The functional role of spices

Herbs and spices are not just valuable in adding flavour to foods. Their antioxidant activity also helps to preserve foods from oxidative deterioration, increasing their shelf-

Table 1.6 Antioxidants isolated from herbs and spices

Spices and herbs

Systematic names

Substances and type of substances


Rosemarinus officinalis

Carnosic acid, carnosol, rosemarinic

acid, rosmanol


Salvia officinalis

Carnosol, carnosic acid, rosmanol,

rosmarinic acid


Origanum vulgare

Derivatives of phenolic acids,

flavonoids, tocopherols


Thymus vulgaris

Thymol, carvacrol, p-cunene-2,3-

diol, biphehyls, flavonoids


Zingiber officinale

Gingerol-related compounds,



Curcuma domestica


Summer savory

Satureja hortensis

Rosemarinic acid, carnosol,

carvacrol, thymol

Black pepper

Piper nigrum

Phenolic amides, flavonides

Red pepper

Capsicum annum


Chilli pepper

Capsicum frutescence

Capsaicin, capsaicinol


Eugenia caryophyllata

Eugenol, gallates


Marjorana hortensis


Common balm

Melissa officinalis



Glycyrrhiza glabra

Flavonoids, licorice phenolics

life. There has been increasing research in the role of herbs and spices as natural preservatives. As an example, ground black pepper has been found to reduce the lipid oxidation of cooked pork. Table 1.6 illustrates the range of antioxidants isolated from herbs and spices. Antioxidants also play a role in the body's defence against cardiovascular disease, certain (epithelial) cancers and other conditions such as arthritis and asthma. Phenolic compounds such as flavonoids may help to protect against cardiovascular disease and intestinal cancer (black pepper, oregano, thyme and marjoram). Gingerol in ginger is also an intestinal stimulant and promoter of the bioactivity of drugs. Capsaicin in chilli pepper is an effective counter-irritant used in both pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Fenugreek, onion and garlic help lower cholesterol levels. A number of spices have also been identified as having antimicrobial properties. Individual chapters in this book deal with research on the functional role of particular spices.

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