The Mediterranean diet is probably the oldest diet in the world and it survived over the years because of many reasons, the most important of which being that it is a healthy diet. Mediterranean diet is a healthy and simple diet that was the way of eating and living of the people around the Mediterranean Sea. Herbs and spices that grew in the Mediterranean region were used in the culinary Mediterranean diet recipes not only to add taste but for health reasons as well.
Herbs and Spices in the Mediterranean diet
Herbs grew in abundance in the Mediterranean region and they were used from the early years in foods so that they would add flavor, they were used in drinks to give taste, they were used to add ‘’spice’’ to the everyday life of people. Herbs and their derivatives together with spices from trees and bushes were collected and used when in season or they were dried to be used as and when needed.
In recent years when the Mediterranean diet was formulated and depicted in the form of the Mediterranean diet pyramid, initially Mediterranean culinary Herbs and Spices have not taken the place they deserved. In a latter revision of the Mediterranean diet pyramid they were glamorously introduced and the Med diet pyramid was updated. Herbs and spices are in the ‘’every-day-use’’ level and are used to form the basis of an everyday Mediterranean diet meal. Due to variety of the herbs and the degree of their use by the 15 Mediterranean countries and nations, herbs and spices contribute to the individuality, culinary tastes and identity of the variations of the various Mediterranean cuisines.
The main reason that culinary herbs and spices were introduced in the Mediterranean diet pyramid was the fact that recent studies have identified their medicinal properties and effects on the health of the people following the Mediterranean diet. While the effects of olive oil and wine were very well known in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases the antioxidant effects of culinary herbs and spices were ‘’ignored’’ until recent studies have revealed them and thus they took the position that they deserve in the med diet pyramid.
Which are the herbs and spices identified and included in the Mediterranean diet pyramid?
Listed in alphabetical order are: Anise, Basil, Bay, Capers, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Chervil, Chiles, Chives, Clove, Cumin, Coriander, Dill, Fennel, Fenugreek, Garlic, Lavender, Mace, Marjoram, Mint, Nutmeg, Oregano, Parsley, Pepper, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage, Savoury, Sumac, Tarragon and Thyme. Also some spice culinary mixtures are well known and used by the Mediterranean people in their recipes and cuisine. Such culinary mixtures are: Bouquet garni, Harissa and Za’atar.
Culinary herbs and spices form a food group and as a food group they have been identified to have more medicinal properties and be more effective at preventing cardiovascular diseases than olive oil and wine. The reason behind this effectiveness is their antioxidant property. A recent study in the USA has revealed that out of top 50 antioxidant foods, 5 are spices and the leading antioxidant spice is Oregano, a spice that originates from the Mediterranean basin. It was found that Oregano has 4 times more antioxidant activity and benefits than blueberry.
There are also other Mediterranean spices which have strong antioxidant effects and these are: coriander, cumin, capers, marjoram, fenugreek and thyme. All these spices are part of the traditional Mediterranean cuisine and apart from helping in the fight against cardiovascular diseases they protect us against cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
By adding such spices in the Mediterranean food in association with the use of olive oil and moderate consumption of red wine we create a shield against the diseases of the century such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
It should be noted the culinary herbs of Mediterranean origin besides their culinary contribution to the taste and flavor of the Mediterranean foods they have medicinal properties if and when taken as part of a drink, warm or cold. The therapeutic properties of the Mediterranean herbs will be analyzed in a later article.
It is beyond question that due to the fact that the Mediterranean diet is way of living and a diet which has resulted over the pass of the centuries, it has managed to balance and exploit all the properties and benefits of the plant and animal kingdom that used to grow and graze in the Mediterranean basin and has been transformed to probably the healthiest diet of the world.