Arab Spices That Build Your Immune System
By: Lindsey Penn/Arab America Contributing Writer
With everyone’s health at the forefront of their minds, it is important to note that there are certain spices (and foods) that will help boost your immune system. While there isn’t a single spice or food that will solve all of your health problems, the Arab world has many natural ingredients in the food that can improve your body’s defenses. Below is a list of a few spices included in a lot of Arab food that are beneficial for your health.
Thyme is a spice from the mint family, and is very common in many Arab foods. Fun fact: it has a long history of use, starting with the Ancient Egyptians using it in their embalming process. Beyond that, though, there are many internal and external health benefits to thyme. For example, when steeped in alcohol for any period of time, the thyme and alcohol turn into tincture, an antibacterial solution that can help against acne.
As for internal use, thyme helps a sore throat/coughing and has a lot of vitamins C and A, which can help prevent a cold. Thyme also is a good source of fiber, copper and iron. For more overall health information from thyme, click here.
Za’atar is a very common Arab spice mix. It has been used throughout history (records go as far back as the 9th century) as medicine, not just for food. The standard spice mix has sumac, sesame seeds, thyme and oregano, all known for having health benefits. As a mix, though, combines all of their benefits: za’atar has antioxidant properties, can help reduce coughing (from the thyme-see above), a lot of vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
This spice is very expensive because of the labor needed to harvest it, but saffron has many health benefits. Plus, you don’t need to use much of it to get these benefits). Of all of the benefits, the biggest one is the fact that it is high in antioxidants, preventing problems with oxidation that can hurt your cells and body. Even more than being an antioxidant, saffron has many potential advantages, such as improving your mood, possibly preventing cancer (because of its antioxidant properties) and can lower blood sugar levels. If you’re wondering about how else saffron is beneficial, click here.
Many Arab recipes have saffron, such as chicken and rice dishes.
Another classic spice, black seed has been used in the Arab world for a long time. These uses include for headaches, digestive tract issues, and respiratory issues that include coughing and symptoms from the flu. Black seed oil can also be super helpful, as it is an antioxidant. As for the immune system, black seed has many vitamins such as vitamins B1, B2 and B3, as well as calcium, iron, and folic acid.
Turmeric is a strong spice that has so many health benefits. These benefits are because of curcumin, one ingredient in turmeric. It helps with colds and coughs, as turmeric helps clean the respiratory tract and has anti-inflammatory qualities. Curcumin also helps boost the immune system by balancing the immune system/countering parts of the immune system that become overactive. In terms of sickness, turmeric/curcumin keeps the virus from duplicating. For all of the benefits of turmeric, click here.
For specific Arab recipes with turmeric, there is sfoof, a Lebanese turmeric cake.
Cinnamon is yet another common spice in the Arab world, but in both entrees and desserts. It is another antioxidant. The spice has antibacterial properties as well, with the bonus that bacteria doesn’t become resistant to it, like bacteria does with antibiotics. Because of its properties, cinnamon helps not only the immune system, but helps with issues such as sore throats and nausea. You can find the full list of cinnamon’s health benefits here.
Cumin is a popular spice all over the world, not just in the Arab world. Like many of the other spices on this list, it contains antioxidants to help improve the immune system. Its oil also helps fight against bacteria and parasites, protecting the immune system. Unusually, cumin can help boost your memory by energizing the central nervous system, and can possibly help weight loss (although more research is needed to claim definitively that cumin helps someone lose weight). The full list of the spice’s benefits can be found here.
Sumac is one of the spices in the za’atar mix. When it is ground up, it has an incredibly high level of antioxidants, more than many other spices (such as cinnamon). Its juice also has a lot of vitamin C to help your immune system fight off illnesses such as colds. Sumac can even help lower blood sugar levels.
There are many recipes for Arab foods with sumac, but one that is particularly popular is a Palestinian dish called musakhan.
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