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Mikeís Hot Spicy Food Recipes

Herbs stimulate brain cells and taste buds


Herbs stimulate brain cells and taste buds

by Karen Fernau - Oct. 13, 2010 12:47 PM

The Arizona Republic

Your kitchen spice rack - that trusted keeper of herbs and powders, savory and sweet, bold and mild - may also offer a way to keep aging minds sharp.

Some of the champions? Turmeric, rosemary, cumin and sage.

"We are learning that the same diet of saturated fats and processed foods that are bad for the heart also can be bad for the mind," said neurologist Marwan Sabbagh, chief medical/scientific officer at Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, and associate director of the Arizona Alzheimer's Disease Core Center. "What you eat matters, and that includes how you spice your food."

Although there's no definitive strategy for warding off a fuzzy memory, dementia or Alzheimer's, encouraging research points to a handful of spices as being filled with compounds that are good for the mind. Spices have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries - ginger to settle an upset stomach, allspice to relieve the stabbing pain of arthritis. Today, medical experts are exploring whether turmeric, rosemary, cumin and sage could be promising natural tonics for the brain. And unlike medicines or other supplements, spices rarely produce harmful side effects or taste bad.

Sabbagh recommends incorporating these four spices into a brain-healthy eating plan such as the typical Mediterranean diet, which includes lots of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts and omega-3-rich fish.

There's nothing timid about memory spices, said Maya Nahra, dietitian for Sunflower Farmers Market, a Western-states chain of produce-heavy supermarkets. Their warm, bold flavors are well-suited for soups, baked chicken, grilled fish, hearty stews and salads.

"I encourage people to search out recipes that use these spices and begin experimenting. The more you eat, the more you will want to eat," she said.

If the spices are unfamiliar to you, begin with small amounts and build as you acquire a taste.

If buying fresh, look for herbs that are brightly colored and free of blemishes. To store, rinse fresh herbs well, loosely wrap in a paper towel and place in a zip-top plastic bag. Store your bag of herbs in your refrigerator's crisper for up to 10 days. Dried spices past their prime lose flavor and aroma, so test for freshness before using. The best way to check is by look, smell and taste. The rule of thumb is to keep dried spices no longer than a year. And always store in an airtight container away from heat, moisture and sunlight.

The amount to use depends on whether the spice is fresh or dried. In general, substitute 1 teaspoon dried herbs for 1 tablespoon fresh, or vice versa.

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-4779.


4 memory-boosting spices

by Karen Fernau - Oct. 13, 2010 12:47 PM

The Arizona Republic


The most promising of all the memory spices is turmeric, one of nature's potent healers. The more than 1 billion people who live in India have one of the lowest incidences of Alzheimer's in the world, and some researchers link their healthy minds to the average 6 tablespoons of turmeric they consume daily. Long known for its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric protects the brain against oxidative damage that might contribute to the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's by thwarting the development of destructive brain plaques.

Tip: Curcumin is the leading compound found in turmeric, which in turn is a key ingredient in curry powder. Turmeric is extremely pungent, and actually gets stronger when cooked. If you're a curry novice, use it sparingly at first.


Researchers found that rosemary, a powerful antioxidant, protects neurotransmitters in the brain and thus may play a role in the prevention of Alzheimer's. Another study indicated that just the scent of rosemary was able to improve the memories of office workers.

Tip: Rosemary is used whole, chopped and ground. The taste is reminiscent of nutmeg and camphor with a woody aftertaste. Unlike many herbs, rosemary's strong flavor is not diminished with cooking, so use with care. It's extremely versatile and pairs well with lamb, pork, veal and chicken.


Technically a member of the mint family, sage shows signs of supporting cognitive function in those with healthy minds as well as those with serious forms of memory loss. This savory herb also appears to work in the same ways as some medicines used to treat dementia. In addition, studies indicate that sage helps the mind stay alert and calm.

Tip: Sage is a versatile herb that combines well with thyme, rosemary and basil. It is commonly used in stuffing mixtures for roast poultry. Place whole leaves underneath the skin of a chicken or turkey before roasting. They will show through the skin when the bird is finished cooking and make an elegant presentation.


Studies show that this potent spice, used in Indian cooking as far back as 5,000 years ago, helps improve memory and speeds up recovery from amnesia. Today, this medicinal herb is an important ingredient in chilis, curries and too many ethnic dishes to name.

Tip: Cumin, with its pungent smell and earthy flavor, can be used interchangeably in the seed or powdered form in a variety of savory foods - stews and soups, cheeses, breads, sausages and vegetables. Toasting the whole seeds in a dry skillet enhances the flavor. Try tossing whole cumin seeds with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to press onto a pork tenderloin before baking.

Friends donít let friends buy spices at American grocery stores!

Mikeís Hot Spicy Food Recipes