Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Spice up your food, it's good for you

Bangkok street food at a vegetarian festival.
Note the red (spicy) color of some of those dishes!
I live in Bangkok, in Thailand, land of spicy (yummy) food. There are apartments in this city that don't have kitchens because cheap, tasty, relatively healthful street food is all over place, at every hour of the day and night.

While I've enjoyed many different dishes here, there is still a lot of Thai food that I can't eat because it is so spicy.

Turns out the Thai are onto something with their love of spices.

Research recently presented by Dr. John Peters of University of Colorado and the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) suggests that adding herbs and spices to lower-calorie meals and vegetables makes the food more appealing to people.

Peters and his team conducted an experiment with 150 subjects who tasted 3 foods: meatloaf, vegetables, and creamy pasta. Each food was prepared in a full fat version (610 calories) and a lower-fat version (395) calories, which was offered with and without the addition of some everyday spices, such as onion, garlic, oregano, and paprika.

Would these spices work for you?  What would you add instead?

Some Thai options: lemon grass, mint, galangal (Thai ginger),
chili pepper, and coconut milk!   photo: FitGal at iFood.tv

Anyway, the meals were presented randomly to the participants, so none knew which version he or she was eating, and the participants rated their meals using a 9-point scale (1=worst, 9=best).

The researchers found that the full-fat meal and the reduced-fat meal with spices both scored the same (about a 7.0 out of 9.0), while the reduced-fat meal with no spices scored about a 6.25.

In other words, simply adding herbs and spices was enough to improve the flavor of the reduced-fat version so that it scored as highly as the full-fat version.

Or try veggie chili, strong on spice but low in fat
photo: Thriving Vegetarian
This was true for individual foods -- the lower-fat meatloaf with spices scored slightly higher than the full-fat version (6.75 vs. 6.50), while the lower-fat only version was rated just above 6.0.

The spiced-up reduced-fat veggies scored slightly above 7.0, while the full-fat version scored just under 7.0. The reduced-fat only vegetables scored a little below 6.5.

If you cook a lot of veggies, you could have already guessed this result. Butter is great, but garlic and herbs and maybe a little olive oil makes them even better!

Here's one list of herbs and spices to power up your cooked veggies (from WikiHow):

VegetableHerb or Spice
ArtichokesParsley, bay leaves, coriander, paprika
AsparagusDill, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary
BeetrootPepper, coriander, thyme, dill, chives, ginger, cloves, sage
BroccoliGarlic, marjoram, nutmeg
Brussels SproutsRosemary, parsley, caraway, nutmeg, oregano, marjoram
CabbageBay leaves, garlic, curry, marjoram, nutmeg, chives, parsley
CarrotsParsley, basil, curry, chives, sage, thyme
CauliflowerBasil, dill, mace, ginger, curry, nutmeg, oregano, coriander, mint
Courgette/zucchiniGarlic, basil, parsley, oregano
CucumberRosemary, dill, mustard, pepper, basil, chives
EggplantGarlic, parsley, mint, sage, curry, basil, rosemary, oregano
Green beansGarlic, basil, dill, nutmeg, pepper
LeeksMustard, parsley, dill, bay leaves, thyme, paprika, celery salt
LettuceBasil, chives, thyme, tarragon, dill, parsley
MushroomsOlives, ginger, cumin, parsley, thyme
OnionsPaprika, celery salt, pepper, coriander, basil, garlic, marjoram, sage
PeasTarragon, mint, parsley, nutmeg, sage, marjoram, basil
PotatoesGarlic, nutmeg, paprika, pepper, rosemary, thyme
SilverbeetNutmeg, basil, coriander, sage, marjoram, bay leaves, garlic, rosemary
TomatoesBasil, tarragon, garlic, chives, dill, mint, oregano, paprika, fennel, parsley, thyme

Then there was the full-fat creamy pasta, which beat out both the boring and the spicier lower-fat versions. The participants scored the full-fat version slightly above 7.25, the spicy reduced-fat version just over 6.5, and the reduced-fat/no spice version slightly less than 6.0.

At Bangkok's Chatuchak market,
even an omlette is served
with spicy sauce!
Both the feel and taste of full-fat milk and cheese in this dish probably make it more appealing, although, as noted by Dr. Peters, the spicier lower-fat version improved the flavor substantially over the non-spicy version.

"Substituting herbs and spices for fat may be a promising strategy for helping people meet the Dietary Guidelines, especially if it's simple stuff you can buy in the store that doesn't require any exotic training," said Peters.

The research was funded in part by the McCormick Science Institute, a research institute funded by the spice manufacturer McCormick & Company, Inc.

Of course McCormick wants people to buy spices, but they have a great point and some science on their side. How to get people to experiment with switching fat for spice?

What would you do to reduce the fat in "creamy pasta" but make it taste even better?

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