There are certain spices that just seem to capture the feeling of cold weather perfectly – think cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves. Perhaps we naturally gravitate toward these ingredients at this time of year because they add robust warmth to our food, both with their smell and taste. While we're all trying to stay warm and hunkering down at home, why not experiment with some warming culinary spices? Try it: Beyond adding black pepper to the obvious savory dishes, try making a spicy berry sauce for your dessert. In a blender, puree thawed frozen berries with a bit of black pepper and brown sugar, warm it in a saucepan, and pour it over ice cream or angel food cake.
Cardamom. The peppery, vanilla flavor that is distinctive to cardamom makes it a favorite spice to use in winter sweets. Some cultures use the spice as a natural remedy to treat cold and flu symptoms, as well as to ease digestion. In India, it's common to chew on cardamom pods to freshen breath. Interestingly, one recent study showed that smokers who were trying to quit experienced fewer negative withdrawal symptoms when they were given cardamom-flavored chewing gum.
Try it: A little goes a long way with this pungent spice. Pinch a little into pancake batter; mix with honey for a unique sweetener; stir into cooked lentils to add a layer of flavor.
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Ginger. Used medicinally in many cultures, the ginger root has been consumed in teas, pulps and other forms to ease cold and flu symptoms and warm up hands and feet. It's also used to help reduce nausea. In fact, one research study showed that ginger was more effective than a leading medication in treating motion sickness. Ginger also contains potent anti-inflammatory properties, making it potentially useful for arthritis relief.
Try it: Add ginger to your morning smoothie for some warmth; grate fresh ginger into your salad dressing; mix some into your soup.
Turmeric. A mild Indian spice that also lends a warm yellow color to dishes, turmeric is an essential ingredient in curry powder. Turmeric has been used medically for centuries and is gaining evidence from scientific studies as a potential tool for a number of different ailments, including potential protection against certain cancers and Alzheimer's disease. The spice is a good source of fiber, vitamin B6 and iron.
Try it: Mix with butter to drizzle on steamed veggies; make a side dish of yellow rice by adding turmeric; add to chicken soup to enhance color and flavor.
[Read: The Best Spices for your Health.]
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Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @MelindaRD.