Spice Up Your Seafood!

Humans have used herbs and spices for thousands of years to flavor and preserve foods. Different cultures use what’s readily available in their cuisine and foreign spices have long been a valuable commodity. Some spices are also thought to have medicinal qualities and research is ongoing for dietary cures for a variety of ailments. Entire books and many academic articles, research projects, and self-help websites are devoted to the discussion of healthful ways to use spices.

Many of us enjoy herbs and spices in our food. If something is said to be spicy, it can mean colorful, hot, tasty, appealing, or even sexy. Adding spice to your seafood can mean any and all of these things. Filling your plate with colorful foods is now considered to be good for you . Spicing your food can be good for you, too. A number of common spices have been shown to be beneficial for specific health issues – and they can liven up your seafood recipes. Some claim that spices have aphrodisiacal properties and can help get you biochemically in the mood.1

A Word on Supplements

Some people prefer to take supplements (including herb and spice-filled capsules, tablets and liquids), which are widely available and purport to cure or prevent everything from arthritis to thyroid disease. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers these to be dietary supplements, not drugs, which means they are not required to receive FDA approval before they are marketed.2 Do some research before taking supplements – the National Institutes of Health has an Office of Dietary Supplements3 and National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health4 that provide information on herbs and botanicals. And always talk to your physician about supplements you’re taking, as they may cause serious side effects if taken with prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

A World of Spices

Some of the earliest writing found in Mesopotamia was about food: records of livestock and grain sales, recipes, and the medicinal effects of food and drink.5 For most of history, we have sought rare foods, herbs, and spices. In our current cosmopolitan world we can visit almost every point on the globe, either in person or by going out to dinner at a restaurant specializing in foods from foreign countries. We have grown up thinking about specific spices and combinations of spices as belonging to a continent or specific culture – spices vary regionally within these sweeping generalizations.

Spices & Herbs
    • African - range from salty to heavily spiced, hot peppers and chilies, also (not native to Africa) cumin, cinnamon, curry, coriander, ginger, garlic
    • Asian - (not including India and the Middle East, see below) – coriander/cilantro, basil, galangal, garlic, lemongrass, lime, tamarind, cloves, nutmeg, mustard, soy sauce
    • European/Mediterranean - basil, oregano, garlic, fennel, rosemary, thyme, mint, parsley, juniper berries, lingonberries, olives/olive oil
    • Latin American - chili peppers, cumin, oregano, chocolate, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, coconut, lime
    • Middle Eastern/Indian - allspice, cardamom, cloves, garlic, mint, pepper, parsley, turmeric, olives/olive oil, sesame seeds

Each Region of each of these large geographic areas has its own flavor - topics for later posts. All of these regions eat seafood, especially in coastal areas.

Spices and Their Health Effects

Substituting herbs and spices in place of salt offers immediate health benefits. The NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers suggestions on how to use herbs and spices to season food in place of salt and as part of its DASH eating plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).7

The table below shows the purported benefits of spices and also ways they can be incorporated into a meal, dish or diet. Grilling or frying food with spices may decrease the antioxidant levels of the spices, whereas simmering, stewing, or microwaving food with spices may enhance their antioxidant levels.8 The information comes from a variety of sources.9, 10, 11, 12 13, 14, 15, 16

Spice Chart

Several Spicy Seafood Suggestions

Start your night with a glass of your favorite libation and a spicy appetizer such as shrimp ceviche, shrimp spring rolls, or lobster wontons. The spiciness of the main course can be cranked up or down depending on your preference: Asian ginger sablefish, jerk spiced king salmon with mofongo, or ginger lime chili scallops, or a milder lemon risotto with butter poached lobster.


[1] https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/outdoors/these-6-spices-willget-you-biochemically-in-the-mood-for-sex-442693.html
[2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/herbal-supplements/art-20046714
[3] https://ods.od.nih.gov/
[4] https://nccih.nih.gov/health/herbsataglance.htm
[5] Bottero, Jean (2011) The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
[6] https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/healthdisp/pdf/tipsheets/Use-Herbs-and-Spices-Instead-of-Salt.pdf
[7] https://healthyeating.nhlbi.nih.gov/
[8] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-spices-with-healthy-benefits
[9] https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/libraries/herb-library
[10] Graedon, Joe and Terry (2016) Spice Up Your Health, Peoples Pharmacy Press, Durham, NC.
[11] https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/health-benefits-of-38-important-spices-from-around-the-world-1811783
[12] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-spices-with-healthy-benefits
[13] https://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/exhibition/healing-ways/medicine-ways/healing-plants.html
[14] Jiang, T. Alan. Health Benefits of Culinary Herbs and Spices. Journal of AOAC International, Volume 102, Number 2, March-April 2019, pp. 395-411(17).doi:10.5740/jaoacint.18-0418
[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6532192/
[16] https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/7-wonderful-benefits-of-lemongrass-tea-the-healing-brew-1459468

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