Food / 16.12.2016

What’s your flavour? 3 healing spices to use this Christmas

By Roisin Dervish-O'Kane
Give festive dishes some va-va-voom


Forget tinsel, bad cracker jokes and Mariah Carey/Slade on a loop in shops throughout the land from mid-October – for me, Christmas is all about the edibles. And, as a committed veggie, I’ve learned to take greatest pleasure from the supporting cast – sans turkey.

My happy place is spooning spiced damson chutney on to stilton, nibbling fiery crystallised ginger, or standing over a simmering saucepan, marvelling at the way cloves and cinnamon transform an average red wine into something deliciously mulled.

READ MORE: 5 ways to eat more veggies this Christmas

Happily, these big-hitting flavours are not only a quintessential part of Christmas, they’re also stuffed with health benefits. According to ayurveda – the ancient Indian ‘life science’ embraced by celebs such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston – spices like cloves and cinnamon are key to keeping well in winter.

‘Not only do they offer a distinct fragrance and flavour to food, they have medicinal properties and help bring balance to body, mind and emotions, helping us adapt to the changing seasons,’ says ayurvedic practitioner Geeta Vara.

We spoke to our healthy Indian food expert Mira Manek, who has rounded up three healing spices that your body will love:


What: The hot, fragrant root of a flowering plant.
Why: For quieting queasiness – a study from the University of Michigan found taking ginger before spinning on a chair delayed the onset of motion sickness, and made
it less intense. Its anti-inflammatory benefits may also help ease the pain of arthritis, according to US research.
How: ‘Use both fresh or ground ginger to give a spicy twist to flapjacks,’ says Manek.


What: Earthy, nutty seeds, used whole, or ground into a powder.
Why: For easy breathing – a 2010 study revealed that black cumin seeds work as a bronchodilator, and can help asthmatics by relaxing the muscles in the lungs
and widening the airwaves.
How: ‘Add seeds to boiling water along with cardamom pods,’ suggests Manek. ‘Cumin also really calms the stomach, and cools the body’s temperature.’

Mustard seeds

What: Small, round seeds that are a member of the brassica family.
Why: They contain compounds called isothiocynates, which a study in the International Journal For Vitamin And Nutrition Research found could stimulate cancer cell death. They’re also a source of the mineral selenium, vital for immunity.
How: ‘For an authentic curry, heat the oil and add mustard seeds first. When they pop, add ginger, garlic and chilli,’ says Manek.