This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a program in VOA Special
English. I'm Bob Doughty.
I'm Faith Lapidus. Herbs and spices help
to sharpen the taste of many foods. Today,
we tell about these food additives.
have used herbs and spices in food for thousands of years. Some of these substances are valued for their
sharp taste. Others are chosen for their
herbs come from the green leaves of plants or vegetables. Spices come from other parts of plants and
trees. For example, cinnamon comes from
the hard outer cover of cinnamon plants. The spice ginger comes from the part of the ginger plant that grows
and spice plants grow in many countries. For example, the Molucca Islands in Indonesia are famous for producing
spices like cloves, nutmeg or mace. Vanilla comes from plants growing in South America.
Many people grow herb and spice plants near their
homes. Then they dry the plants for
later use. Some spices can even be grown
in a house if they are placed in sunny areas next to windows.
Spices have influenced world history. For example, the Goth people of Europe defeated
Roman forces in battle more than sixteen centuries ago. After the fighting ended, the leader of the
Goths is said to have demanded five thousand pounds of gold and three thousand
pounds of pepper.
recently, Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus discovered new lands while
seeking to expand trade with spice-growing areas in Asia. The Italian cities of Genoa and Venice became
powerful because they were at the center of the spice trade. The trade was so important to national
economies that rulers launched wars in their struggle to control spices.
and spices are commonly used because they can make food taste better. Several years ago, two American researchers
reported another reason for spice use in cooking.
Paul Sherman and Jennifer Billing worked at Cornell University when their study
was published in nineteen ninety-eight. They
said spices contain substances that kill or slow the growth of dangerous
bacteria in food. Some spices destroy
bacteria. Spices have long been used to
keep food safe to eat. In the past,
spices also helped to prevent the wasting away of dead bodies.
more recent study found that adding spices to meat before cooking at high
temperatures may reduce harmful chemicals. Researchers from Kansas State University reported last year on their
experiments with steaks.
researchers found a major decrease in unwanted chemicals by preparing the meat
with spice and herb marinades. The study
showed that this may decrease formation of heterocyclic amines, also known as
HCAs. The researchers say these
chemicals may cause cancer in some people.
National Cancer Institute says cooking meat at very high temperatures produces
the most HCAs. The chemicals form when
amino acids react with creatine, a chemical found in muscles. But meats from organs and non-meat protein
sources have little or no HCA.
Research on HCAs has made some people afraid to prepare
meat on a grill – the place where meat is cooked on hot coals or an open fire. Cooking meat this way is a traditional
favorite of many Americans during warm weather.
The Kansas State
University study, however, may show a way that reduces risk for people who
grill on high heat. The K.S.U.
researchers placed some steaks in already prepared spice mixes, or marinades. The meat then was grilled for five minutes on
each side at a temperature of more than two hundred degrees Celsius. The researchers also cooked steaks marinated
without spices, and steaks that were not marinated. They were prepared at the same temperature as
meat with the marinade mixes.
The researchers compared levels of the HCAs in all the
steaks. They found the HCAs in the meat
marinated in spices had decreased up to eighty-eight percent. The study appeared in the publication Journal of Food Science.
The Mayo Clinic operates three
medical centers in the United States. Its Health Letter publication of November two thousand seven provided more evidence
that herbs and spices can aid health.
example, Mayo Clinic experts said people could reduce salt use by using herbs
and spices instead. Too much salt is a
problem for people with health problems like high blood pressure.
The experts said some plant chemicals are high in
antioxidants -- substances that remove harmful chemicals from the body. These plants include allspice, cloves,
cinnamon, ginger, oregano, sage, thyme and turmeric.
experts also said antioxidants like garlic, rosemary, saffron and turmeric have
qualities that could fight cancer. And,
it said limited evidence shows that cinnamon, fenugreek and turmeric may affect
blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Not all studies agree that spices could help diabetes
patients. But some studies have
suggested they could because of a suspected link between inflammation and diabetes. Inflammation is the body's way of
reacting to infection or other attack. Cinnamon
may help reduce the inflammation in people with diabetes.
year, researchers from the University of Georgia reported that cinnamon could
help reduce blood sugar. The researchers
tested twenty-four common herbs and spices. The tests showed that many of the substances contained high levels of
antioxidant chemicals known as polyphenols.
The researchers found that ground clove had the most
polyphenols. Cloves were the most effective
at calming inflammation of any spice or herb they tested. Cinnamon was second. But K.S.U. scientist James Hargrove noted
that cinnamon gets more use in cooking than ground cloves. He said that means it could affect the health
of more people. But the Mayo Clinic
warns that cinnamon cannot replace proven medicines for diabetes.
studies also note possible health effects from curry, a seasoning or sauce. Many people like to use curry to sharpen the
taste of foods like meat, fish, rice and potatoes.
years ago, scientists in Singapore investigated curcumin, from the curry spice
turmeric. The scientists based their study
on earlier evidence that turmeric has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
qualities. They said turmeric also has
been shown to reduce evidence of damage in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's
disease. But they said evidence was
lacking about cases of Alzheimer's in curry users, compared with people who did
not use curry.
that reason, the researchers designed a study that examined results from a
mental-performance test of older Asian adults. The people in the study were sixty to ninety three years old. None had severe memory losses. Those who sometimes ate curry, or ate it often
or very often, did better than individuals who rarely or never ate curry. The American Journal of Epidemiology
published a report about the study. The
writers suggested that more studies were needed.
cohosh is an herb that comes from the root or underground stems of a tall plant
in the buttercup family. Black cohosh is
sometimes called bugbane. American Indians used it for a number of
women's health conditions, including monthly menstrual pain.
women today have continued the tradition. They use the herb to help fight unpleasant conditions at the end of
their reproductive years. These include difficulty
sleeping at night and hot flashes, or sudden hot sweats.
of people have used black cohosh without problems. However, the Office of Dietary Supplements of
the National Institutes of Health notes that pregnant women may want to avoid
it. The same is true of women with
breast cancer and patients with liver problems. Should signs of liver disease develop, people
should stop taking black cohosh and contact a doctor.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Jerilyn
Watson. Our producer was Brianna
Blake. I'm Faith Lapidus.
I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week
for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.