Have you noticed the proliferation of pumpkin spice flavored products basically, well, everywhere? Yup, fall has arrived and along with it, its artificially simulated spice profile. Manufacturers love inserting it in everything from pumpkin spiced lattes to the more far ranging (some would say far-fetched) bagels, salsa and even beer. But pumpkin spice, at least how it appears in processed foods, is actually an amalgam of synthetic chemicals that merely approximate pumpkin spice.
Instead of going faux, go for the gusto—of savory, warming autumn spices that can add a kick to everything from soup to smoothies.
Here are five unadulterated spices that not only make our food more vibrant and flavorful, but also include a cornucopia of healing benefits. Reposition your favorite herbs and spices at the front of your spice rack for easy access—you’ll want to have these spice stars close at hand to transform meh food into fragrant delicacies.
A bulbous root that comes from the rhizome family, turmeric is bright yellow and has a pungent, earthy taste. It has an impressive range of benefits, most of which stem from its anti-inflammatory properties—it’s linked to several studies that support the claim that turmeric soothes and nourishes the joint tissue and promotes ease of movement. Studies have also linked its active ingredient, curcumin, with digestive, blood, cell, liver and skin health.*
Try it: Sprinkle it into soups, stir-fry or on eggs. Add a dash to rice to liven up plain rice and infuse it with rich color. Add fresh turmeric to smoothies and pressed juices to make the most of its health perk—the taste will be well masked by the fruits and vegetables.
Cayenne, a bright red pepper, brings fiery heat to the table. Capsaicin, the compound that contains cayenne’s heat, shows promise for promoting blood health, stimulating digestion, supporting metabolism, easing pain, clearing congestion and, used topically in a cream, helping ease arthritis. It’s also fully loaded with antioxidants, containing one of the highest concentrations of citamin C, per weight, of any food.*
Try it: Add it to dips, stews, spaghetti sauces, pizza and of course chili—anything that could use zest. For a tasty, detoxifying drink, try mixing hot water with lemon juice, maple syrup and a dash of cayenne.
An aromatic bark with a sweet, slightly pungent taste, cinnamon is one of the most popular of the herbs and spices in the United States. Cinnamon’s protective, bark-like nature brings warmth, energy and circulation to the stomach and spleen.* While cinnamon currently claims the spotlight for its ability to support healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners also prescribe it for digestive issues and painful periods. A growing body of research suggests that cinnamon supports insulin functions and could play a significant role in overall blood sugar health.*
Try it: Sprinkle cinnamon on fresh fruit, oatmeal, yogurt or your morning latte—or add a pinch to chili. For an immune boosting indulgence, make Mexican hot chocolate, which combines ordinary hot cocoa with one half-teaspoon cinnamon and a dash of cayenne.
Ginger's warming, pungent flavor can promote appetite, support digestion, relieve muscle pain and ease cramps. Ginger's role is that of a motivator–it gets the energy moving and juices flowing. It has been used traditionally for colds, sore throats, diarrhea, indigestion and nausea.*
Try it: Grated in soups and stir-fries, ginger adds unmistakable zest. Use ginger in baking for extra zing, add it to hot tea to make a basic chai (spiced tea), or combine it with tamari, sesame oil and garlic to make a delicious salad dressing.
The hard brown seed from the nutmeg tree (a tropical evergreen) has a woodsy, astringent, sweet flavor. Nutmeg, one of the stars of the pumpkin spice amalgam, has a long list of associated health benefits, from soothing indigestion and supporting cognitive function to easing sleeplessness and promoting oral health.* For the best flavor, try grating nutmeg fresh, as the powdered form quickly loses its potency.
Try it: Sweet potatoes, pumpkins and all manner of squashes are enhanced with a sprinkle of nutmeg. For a richer flavor, you can also experiment with sprinkling ground nutmeg onto a bowl of warm oatmeal, quinoa or any other breakfast cereal.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.