A latin kitchen is known for it’s heat and spice – as it should be. If our abuelitas or let’s be honest, the muchacha, didn’t have spices in the kitchen our food would be pretty bland.
But there’s so much more to our kitchen than heat, and those ladies know about it. The abuelas know what each of the spices going into their cooking are for and what added benefit they bring to our health.
So, let’s break it down. The most popular of spices that I’ve identified are: oregano, cayenne pepper, and canela (cinnamon). Let’s see what they’re good for and what benefits they bring to the kitchen so you can get into the habit of using them…if you don’t already.
Here I’m referring to the Mexican Oregano, not the one popular in Greece and other Mediterranean countries. Because confusing the two may cause a bit of a surprise to your dish.
This oregano, has a strong, peppery, more robust and bitter flavour than its mediterranean counterpart. And it doesn’t stand small to the vibrant taste of hot chili peppers or cumin – it plays well with others.
Perfect on pretty much any tomato, cauliflower, or eggplant dish; it will blend well in a banana green smoothie as well.
Known to help treat urinary tract infections, respiratory disorders, digestion problems, and woop, menstrual cramps when ingested, applying it topically can help with things like acne and dandruff.
How to store: for dried oregano, store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months. And for fresh oregano, refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 3 days.
Not to be confused with the chili powder you buy at the store, which in fact is included into that chili powder, on its own, it’s much hotter. The smell is mild but the taste is strong, hot strong, so don’t be fooled by its innocent scent.
You can pretty much add it to anything you want heat involved. Remember the movie “Woman On Top” with Penelope Cruz? This is the pepper she used on everything.
Add it to sauces, salsa, an avocado dip. Ooh, a taco salad or enchiladas – I may be getting hungry here. I, personally, like to add it to a nicely sliced green mango or jicama with lemon juice on it. Hey, it’s even made it into a smoothie when looking for a bit of heat. Very versatile!
As for health benefits, it’s great for breaking up the phlegm in colds and flu, aids in digestion, helps stimulate production of saliva which is a key step in proper digestion, blood clots, and even supporting the body’s natural detox mechanism by helping it sweat.
How to store: Keep in a cool, dark place. Away from direct heat. Freezing is a no no.
Which is different from the cassia-based American counterpart, canela has a delicate fragrance and papery texture that makes it easy to sprinkle over desserts. The aroma is unmistakable, you can smell it from a mile away – picturing a hot cup of natilla.
Though it’s origins aren’t really from nuestras tierras, it has sure been adopted as such with its sweet, spicy taste, it’s a favorite in most – if not all – latin kitchens.
Going well in pretty much any smoothie, it’s perfect for anything apple or anything that involves raisins. Also a favorite on ‘churros’, it goes well in baking and even coffee. I’ve seen it involved in rice and even chicken dishes where cloves are included.
One of the main things it’s known for in terms of health benefits, is for it’s anti-inflammatory properties. It helps with pain such as menstrual cramps and can aid in stomach-related problems such as: diarrhea and gas. Sprinkle cinnamon on oatmeal or cereal, or prepare a hot cup of cinnamon tea on the first day of your period to help fight off cramps.
How to store: Like cayenne pepper, cinnamon is best stored in a cool, dark place where it’s far away from heat and humidity.
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