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Sourcing the Menu: The spice lipo-paradox

NOTE: This is an edited version of portions of Appendices 2 & 3 of the “Revised Stealth Syndromes Study Protocol as approved by the University of California San Francisco Medical School Committee on Human Research.


Standards and Sourcing (From Appendix 2)

We will grow our own spices except for whole black/green/red peppercorns which will be ground in a glass, ceramic, or metal peppermill.

Spices will be irrigated with carbon-filtered water.

Spices will be diced with a knife on a wooded cutting board or ground in a grinder without contact with plastic.

Rationale (From Appendix 3)

Numerous published studies have shown that spices are extraordinarily contaminated by BPA and phthalates. This may result from being chopped onto fine particles that offer greater surface area to contact plastic processing and packaging materials.

In addition, many of the most aromatic spices are lipophilic. See Sourcing the Menu: The spice lipo-paradox

Spices have evolved over the centuries as effective ways to preserve foods from spoiling and to disguise the taste of items that have started to decompose.

By themselves, many spices also have beneficial health properties, as evidenced most recently by studies showing turmeric’s potential cancer-fighting properties. (Spices for Prevention and Treatment of Cancers).

On the other hand, a number of studies have found that spices often have very high and variable concentrations of phthalates. Those studies have posited that the contamination comes from extensive handling and processing.

While the flavor ingredients in spices are sometimes water-soluble, many of the most aromatic spice flavors come from lipid-soluble compounds. This is why cooks will often sauté spices in oil before adding aqueous ingredients. This process, known as “blooming,” intensifies the flavor because the oil extracts the lipid components at a temperature hotter than that of the boiling point of water.

Blooming is useful when cooking at high altitudes where the boiling point of water is lower than at sea level. This means the extraction of spice flavors drops, resulting in blander foods. At Lake Tahoe, for example, water boils at 94°C, something that prevents full flavor extraction, even with longer cook times.