Antioxidants have become rather popular lately, and I thought I list the most potent antioxidant spices available today. As I have written in an article about antioxidants, antioxidants inhibit the action of free radicals (highly reactive molecules that can have damaging effects on cells and tissues).
How strongly and how quickly a particular antioxidant can “neutralize” an oxidizing agent, is expressed as what’s called the ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). The ORAC scale was developed by the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, Maryland.
Here, I list the Top 10 antioxidant spices. The ORAC values are displayed right after the name of the spice. ORAC values are often displayed as micromoles of Trolox equivalents (TE is a vitamin E derivative) per serving or per 100 gram. For clarity, I have broken it down to micromoles of TE per gram of spice (1 unit= 1 micromole TE/gram). 1 Gram equals 0.035 ounces or about 1/5 teaspoon.
Do not confuse a higher ORAC value with “healthier”. Different antioxidants have different properties, such as ability to penetrate a cell or how it is metabolized by the liver. Always eat a diet which consists of a variety of fresh foods. Happy cooking..
- Cloves 3144 units/gram
- Cinnamon (ground) 2674 units/gram
- Oregano (dried) 2001 units/gram
- Turmeric (ground) 1593 units/gram
- Parsley 743 units/gram
- Basil 676 units/gram
- Cumin (seed) 768 units/gram
- Sage (fresh) 320 units/gram
- Mustard Seed 293 units/gram
- Marjoram 273 units/gram
Cloves are dried flower buds from the Syzygium aromaticum tree, which is native to Indonesia. Cloves are used as spice all over the world, but particularly in Indian cooking, where it is used in a number of curries and rice dishes.
Cinnamon is a spice derived from the bark of a small evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka. The cinnamon that we buy in grocery stores may contain bark from a related species called Cassia (Cinamomum aromaticum). True cinnamon crumbles more than other cinnamon. Cassia containing cinnamon contains coumarin, a blood thinner, so it is advised not consume too much of the cinnamon found in (most) stores.
A popular herb used in Italian and Greek cooking, it is a high in antioxidant activity and has been used to stave off colds and influenza. Oregano has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a plant from the ginger family and is native to South East Asia. The spice turmeric comes from root-like structures called rhizomes, which are ground to make the spice. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is thought to act as a strong pain reliever (by inhibiting the cox-2 enzyme). Curcumin may be useful for the treatment of arthritis as well for Alzheimer disease, where it is believed to inhibit the formation of amyloid plaques.
Originally from Iran, this spice is used worldwide. This spice is not recommended in concentrated form (as supplements for example), as it can induce labor in pregnant women, induce kidney stone formation and increase photo-sensitivity of the skin.
In addition to strong antioxidant effects, basil also has anti-cancer, anti-viral and anti-microbial abilities. Basil is used in Mediterranian dishes as well as some Asian dishes (Thai). Basil (as does oregano) contains high amounts of a compound that selectively binds the cannaboid receptor CB2, blocking inflammation pathways without mood altering effects. Basil (and oregano) could be useful for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis.
Cumin seeds are the spice of the cumin plant and are used in many dishes, in particular curry dishes. Cumin seeds are high in essential oils and the main cumin compound that gives cumin its distinctive taste, is cuminaldehyde.
Used in many meat dishes from Europe, sage is a strong antioxidant. Not recommended for use as a supplement as it may be toxic in high doses.
There are many different varieties of mustard seed (from black to yellow to white). The more pungent varieties contain sinigrin, a compound that when degraded is responsible for the strong taste of mustard or horseradish. It has been suggested that sinigrin has anti-cancer properties and that consuming sinigrin containing foods may protect against colon cancer.
For culinary use, marjoram is often used for its aromatic leaves.