Spice It Up

Some spices are just flat out better. Better tasting and better for you. Here are Panama Wellness Group’s tips for our favorites.


Pairs well with: Squashes, parsley, rosemary, thyme, walnuts

May help: Preserve memory, soothe sore throats.

Today’s herbalists recommend sipping sage tea for upset stomachs and sore throats. One study found that spraying sore throats with a sage solution gave effective pain relief. A wisdom seeker is known as a “sage”. Whoever coined this term obviously was an ancient herbalist.

Preliminary research suggests the herb may improve some symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease by preventing a key enzyme from destroying acetylcholine, a brain chemical involved in memory and learning. In another study, college students who took sage extracts in capsule form performed significantly better on memory tests and their moods improved. So, for all of us suffering with memory issues whether clinical or CRS (Can’t Remember S***) sage is a staple kitchen spice.


Pairs well with: Orange, garlic and red organic potatoes

May help: Enhance mental focus, fight food borne bacteria.

In ancient Greece, scholars wore rosemary garlands to help them study—and one recent study found that people performed better on memory and alertness tests when mists of aromatic rosemary oil were piped into their study cubicles. Rosemary is often used in marinades for meats and poultry and there’s scientific wisdom behind that tradition: rosmarinic acid and other antioxidant compounds in the herb fights bacteria and prevents meat from spoiling, and may even make cooked meats better.

In March, Kansas State University researchers reported that adding rosemary extracts to ground beef helped prevent the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs)—cancer-causing compounds produced when meats are grilled, broiled or fried. However, asthmatics are recommended to stay away from the herb.

Turmeric (a native plant to Panama)

Pairs well with: Garlic, citrus, ingredients in curry powder, i.e., as coriander & cumin

May help: Quell inflammation, inhibit tumors.

In India, turmeric paste is applied to wounds to speed healing; people sip turmeric tea to relieve colds and respiratory issues, unlike its latter part rosemary Modern medicine confirms some solid health attributes as well; most are associated with curcumin, a compound in turmeric that has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been shown to help relieve pain of arthritis, injuries and dental procedures. It’s also being studied for its potential in managing heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Researcher Bharat Aggarwal is confident on curcumin’s potential as a cancer treatment, particularly in colon, prostate and breast cancers. Preliminary studies have found that curcumin can inhibit tumor cell growth and suppress enzymes that activate carcinogens.

Chili Pepper

Pairs well with: Ginger; chocolate; beans; beef

May help: Boost metabolism, keeping cool in hotter climates; i.e., Panama!

Chilies, which create sensations of heat, from mild to fiery, are especially prized in hot climates since, ironically, the spice helps trigger the body’s natural cooling systems. Studies show that capsaicin—a pungent compound in hot chilies—revs up the body’s metabolism and may boost fat burning. Recent research found that capsinoids, similar but gentler chemicals found in milder chili hybrids, have the same effects—so even tamer sweet paprika packs a healthy punch. Capsaicin may also lower risk of ulcers by boosting the ability of stomach cells to resist infection by ulcer-causing bacteria and help the heart by keeping “bad” LDL cholesterol from turning into a more lethal, artery-clogging form.

Pairs well with: Soy sauce, citrus, chili peppers, garlic

May help: Soothe an upset stomach, fight arthritis pain
Traditionally used to relieve cold and stomach troubles, ginger is rich in inflammation-fighting compounds; i.e., gingerols, which some experts believe may hold promise in fighting some cancers and reducing arthritis pain.
In a recent study, people who took ginger capsules daily for 11 days reported 25 percent less muscle acidosis pain when they performed exercises designed to strain their muscles (compared with a similar group taking placebo capsules). Another study found that ginger extract injections helped relieve osteoarthritis pain of the knee. Ginger’s reputation as a stomach soother seems well-deserved: studies show ginger extracts can help reduce nausea caused by morning sickness, following surgery, or chemotherapy, though it’s less effective for motion sickness.


Pairs well with: Cloves, nutmeg, allspice, chocolate, fruit, nuts

May help: Stabilize blood sugar

Cinnamon was prized by King Solomon and used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to boost appetite and relieve indigestion. A few studies suggest that adding cinnamon to food—up to a teaspoon a day, usually given in capsule form—may help people with type 2 diabetes better control their blood sugar by lowering post-meal blood sugar spikes. Other studies suggest the effects are limited at best.

We have included a couple of our favorite recipes to compliment these favorite spices. An important key on how to use the spices is whether you are using fresh or dried. Dried spices tend to need 1/4-1/2 the amount you would use from its fresh alternative.

Tomato Soup

olive oil
1 Yellow onion, diced
1 head of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 inch cube of fresh ginger
2 inch cube of fresh turmeric – or 2 teaspoons dried turmeric powder
1 teaspoon each: ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground ginger
Two 15 ounce cans of organic chopped tomatoes
Mint leaves to decorate


Heat about 1 teaspoon of oil, add onions and a pinch of salt and cook covered for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric and spices, and cook briefly, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Be careful that the ginger and garlic don’t burn. Add the tomatoes, scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the flavor, and let simmer for 20 minutes. You can puree it at this point, or leave the chunks in. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed, top with fresh sage leaves to serve.

Chocolate Chili Sin Carne

Dinner: Chocolate Chili Sin Carne with rice and spinach socca

Sugar is often included in chili to enhance the flavour of the tomatoes, but replacing it with good quality dark chocolate brings a heavenly depth to the whole dish and smooths out the harshness of the spices somewhat, turning this from a standard meal into something much more refined!
The key is not to overpower the chili with the chocolate; I find that just a couple of chunks is enough to do it but still leaves people wondering what that “mystery ingredient” is – and leaving you feeling quite nicely smug!

(Feeds 4)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup TVP
7/8 cup water
2 tbsp paprika
2 tsp cumin
1 cup vegetable stock
3 cups diced tomatoes (about a 500ml can)
2 cups kidney beans, drained
2 heaped tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp chili powder
2 chunks dark chocolate
olive oil

Fry the onion and garlic in a little oil until the onion is browning
While this is happening, place the TVP (textured vegetable protein) in a bowl with the water and leave for 5 minutes to rehydrate
Throw the paprika and cumin into the pan, stir well, and add in the TVP.

Stir and cook for 2 minutes, then add in the vegetable stock, tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato puree and stir well
Cook for 2 minutes, then add in the cinnamon, chili powder and dark chocolate, allowing the chocolate to melt.
Stir everything together then place the lid on the pan.

Cook for at least 30 minutes; if you can leave it up to an hour, the flavors will come together beautifully. For the last 5 minutes of cooking, take the lid off the pan to allow it to reduce Serve with rice, flatbread or something else delicious.


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