By Funmilola Olukomaiya
Cooking Spices are aromatic flavourings gotten from seeds, fruits, tree bark, rhizomes, and other plant parts. they are used to season and preserve food.
The word spice comes from the Latin ‘species’, which means merchandise or wares.
Cooking spices are usually sold in dried form, but that doesn’t mean spices last indefinitely; their strong flavours will dissipate over time, especially if exposed to light and air.
Like the saying, ‘variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.’
Always remember that all those spices and herbs in your spice rack can do more than provide calorie-free, natural flavourings to enhance and make food delicious.
They are also an incredible source of antioxidants that help rev up your metabolism and improve your health at the same time.
Below are 10 of the most used cooking spices in Nigeria and be sure that these spices not only offer great taste but a truckload of health benefits too.
This is a foremost Nigerian cooking spice that is part of the onion family and known for its pungent flavour, It delivers great taste and aroma when used to make soups and stews. This nutritional superstar helps to ward off cough while cold raw garlic has the potential to ward off a cough and cold infections. It is good for cardiac health, offers immune support, boosts heart health, fights high blood pressure, protects from cancer and supports brain health. Garlic has anti-inflammatory benefits and helps blood flow more easily through the body.
2. Curry Powder
Curry powder in this part of the world is one major cooking spice that gives our beef/chicken stew/sauce that nice aroma that you can perceive from the gate. It is also a major ingredient for cooking fried and jollof rice alike. But apart from its scintillating aroma, did you know that traditional curry powder is filled with spices that help your digestive system? This mixture of spices with a bright golden hue and a complex flavour have anticancer properties. Also, consuming curry powder may help reduce oxidative stress, boost heart health, and improve blood sugar levels, among other potential benefits.
Not only does cooking your beef/chicken, sauce and stews with ginger give you delicious results, but it contains gingerol, which has powerful medicinal properties. Ginger is also a great natural herb that fights germs, keeps your mouth healthy, calms nausea, soothes sore muscle, eases arthritis symptoms and curbs cancer growth among other health benefits. Ginger is also great for reducing pain and inflammation, headaches, and menstrual cramps.
This natural goodness is a common type of cooking spice used to cook any type of meat and also great for your sauce. It gives your meal a nice natural seasoned flavour that does not overpower it. Thyme is packed with vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A. If you feel a cold coming on, thyme can help get you back in good health. Another health benefit of thyme is that it is a good source of copper, fibre, iron, and manganese.
5. Habanero Pepper
Habanero pepper is the king of spiciness in Nigerian meals. It is fresh and spicy with a nice aroma. There are the red and yellow habanero peppers. The red ones can be added to any meal but the yellow ones are best used in Nigerian soups due to its unique flavour. Eating these terrifyingly tasty treats has been shown to lower bad cholesterol, while the capsaicin in habaneros also has been shown to reduce high blood pressure. It is a great cooking spice that helps to fight weight gain and also fantastic for cancer prevention. These are very similar to Scotch Bonnet Pepper and can be used in place of habanero pepper.
Whether you choose to eat them raw or cooked, onions are loaded with benefits. And the good thing is you can eat them whenever you want – day or night. Onions are packed with rich nutrients which may benefit heart health. They are loaded with antioxidants, contain cancer-fighting compounds and also help to control blood sugar. Onions are also great for boosting bone density and they have antibacterial properties and are great for boosting digestive health.
7. Ehuru (African/Calabash Nutmeg)
The Yorubas call it ‘Ariwo’, Hausas call it ‘Gujiya dan miya’ while the Igbos call it ‘Ehuru/Ehu’. Some others call it African nutmeg, Jamaican nutmeg or Calabash nutmeg. This natural goodness is mostly used in ‘Banga or Pepper soup’, but it can be sampled in a number of other recipes, e.g, your ofada sauce. Ehuru is a highly aromatic cooking spice with a unique taste. It is a great sex stimulant and improves libido in both men and women. It is one of those Nigerian spices that boost ovulation. It is a rich source of iron, folic acid, vitamins E & C, magnesium, calcium, relieves common cold and flu, helps in burning excess fat and reduces cholesterol.
8. Uda seed (Negro pepper)
Uda seed is a spice that contains high essential phytochemical compounds. It has a smoky aroma. It is usually the main ingredients for making spicy black pepper sauce. Therefore, the demand is quite high and many places love to add more taste to the cuisine using this spicy spice. Uda seed is known to contain flavonoids and tannins and several other minerals such as limonene, cryptone and myrtenol. It helps to stimulate appetite, reduces pain and helps the breast milk to flow. As this spice is a good anti-bacterial agent, it also helps to avoid any infection. This is the same health benefits of pickled peppers that can help to improve the body immune system too.
This is one major ingredient that makes the native Nigerian soup so nutritious. Ogiri is also known as fermented melon seeds. This cooking spice is known to have a strong pungent aroma and mostly added to soups to give them a traditional strong flavour.
But irrespective of its strong pungent smell, ogiri comes with a lot of amazing health benefits which includes controlling diabetes and cholesterol level, it helps to promote good sight and aids digestion, it is used for treating stroke and hypertension. It also aids cancer prevention, supports a healthy heart, has aphrodisiac properties and great for preventing arthritis.
10. Locust beans
This traditional goodness is also known as Iru ‘Dadawa’, ‘Dawadawa’ and commonly used for traditional Nigerian soups and stews for its bold flavour. Locust bean is high in protein, fibre and may help decrease blood sugar and blood fat levels. It is also used in infant formulas to help reduce reflux. Local research has shown that locust bean helps to promote good sight and drives away hypertension and diseases conditions like stroke. It helps in boosting your immune system, relieve diseases like diarrhoea, diabetes and reduces the chance of heart attack.
11. Bonus spice: Scent leaf
Scent leaf is a major cooking spice known for the aroma it gives to soups and stews. In addition to adding flavour to food, it is known for its antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties. Scent leaf aids digestion, it helps bowel evacuation and weight management. It can be used to treat oral infection, kills all bacteria in the mouth and also tooth decay and bad breath. It is used in treating fever, cold, and catarrh and also used in treating skin diseases and ringworm.