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COOL Archives: Spices~ Exotic Flavors and Medicines

Posted on Sunday, October 22 @ 17:15:59 UTC by wyldwynd


One of the most popular of the hot-tasting spices is ginger, which is obtained from the root of Zingiber officinale. The plant is indigenous to southern China, from whence it is spread to the Spice Islands and other parts of Asia, and subsequently to West Africa and to the Caribbean. India is now the main producer and exporter. Extracts of ginger are used in foods, condiments, baked confections, candies, beverages, cosmetics and perfumes. It is common to find it in many supermarkets for use in food preparation or as an herbal medicine. China produces a ginger which is particularly suited for confectionery, whereas Japanese ginger lacks the typical aroma. Pickled ginger (gari or sushoga) is always used as a condiment for sushi. Overall, ginger products vary considerably in taste, pungency and smell, while the root varies in consistency, depending on the country of origin and the variety of the crop.Useful PartsThe rhizome contains the spicy parts.Medicinal PropertiesThe main constituents in ginger are phenolic compounds such as gingerols and shogaols, and sesquiterpenes such as zingiberene. These and other compounds are extracts found in ginger oleoresin. The main pungent flavor chemicals are the gingerols, which are not volatile. Recently, studies have suggested it is of value as an anti-emetic; however, it should probably not be used in nausea of pregnancy, since its safety has not been established. There is less convincing evidence to support claims that ginger is an antioxidant, with cancer preventing properties, or that it has anti-inflammatory benefits in arthritis. In large amounts, it appears to inhibit platelet aggregation.
Historical View"Traditionally, the warming and aromatic properties of ginger led to its use for numerous indications. It is a digestant and carminative, and was used for dyspepsia and bowel colic. It is a general stimulant, being one of many spices that are regarded as being aphrodisiacs. Ginger has been recommended as an expectorant and it is traditionally used in teas or soups to treat colds or bronchitis. Many traditional Chinese medicines contain ginger, and its use generally appears to be safe.

“Ginger possesses stimulant, aromatic, and carminative properties, when taken internally; and when chewed it acts as a sialogogue. Externally applied it is rubefacient. The stimulating, aromatic, and carminative properties render it of much value in atonic dyspepsia, especially if accompanied with much flatulence; and as an adjunct to purgative medicines to correct griping.”

DescriptionFor many people in countries where quality ice cream is readily available, vanilla is the most popular of the non-pungent spices. It has been regarded as one of the most expensive spices along with saffron, cardamon and green peppercorns. The cost of vanilla reflects its historic importance as a flavor used in the royal drinks of the Mayans and Aztecs that were based on chocolate. The Aztecs called vanilla tlilxochitl, and they used it with chile peppers to flavor their drink.

Vanilla is found in the seeds of the orchid vine, Vanilla planifolia (V. fragrans), which is native to Mexico. The Spaniards likened the bean pods to a little sheath or vaina, which is derived from the similar Latin word, vagina! Obtaining the flavor can be a several month long process, resulting from slowly fermenting the beans, which contain many small seeds; the ground-up bean is then used in similar fashion to coffee. People who enjoy the strong vanilla taste want to use freshly cured bean, while others accept the commercial extract. True vanilla in ice cream contains tiny dark flecks resulting from the presence of the seeds. However, the vanilla flavor, which is mainly due to vanillin, can be readily chemically synthesized from eugenol or guaiacol, or from lignin derived from tar, wood, or tonka beans. This product lacks the quality of the natural vanilla flavor that develops during the curing of the best beans when glucosides are converted to vanillic aldehyde, which is vanillin, since other aromatic chemicals are also produced.

Vanilla trees are grown in Mexico, Central America (Guatemala and especially Costa Rica), and in some Caribbean islands (especially Jamaica). However, it is difficult to grow since it is only pollinated by native bees and hummingbirds. It requires artificial fertilization outside its natural habitat, but it can be cultivated through the use of cuttings. Following its introduction to the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, a method of hand pollination was introduced in 1841. Reunion is still an important site of vanilla production; the variety is called Bourbon vanilla, after the former name of the island. Madagascar is now the major producer of Bourbon vanilla.

When vanilla became popular in 17th century Europe, it was used for many indications, varying from stomach ulcers to sedation. As was the case with many spices, it was extolled as an aphrodisiac. Today, it may fulfill its latter function when used in high quality baked goods, confectionary and desserts, although most users regard it more prosaically as a delicious flavor that may help digestion. Vanilla is used to flavor tobacco and as a fragrance in the cosmetic industry. It is of interest that sensitive workers in the vanilla industry may develop vanillism, resulting in headaches and skin rashes.

Artificial vanilla (containing vanillin and ethylvanillin) is acceptable to most tastes, and therefore the export of true vanilla may continue to decline, since the culture and manufacture of the quality product is expensive and relatively non-competitive. Moreover, its value as an exotic medicine is no longer accepted. Thus the role of the vanilla bean has declined in significance, with over 95% of the world’s supply of vanilla flavor being synthetic.Useful PartsThe cured, dried fruits of the plant impart the flavor.Medicinal PropertiesVanillin is in the class of vanilloids, that includes – surprisingly – capsaicin (8-methy-N-vanillyl noneamide) from chile pepper and eugenol from cloves, cinnamon and other spices, and zingerone from ginger. The vanilloid receptors of the central and peripheral nervous systems bind with these compounds, resulting in different sensory effects. Thus, capsaicin can cause a burning sensation while eugenol results in mild anesthesia; vanillin itself is neutral.
“Vanilla is an aromatic stimulant, with a tendency towards the nervous system. It has also been regarded as an aphrodisiac. It has been employed as a remedy in hysteria, low fevers, impotency, etc. But its use as a medicine is obsolete in this country, although still sometimes employed on the Continent and elsewhere.”

Note: Source: Many more spices can be found here; http://unitproj1.library.ucla.edu/biomed/spice/index.cfm?displayID=27

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Mohammad (Score: 1)
by magen1234 on Friday, December 05 @ 15:16:58 UTC
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