Brits are spicing up their cooking

Spice rack

As the credit crunch continues, new research suggests it’s getting hot in Britain’s kitchens, with sales of dried herbs and spices up 11.7% on this time last year.

44% of Brits are eating out less, according to the study by Schwartz, and in a bid to keep home cooking exciting a quarter of us are using more herbs and spices than we did a year ago.

According to the experts in herbs and spices, four out of ten adults in the UK are experimenting with new flavours in food. Yet most of us remain unaware that many herbs and spices naturally contain antioxidants, a term often associated with fruit and vegetables such as blueberries, red grapes and broccoli.

When it comes to antioxidant prowess, spices such as oregano and cinnamon are a must-have for any healthy menu.

Studies have shown that herbs and spices are a surprising source of antioxidants with one teaspoon of oregano containing a similar amount of antioxidants as a cup (80g) of red grapes or 80g of broccoli and one teaspoon of ground cinnamon equivalent to 80g blueberries .

In the UK, while eight out of ten adults regard dried herbs and spices as store cupboard staples, four out of ten don’t know what antioxidants are.

Antioxidants are bioactive compounds in foods. They help protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals we’re exposed to everyday and may well contribute to improving and maintaining health.

Epidemiological studies have shown that a diet rich in antioxidants, particularly through adequate intake of fruit and vegetables, is associated with increased blood concentrations of antioxidants and numerous health benefits, including reduced cardiovascular risk and possibly increased life expectancy.

For example, a longitudinal study in 805 elderly men showed that daily intake of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant found in fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices and tea for instance, was associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and increased longevity.

The McCormick Science Institute (MSI) is an independent research organisation sponsored by McCormick & Company, Inc. the global leader in manufacture and distribution of herbs and spices, known in the UK with the Schwartz brand. The MSI’s mission is to advance the science of health benefits of culinary herbs and spices. Herbs and spices such as oregano, cinnamon, ginger and paprika are the subject of studies and extensive research identified and supported by the MSI.

Hamed Faridi, Ph.D. Vice President of Research &Development, McCormick said; “Throughout history herbs and spices have been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes – flavour and function. They contain a wide variety of biologically active compounds and as a result many are being studied for their potential health benefits. Interestingly dried herbs and spices do not contain the water that makes up a significant part of other antioxidant-rich foods which means they deliver high levels of natural antioxidants.

“Derived from plants, most herbs and spices are also rich in phytonutrients such as carotenoids and flavonoids, which may possess further health-promoting properties beyond protection against oxidation.”

Nutritionists have long recommended herbs and spices as a way to add flavour without fat, salt or sugar – making it easier to enjoy a healthy balanced diet in line with dietary guidelines.

Nigel Denby, TV Nutritionist and Dietician, said, “Including certain herbs and spices in our cooking is a great way to increase our intake of antioxidants. Research suggests that when used with fruit and vegetables, the antioxidant properties of these foods can be enhanced. Natural, convenient and low-calorie, they are also a sensible alternative to sugar and salt and therefore really complement a healthy balanced diet.”

According to research by Schwartz, UK market leaders in dried herbs and spices, basil is the nation’s favourite when it comes to herbs and spices followed by oregano, curry, cinnamon and ginger.

Anthony Palmer, UK Market Head, from Schwartz commented, “Basil is a really versatile herb often associated with Italian cooking, hence its popularity. Herbs and spices are a fantastic way to bring variety and excitement to everyday cooking. Typically a store cupboard staple, they are a great addition for cooking whether you’re making a snack, breakfast, lunch or dinner. Consumer insights show many of us find everyday cooking really boring – herbs and spices can make all the difference, particularly in credit crunch times when we are spending less on eating out in favour of home cooking.”

Research into the health benefits of spices is still in its infancy though on the evidence available it would seem mealtimes are set to get a whole lot spicier.

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