when coffee, tea, tobacco and snuff became fashionable in the 18th century, spices in food became less acceptable; thus, spice use declined in France and many other countries, even though methods for food preservation had not improved. It is noteworthy that honey was recognized to be an effective preserver of meats and other foods. In ancient times honey was applied to wounds, and more recent studies have shown it to be more effective than granulated sugar. Honey may have more than a simple osmotic effect that contributes to its bactericidal and fungicidal benefits. History records that when Alexander the Great died in Babylon, his body was encased in honey in a tomb for transfer to Alexandria for burial. There is no evidence that any spices are superior to or offer additive benefits to honey as a food preservative.

8. Spices as Aphrodisiac

Proprietary luxuries of this type, that consist of several dozen herbs and spices, are currently promoted as aphrodisiacs and tonics rather than as antidotes against poisoning, or as incenses, for appeasing the gods in religious ceremonies. Undoubtedly, spicy versions of these recipes that served the ancient pagan gods such as Priapus, Cupid, Venus, Eros, Pan and of course Aphrodite (the goddess who arose from sea foam - "aphros") continue to work their historic magic. Modern romances are catalyzed by spices and herbs which are called upon to provide symbolic and sensory support in luxurious perfumes, heady scents, and sensual aromatic cream or oil massages. However, it is of interest that the most appreciated of current aphrodisiacs is undoubtedly the New World's Aztec "food of the gods", the meso-American spice chocolate rather than the ancient and historic spices of Arabia and the Orient.

The essential oils and terpenoid alcohols of spices contribute to their smell, taste and tactile sensation. Thus, eugenol is found in cinnamon, clove and pimento; one of its medical qualities is a local anesthetic effect, which is utilized in dentistry. Menthol, from mints, has a cooling effect as well as a characteristic fresh taste and smell. Anise contains anethole, cinnamon produces cinnamaldehyde, mace contains myristin, and so on; all have specific pharmacological effects that are generally mild. However, some - such as myristicin - are more potent, and large doses can result in harmful effects such as hallucinations.

A number of spice chemicals are shared with herbs and flowers. It is noteworthy that colorful flowers result in an experience of exciting color and smell, whereas most spices result in excitatory sensations of taste and smell without being particularly stimulating to the visual sense. There are some exceptions, including the crocus which is the source of saffron, and edible flowers such as nasturtium which can spice up a salad. Similarly, chile peppers and radishes can be visually exciting, whereas cinnamon bark and cardamom seeds are relatively dowdy.

The following spices have had a long reputation of having aphrodisiacal properties.

Asafetida This has a foul smell, but in small amounts it can provide a sensual taste or smell. The same phenomenon applies to musk oil (from the musk ox) and castoreum (from the beaver), and perhaps to the secretions of the civet cat and the skunk: these agents can give a salty, animalistic, deeply erotic fragrant quality to a perfume when suitably diluted. Cardamom is popular in India and in Arabic cultures, and used to be employed by the Chinese court to give users a fragrant breath. Cloves and some other spices and herbs contain eugenol; its smell is fragrant and aromatic, and has long been considered as enhancing sexual feelings. Ginger contains gingerols, zingiberene and other characteristic agents that have made it a favored seductive flavor in Asiatic and Arabic herbal traditions. Mace and Nutmeg contain myristicin and similar compounds that are related to mescalin. In larger doses, nutmeg and mace can cause hallucinations, whereas in smaller amounts they are traditional aphrodisiacs. Pepper from India contains piperine: this pungent agent can stimulate sexual function, according to ancient beliefs. Saffron contains picrocrocin which is alleged to have the ability to cause erotic sensations. Vanilla contains the widely loved vanillin, whose taste and smell conjure up romantic feelings in the appropriate circumstances.

Other popular herbs that have been reported to have aphrodisiacal properties include garlic, mint, rosemary, sage and thyme. All these allegedly erotically stimulating agents have long been incorporated into cooking, incenses, rubs and other romantic sources for stimulation of sexual feeling. More recently, these and other herbs are utilized creatively in numerous massage oils and in incenses that are popularly utilized to improve sensations as a new-old form of therapy, with the modern title of aromatherapy.


From earliest history until today, fragrant, alluring smells have been regarded as essential elements of civilized relationships. Exotic plant odors and the scents that could be utilized for body application have inspired explorers, aristocrats, writers, poets, merchants and priests, and they have been of fundamental relevance to religious practices and to courtship. Many societies have felt that the burning of fragrant woods provides an ideal, ethereal token of appreciation to their gods. The liberation of incense smoke was a source of perfume: this word comes from the Latin per fumum, "by smoke". Incense is a word that means "that which is lit".

The sophisticated Greeks greatly appreciated such aromatic sources (aromata) as the turpentine tree, and this became an important import. They also valued the older Egyptian fragrant woods, and their exudates, such as those of myrrh, frankincense (olibanum) and cinnamon. Enormous amounts of money were spent on these exotic imports. The Greek island of Chios was the source of the valued gum exudate mastic as well as turpentine; the mastic was also used as a sort of chewing gum, and it gave rise to the word masticate. The more precious perfume incenses and spices came as imports through Arabia along well-established incense routes to be eagerly purchased by Mediterranean merchants who sold them to satisfy the increasing demands of markets throughout Europe. The most important ancient fragrances were frankincense and myrrh.

The Arabs used the milky sap of the frankincense tree, and called it al lubán, from the word for milk. (The same word gave rise to the name of Lebanon, whose mountains were always capped by milky snow). "Al lubán" became anglicized to olibanum, which is another name for frankincense; the latter name refers to the pre-eminence of this resin, the true or frank incense. Myrrh is a resin that has a bitter taste; its name is derived from Hebrew murr or maror, meaning bitter. Resins do not decay, and as shown by Majno, the resins of myrrh and similar agents are bacteriostatic. Myrrh continues to be used for this purpose in mouthwashes and toothpastes. Cinnamon, and the similar bark, cassia, when burned gives off a delightful fragrance; this is also readily obtained by grinding the bark. The phenolic compounds, such as cinnamic acid, are bacteriostatic, and fumes from their resins may well have served as fumigants as well as pleasing incenses.

10. Spices as Medicine


Poisoning was a favored means that was employed in ancient Greece and Rome to eliminate enemies. In the 1st century B.C., Mithridates VI, King of Pontus (located in present-day Turkey) worked with his physician to devise an effective antidote to all poisons. Two hundred years later, Galen wrote about antidotes, and he credited the King of Pontus with creating a 'mithridatium' that contained 41 ingredients. By that time other famous antidotes had been described; some of these persisted in use for centuries, including one devised by Galen. The most popular of the herbal antidotes besides mithridatium included galene, diascordium and philonium, which were named for their inventors. A generally used antidote that was alleged to be effective against venomous bites and stings was called theriaca; the theriacas of Damocrates and those produced in Cairo, Venice and other large cities became very popular.

The word 'theriaca' was corrupted to the word 'treacle' in English, especially for preparations of herbs in a thick, sweet base. The famous 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper declared that the virtues and inexpense of garlic made it the 'poor-man’s treacle', and that it can be used as an effective panacea. Most of the other forms of theriacas and the various mithridatiums contained dozens of constituents, including exotic spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cassia, malabathrum, galbanum, cardamon, nard, pepper, frankincense, myrrh and saffron. Although these ineffective multiherb remedies remained in official use until the 19th century, they have spawned a host of similar tonics and stimulants that contain a comparable, illogical array of herbs and spices that enjoy a wide market today. See section on Spices as Aphrodisiacs.

The only differences in today’s theriaca equivalents are the incorporation of various modern constituents such as vitamins, minerals, amino-acids and newly fashionable herbs. A similar group of medical recipes included bitters or 'hiera', which were introduced in Greece for use in the Temples of Ascalepios. The components and the number of constituents varied considerably over the ages, although aloes and cinnamon were commonly used. These were prescribed as purgatives and tonics, and were eventually recommended as valued panaceas for a great number of different disorders. Their use persisted 'despite no evidence of effectiveness ' for many centuries. Today, some European countries still make available similar bitter tonics (such as the ancient Hiera picra or holy bitter), and they are marketed as non-specific remedies; people regard them as digestives, cough medicines and so on.

11.Anti-microbial Functions of Spices

In all medical systems of Asia and Europe, spices have been used both as therapeutic foods and as medicines. Despite the contrasting opinions of different experts who insisted on their indications, there is little evidence of any specific benefit from most spices. Many pungent spices are unattractive to animals (excepting most, humans, many birds and some rodents), and they do have some antimicrobial, gastrointestinal, and mucus-loosening properties.

Billing J, Sherman PW. an evolutionary biologist and professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell, in his article (Rev Biol. 1998 Mar;73(1):3-49), "Antimicrobial functions of spices: why some like it hot" describes a study on this subject. The study addressed the facts - the varied approach in food preparation throughout the world, patterns of spice usage among various cultures and countries - What factors underlie these differences? Why are spices used at all? To investigate these questions and to establish the bacteria-spices connection, a study was conducted.

Sherman credits Billing, a Cornell undergraduate student of biology at the time of the research, with compiling many of the data required to make the bacteria-spices connection: A total of 4,578 recipes from 93 cookbooks representing the frequency of use of 43 spices in traditional cuisines of 36 countries; the temperature and precipitation levels of each country; the horticultural ranges of 43 spice plants; and the antibacterial properties of each spice.

These data were used to investigate the hypothesis that spices inhibit or kill food-spoilage microorganisms. In support of this is the fact that spice plant secondary compounds are powerful antimicrobial (i.e., antibacterial and antifungal) agents.

"The proximate reason for spice use obviously is to enhance food palatability," says Sherman, . "But why do spices taste good? Traits that are beneficial are transmitted both culturally and genetically, and that includes taste receptors in our mouths and our taste for certain flavors. People who enjoyed food with antibacterial spices probably were healthier, especially in hot climates. They lived longer and taught their offspring and others. We believe the ultimate reason for using spices is to kill food-borne bacteria and fungi."

In general it is claimed, Garlic, onion, allspice and oregano were found to be the best all-around bacteria killers - the most potent antibacterial and antifungal agents;(they kill everything), followed by thyme, cinnamon, tarragon and cumin (any of which kill up to 80 percent of bacteria). Capsicums, including chilies and other hot peppers, are in the middle of the antimicrobial pack (killing or inhibiting up to 75 percent of bacteria), while pepper of the white or black variety inhibits 25 percent of bacteria, as do ginger, anise seed, celery seed and the juices of lemons and limes.

However, there is lack of uniformity in findings, and this may reflect non-uniformity in source material. Furthermore, some fungi and bacteria use spices as supportive media for their growth. Although it is often claimed that exotic spices were sought as valuable food preservatives, this is not correct. Thus, simple pickling with common-place vinegar, garlic and mustard can preserve and flavor food almost as well as dehydrating and salting can. Honey and strong sugar soultions can also be used as food preservatives.

There is little evidence that pepper, cloves, nutmegs, ginger and other expensive spices were used as alternatives to garlic, etc. to preserve food or to delay the spoilage of cooked dishes. Their use in their countries of origin is not related to spices serving as an alternative to refrigeration, since they are usually added to fresh foods as flavors. In particular, they add zest to a bland diet based on rice and other high-carbohydrate vegetable staples. Indeed, the concentrations of spices that would be needed to significantly retard food spoilage by microorganisms would result in an overwhelming flavor, that may be worse than that of the decaying food.

However the micronutrient hypothesis - that spices provide trace amounts of anti-oxidants or other chemicals to aid digestion - could be true and still not exclude the antimicrobial explanation, Sherman says. However, this hypothesis does not explain why people in hot climates need more micro-nutrients, he adds. The antimicrobial hypothesis does explain this.

Top 30 Spices with Antimicrobial Properties:

* 1. Garlic
* 2. Onion
* 3. Allspice
* 4. Oregano
* 5. Thyme
* 6. Cinnamon
* 7. Tarragon
* 8. Cumin
* 9. Cloves
* 10. Lemon grass
* 11. Bay leaf
* 12. Capsicums
* 13. Rosemary
* 14. Marjoram
* 15. Mustard

* 6. Caraway
* 17. Mint
* 18. Sage
* 19. Fennel
* 20. Coriander
* 21. Dill
* 22. Nutmeg
* 23. Basil
* 24. Parsley
* 25. Cardamom
* 26. Pepper (white/black)
* 27. Ginger
* 28. Anise seed
* 29. Celery seed
* 30. Lemon/lime

12. Business of spices

Within the past one decade the international trade in spices has grown by leaps and bounds. An estimated 500,000 tonnes of spices and herbs valued at 1500 million US dollars are now imported globally every year. An impressive 46% of this supply comes from India. India's exports of spice extracts have shown spectacular growth attaining over 50 percent of the global market within a short span. Over the past decade, the Indian Spices industry has made quality the cutting edge of its global game plan. In recent years, export of Indian Spices has been taking giant leaps. The Indian export of spices has crossed the 450 million US dollar mark during 1999-2000 and has reached 468 million US dollar. This remarkable achievement is born of a sea change in the industry scenario. From traditional commodity exports, Indian Spices have evolved into a state-of-the-art industry. Absorbing technology, broad basing its products range, developing value added products, identifying niche markets, forging strategic alliances clinching global collaborations and joint ventures.

13. The Indian share

At present, India produces around 2.5 million tonnes of different spices valued at approximately 3 billion US $, and holds the premier position in the world. Because of the varying climates suitable for the spice cultivation. Almost all spices are grown in this country. In almost all of the 25 states and seven union territories of India, at least one spice is grown in abundance. No country in the world produces as many kinds of spices as India.

In recent years, export of Indian Spices has been taking giant leaps. The Indian export of spices has crossed the 450 million US dollar mark during 1999-2000 and has reached 468 million US dollar. This remarkable achievement is born of a sea change in the industry scenario. From traditional commodity exports, Indian Spices have evolved into a state-of-the-art industry. Absorbing technology, broad basing its products range, developing value added products, identifying niche markets, forging strategic alliances clinching global collaborations and joint ventures.




Ginger ,Tejpat, Turmeric

Aniseed, Turmeric


Ajovan,Garlic, Mustard,Turmeric

Chilly,Cumin,Dill Seed,Fennel,Fenugreek,Garlic



Cardamom (Small),Chilly,Clove,Garlic,Ginger ,Kokam,Nutmeg & Mace,Pepper,Turmeric,Vanilla

Cardamom (Small),Cinnamon & Cassia,Clove,Ginger ,Nutmeg & Mace,Pepper,Turmeric,Vanilla


Chilly,Garlic,Pomegranate Seed,Turmeric

Ginger ,Turmeric


Chilly,Garlic,Ginger ,Turmeric


Chilly,Cumin,Coriander,Dill Seed,Fennel,Fenugreek,Garlic

Cardamom (Large),Ginger ,Tejpat

Cardamom (Small),Chilly,Cinnamon & Cassia,Clove,Ginger ,Herbal & Exotic Spices,Nutmeg & Mace,Pepper,Pomegranate Seed,Turmeric,Vanilla


Fenugreek,Garlic, Mustard,Turmeric

Cardamon (Large),Chilly,Ginger ,Turmeric

In April 1998, ‘Food Ingredients Asia’, exhibition was held in Shanghai, China. This paved the way for natural spices from India to emerge in Chinese Market. Spices Board India’s presence helped the Chinese see the many kinds of Indian Spices.

The Spices Board India (Ministry of Commerce, Government of India) is the apex body for the export promotion of Indian Spices. Established in 1987, the Board is the catalyst of these dramatic transitions. The Board has been with the Indian Spice industry every step of the way. The Board plays a far reaching and influential role as a developmental, regulatory and promotional agency for Indian Spices.

Indias's share in world trade of spices
(2002 - 2003)