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Six Spices for Your Winter Wellness Cabinet

The winter doldrums can’t just be blamed on shorter days, longer nights, and colder weather. They can also come about from a lackluster diet. After the riot of colors, flavors, and textures of summer and autumn produce, it can be hard to adjust to winter’s more limited offerings. What’s more, colder weather and flu season leave you in need of warm, nourishing foods that will fill you up without slowing you down. Luckily, our nutrition and culinary friends have shared a simple secret that can perk up your diet and enhance the more subdued flavors of the winter pantry: spices!

6 Healing Spices to Give Your Winter Soups a Boost

1. Turmeric (anti-inflammatory)
Turmeric isn’t just adored for color, although it certainly has that going for it. It’s also a key ingredient in most curry powders and brings a rich, earthy flavor to recipes. Add turmeric to a pureed carrot soup for extra vibrant color and flavor. Be sure to add the turmeric towards the beginning of the cooking process, sizzling it briefly in a little oil to release more flavor and to help the turmeric disperse throughout the soup. For even more flavor, add a healthy dose of curry powder—you’ll get the benefits of turmeric in a complex blend of spices that will add depth to many wintery stews.

2. Ginger (digestive aid; anti-inflammatory)
Ginger is commonly available both fresh and dried. To use fresh ginger, simply peel (using a spoon to scrape off the skin) and mince it, or use a rasp grater to grate it into a paste. Dried ginger has the flavor of fresh ginger, but with less bite. Add fresh or dried ginger to the pot right after you’ve sautéed onions and garlic. Give it a minute or two to release its flavor, then begin to add liquid ingredients, such as tomatoes or broth. Ginger is an excellent addition to pumpkin or butternut squash soup.

3. Cinnamon (rich in antioxidants; anti-inflammatory; may reduce risk of heart disease)
Cinnamon is one of the most common warming spices available, used in everything from sweet cinnamon rolls to savory mole sauces. And for good reason! Just the smell of cinnamon can be a pick-me-up on the coldest days of winter. It also adds a warming, spicy note to foods that is both delicious and comforting. Cinnamon is most commonly used in baking, but it can play a vital role in savory foods as well. A hearty lentil chili benefits just as much as an apple pie from a spoonful of cinnamon.

4. Garlic (can help prevent and ease colds)
Garlic is not technically a spice, but it is often treated like one. Its tiny cloves pack an impressive punch of flavor and heat. It can make foods taste richer, and even small amounts of it can add complexity to a wide variety of dishes. To get the most flavor from garlic and to make peeling easier, gently smash the cloves with the broad side of a kitchen knife. Then slip off the papery skin and continue to crush it into a paste or mince it. To tame raw garlic’s bite and to help disperse the flavor, sauté it briefly in warm olive oil. Do not let garlic brown or it may taste bitter. A simple chickpea soup with lots of garlic, lemon, and olive oil served with a toasted piece of sourdough bread is a perfect meal to keep the winter blues at bay.

5. Cayenne (boosts circulation and may lower blood pressure)
Capsaicin is the active component in chiles that pepper plants evolved with in order to deter animals from eating them. Strangely enough, that very thing is what keeps us coming back for more! The addictive spice of chiles can clear up a stuffy head and wake up your taste buds. Add it in small amounts until you reach the level of heat you find most pleasing. It can make for a colorful and flavorful garnish for cauliflower or potato soup. Simply heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat, add cayenne and let it sizzle for a minute, then drizzle over the soup. Winter warrior!

6. Saffron (preserves dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain)
Saffron is a more expensive spice, but fortunately you don’t need much to make an impression. It is the stigma of the crocus flower, and the necessity of harvesting it by hand is what makes its price tag a bit intimidating. Use a pinch when you want to add a beautiful golden color and a distinctive flavor to brothy vegetable soups. For best results, let the saffron hydrate in a cupful of the broth for 5 minutes before stirring it into the rest of the soup. Since saffron helps to preserve your “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain, you may find these recipes to be the happiest soups you’ve shared all winter, literally.

Time to bundle up and grab a ladle!

Megan Scott works with The Heart’s Kitchen to develop and test simple, delicious recipes like the one you just read. Since 2010, Megan has worked with her husband John Becker for the iconic cookbook, the Joy of Cooking.

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