FAITH LAPIDUS: This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS a program in VOA Special English.
I’m Faith Lapidus.
BOB DOUGHTY: And I’m Bob Doughty. Today, we will tell about herbs and spices,
and some of their many uses.
FAITH LAPIDUS: People have been using herbs and spices for thousands of years.
Generally, herbs come from the green leaves of plants or vegetables. Spices come
from other parts of plants and trees. For example, cinnamon comes from the hard
outer cover of cinnamon plants. The spice ginger comes from the part of the
ginger plant that grows underground.
Some herbs and spices are valued for their taste. They help to sharpen the
taste of many foods. Others are chosen for their smell. Still others were used
traditionally for health reasons.
BOB DOUGHTY: Some herbs and spices may be gaining importance in modern
medicine. For example, American researchers say red pepper could help people
seeking to lose weight. They say this could be especially true for people who do
not usually add spices to their food.
Researchers from Purdue University reported about the effects of red pepper
in the journal Physiology & Behavior. They found that small changes in diet,
like adding the pepper, may reduce the desire to eat.
FAITH LAPIDUS: The spice used in the study was dried and ground cayenne red
pepper. Cayenne is a chili pepper. Most chili peppers contain capsaicin -- a
substance that makes chili peppers hot. Other studies have shown that capsaicin
can reduce hunger and burn calories, the energy stored in food.
Over six weeks, twenty-five people of normal weight took part in the study.
Thirteen of them liked spicy food. The twelve others did not. The researchers
decided how much red pepper each group would receive.
One and eight-tenths grams of the pepper was given to each person who liked
spicy food. The others received three-tenths of a gram.
BOB DOUGHTY: The people who did not normally eat red pepper showed a
decreased desire for food. That was especially true for fatty, salty and sweet
Purdue University Professor Richard Mattes said the effect may be true only
for people who do not usually eat red pepper. He said the effectiveness of the
pepper may be lost if spices are normally part of a person’s diet. He said
further study needs to be done. The goal is to learn how long the effect of red
peppers will last and how to extend the effectiveness.
FAITH LAPIDUS: The spice turmeric comes from a tropical plant common to India.
Research involving turmeric is not new. Scientists have been studying its
medical possibilities for many years.
For example, researchers in Singapore completed one such study several years
ago. The study was based on earlier evidence that turmeric has strong
antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. These qualities can help protect
against damage to the body’s tissues and other injuries.
BOB DOUGHTY: The researchers said turmeric may reduce evidence of damage in
the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. For this reason, the
researchers designed a study that examined results from a mental-performance
test of older Asian adults. The study involved curry, which contains turmeric.
The adults were sixty to ninety-three years old. None had severe memory
losses. Those who sometimes ate curry did better on the tests than individuals
who rarely or never ate curry. This was also true of those who ate it often or
FAITH LAPIDUS: The work of the Mayo Clinic and its medical experts is world
famous. In its Health Letter several years ago, the Mayo Clinic provided more
evidence that herbs and spices can aid health. Its experts said spices could
reduce salt use for people with health conditions like high blood pressure.
The experts said some plant chemicals are high in antioxidants. In addition
to turmeric, these include cinnamon, ginger, oregano, sage and thyme.
The experts also said antioxidants like garlic, rosemary and saffron have
qualities that could fight cancer. They also said limited evidence shows that
cinnamon, fenugreek and turmeric may affect blood sugar levels in people with
You are listening to SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. With Bob
Doughty, I’m Faith Lapidus in Washington.
BOB DOUGHTY: Cooking meat at high temperatures in the open air is a favorite
activity of many Americans. But the country’s National Cancer Institute warns
that this kind of meat preparation creates heterocyclic amines, also known as
Scientists say HCAs contain substances that probably can help cause cancer.
These chemicals form when amino acids react with creatine, a chemical found in
muscles. Meats from organs and non-meat protein sources have little or no HCA.
Research on HCAs has made some people afraid to cook meat on a barbecue
grill. On a grill, the meat heats over coals or a gas or open fire. But studies
have found that adding spices to meat before cooking at high temperatures may
reduce harmful chemicals. This can be done by preparing a marinade and placing
it on the meat before cooking. Marinades usually contain spices and herbs added
to vinegar, wine or oil. This liquid mixture also softens the meat.
FAITH LAPIDUS: Researchers from Kansas State University experimented with
marinades and meat in a study published in two thousand eight. The researchers
placed some steaks in already prepared marinades.
The meat then was heated for five minutes on each side at a temperature of
more than two hundred degrees Celsius. The researchers also cooked steaks
marinated without spices, and steaks that were not marinated. They were prepared
at the same temperature as meat with the marinade mixes.
The researchers compared levels of the HCAs in all the steaks. They found
that the HCAs in the meat marinated in spices had decreased up to eighty- eight
BOB DOUGHTY: Other unwanted substances, called PAHs, can be found in some
meat cooked at high temperatures. The United States Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention says these chemicals probably cause cancer. PAHs form when animal
fat drops onto hot coals. The fat makes flames from the coals rise, leaving the
PAHs on the meat.
Purdue University experts have a suggestion for preventing this. They advise
people to use cooking tools that do not break the skin of the meat when turning
it on the barbecue grill. And they say placing the meat in a marinade before
grilling is helpful.
FAITH LAPIDUS: Herbs and spices are not used just to lessen unwanted chemical
effects. They make food taste better. Some spices also destroy bacteria. Spices
have long been used to keep food safe to eat. In the past, spices also helped to
prevent the wasting away of dead bodies.
Herb and spice plants grow in many countries. For example, the Molucca
Islands in Indonesia are famous for producing spices like cloves, nutmeg and
mace. Vanilla comes from orchid plants growing in South America and other places
with warm, moist weather.
BOB DOUGHTY: Spices have influenced world history. Ancient trade routes
brought spices and silk to the Mediterranean Sea area beginning more than six
thousand years ago. The Goth people of Europe defeated Roman forces in battle
more than sixteen centuries ago. After the fighting ended, the leader of the
Goths is said to have demanded five-thousand pounds of gold and three thousand
pounds of pepper.
In later years, Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus discovered new lands
while seeking to extend trade with spice-growing areas in Asia. The Italian
cities of Genoa and Venice became powerful because they were at the center of
the spice trade. The trade was so important to national economies that rulers
launched wars in their struggle to control spices.
FAITH LAPIDUS: This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Jerilyn Watson.
Our producer was June Simms. I’m Faith Lapidus.
BOB DOUGHTY: And I’m Bob Doughty. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts
of our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. And you can find us on Twitter and
YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for more news about
science in Special English on the Voice of America.