Why You Should Spice Up Your Diet
Britain has a reputation worldwide for its bland, unseasoned food. But it hasn’t always been this way.
Up until the Middle Ages, spices were expensive in Britain, and as such, they were used widely across the cuisine of the middle and upper classes to signal wealth – the same way that we might buy an expensive car or a designer suit today.
Spices were also used to treat ailments: hot spices such as pepper and chilli were often used for vitality and the alleviation of fatigue, while cloves and ginger were used for nausea and vomiting.
But by the 1600s, the British market was so flooded with spices that they had lost their value and became cheap and accessible to the wider public. As a result, the bourgeoisie developed a new attitude towards food; believing that food items should taste like themselves, and should not be flavoured.
As meat was the most expensive, and mostly only available to landowners, there was an increase in the use of meat-based stocks and gravies in order to demonstrate family wealth and the opulence of the estate.
There was a brief resurgence in the use of spices in the Victorian era, when colonialism was at its height and spices became more easily available through the East India company.
‘Curries’ appropriated from Indian cooking and adapted to British tastes became popular among the public, but by the turn of the 19th Century, cultural values changed once again, and it was considered ‘unseemly’ for British women to serve curry due to the strong smell.
Making The Comeback
British food continued to lack spice and seasonings until the 1960s when the influx of immigration from India and surrounding South Asian nations brought spicy food into the public eye once more.
Spicy food is now more popular in Britain than ever before, and it is now estimated that the average Brit will spend £30,000 on curries in their lifetime. Almost a quarter of Brits (24%) report that they are eating hotter dishes than when they began eating Indian food, and 33% eat curry more than once a week.
In recent years, there has also been a burst of culinary diversity, as spicy food from a variety of other cultures has become more popular, from Caribbean-style dishes to Thai, Korean and Middle Eastern restaurants.
Spice As Medicine
For as long as humans have tried to heal ailments, they have used herbs and spices. There is evidence of spices being used for healing and spiritual ceremonies in the Middle East since 5000 BC and this history likely goes back much further.
The first recorded document listing the medicinal properties of spices and herbs was created by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2700 BC, and listed 365 herbs and spices used in the popular medicine at the time.
As well as Chinese medicine, Ayurveda is one of the oldest herbal healing systems in the world, having been around for at least 5,000 years. Ayurveda works on the principle that illnesses are caused by an imbalance in the three life forces or doshas: Vata dosha (air and space), Pitta dosha (fire and water), and Kapha dosha (water and earth). These balanced are then rectified using traditional healing herbs and dietary adjustments.
For example, if a person suﬀers from excessive anger, they may be advised to avoid hot foods, whereas if they suﬀer from fatigue, they may be advised to eat more spicy dishes.
Today, spices continue to oﬀer many health benefits under modern medicine and make many popular supplements including ginseng, curcumin and turmeric.
Chillis, and capsaicin, the active ingredient in the chilli plant, also oﬀer many benefits including:
• Increasing Metabolism: Good news for anyone on a health kick! Capsaicin is known to increase metabolism by as much as 8%, resulting in weight loss benefits and increased energy and vitality.
•High in Vitamin C: Chillis contain more Vitamin C than oranges, making spicy food a powerful support for your immune system. Try adding turmeric or curcumin for an extra boost!
• Antibacterial and Anti-Fungal: Chillis can kill bacterial and fungal food pathogens, including H. pylori.
• Prevent Heart Disease: Studies show that chillis may help to reduce inflammation, which is a known contributing factor to heart disease. They are also high in potassium, riboflavin, and niacin which are essential minerals for heart health.
• Energy Levels: Chillis are also rich in copper and iron, which are important for red blood cell production. This supports energy levels and keeps your body and mind at peak performance.
• Painkiller: Capsaicin has been found to be an eﬀective painkiller for migraines, joint pain, shingles, and HIV neuropathy.
• Regulates Blood Sugars: A meal containing chilli peppers releases enough insulin to lower blood sugar levels, making chilli peppers a good food choice for people who are overweight or at risk of developing diabetes.
• Cognitive Health: Chilli peppers are high in iron, which boosts cognitive performance by improving blood flow to the brain. This increases haemoglobin production, resulting in better mental focus and concentration.
Easy Does It!
Still nervous about spicy foods? If you’re intrigued by the flavour potential and health benefits, but don’t know how to work up to it, here are three simple ways you can improve your tolerance to spices.
1.Take Things Slow
Don’t overdo it if you’re not used to spicy food – you may burn your palette and be put off. Instead, try adding a small amount of spice to your food and building up slowly, like a couple of drops of chilli sauce or one jalapeño slice.
If this still proves too much, start instead with very gentle spices such as vanilla. This spice is easily available from retailers such as Vanille and will still provide many health benefits despite its mild nature.
2. Choose Carefully
There are 4,000 known chilli varieties, and they range from 2,200,000 (Carolina Reaper) to 0 (Bell Pepper) on the Scoville scale. Make sure you know which variety of chilli you are buying, and start small with a pimento or jalapeño.
3. Cool Oﬀ
If things get a bit too much, keep something creamy or sweet on hand to take the heat oﬀ. A glass of milk or a sweet dessert are both eﬀective ways to cool things oﬀ, or perhaps try a side dip like raita.