Spices

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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Indian Trade in Medicine and Aromatic Plants

Spices form an important ingredient of culinary prepara-tions in the tropics. They are added to the food in minor quantities to alter the taste and flavour of the preparation.


SPICES

 

 

Spices form an important ingredient of culinary preparations in the tropics. They are added to the food in minor quantities to alter the taste and flavour of the preparation. Though they do not contribute to the energy content of the diet, they help to increase the digestion of the diet by enhancing the secretion of the digestive enzyme in the alimentary tract and by increasing the perspiration. There are four major groups of active constituents present in the spices, responsible for all these properties:

 

(i) Volatile oils (ii) Phenolics (iii) Alkaloids and (iv) Sulphur-containing compounds.

Volatile Oils

 

Volatile oils are sweet-smelling liquids, and they emit fragrance to the food and are also slight bitter in taste. Thus, they help to enhance the secretion of digestive enzyme in the alimentary tract. All spices belonging to the apiaceae (umbelliferous fruits and their leaves) and the lamiaceae (leafy spices) are rich in volatile oils. Since the oils are lost on cooking, these spices are mostly added as condiments.

Phenolics

 

Phenolics component contribute to the taste, colour and flavour of a number of spices. The phenols present in spices are simple in structure mostly containing single aromatic ring, e.g. gingerols (ginger), phenolic amines are the pungent principles (capsaicins) in red pepper and phenylpropenes are present in cloves (eugenol) and fennel (anethole).

 

Alkaloids

 

Alkaloids are the largest group of nitrogenous natural organic compounds but only a few spices belonging to the genus piper contain them. Alkaloids present in this genus are of piperidine type.

 

Sulphur Compounds

 

Spices such as mustard, onion and garlic owe their pungency and characteristic odour to sulphur-containing compounds. These compounds are present in the form of glucosinolate (mustard seed) and are volatile with an offensive odour (onion, garlic and asparagus).

 

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