Holiday cooking highlights these surprisingly healthful spices.
Credit: Randy Mayor

Cooking for the holidays showcases earthy, aromatic spices in sweet and ­savory dishes. This makes it a good time to replace old spices since these ingredients are key to creating the season’s iconic flavors.

Spices are a virtually calorie-free way to boost the flavor of all manner of dishes, from holiday feasts like Spice-Brined Turkey with Cider Pan Gravy or Double-Ginger Pumpkin Flans to any-night meals like Sweet and Spicy Chicken and White Bean Stew.

The spice rack may yield other benefits, as well. Scientists are investigating the health properties of various spices, and intriguing research suggests spices are potent sources of antioxidants and other salubrious compounds. Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and the University Health Network are conducting studies to examine cinnamon’s ability to help regulate blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Other research, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, is investigating the potential anti-inflammatory properties of ginger and turmeric.

Some ground spices may have concentrated levels of healthful compounds. For example, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon has about as many antioxidants as a half-cup of blueberries. Of course, ground spices are potent, and a little goes a long way, so you’re not likely to consume that much in one sitting. But the season’s many spice-laced dishes offer plenty of tasty ways to reap their health perks in a wide range of recipes.