MDH, Everest masala row: 5 reasons to make spice blends at home and ditch the store-bought mix | Health

Indian spice makers MDH and Everest have come under a scanner after health authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore found cancer-causing pesticide ethylene oxide in them. This has also led India’s top food regulator the Food and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to conduct sampling of these products. Ethylene oxide, which is generally used for sterilising medical devices, is used in spices to reduce microbial contamination. Exposure to this chemical is associated with various kinds of cancers, including lymphoma and leukaemia.

While further investigation and research is underway to find out potential ill effects of using certain chemicals in store-bought spice mixes, experts say it’s important to either eat these spices in moderation or make your own blends at home. (Also read: India spice maker Everest says products safe after health concerns)

Making your own spice blends grants you complete oversight of the ingredients you use. This means you can hand-select the freshest spices available, ensuring optimal flavour and potency.(Freepik)

Can packaged spices cause cancer?

Eating excessively spicy food has been associated with risk of stomach cancer. However, the recent ban on Indian spice brands like MDH and Everest Group by the Hong Kong and Singapore governments puts spotlight on presence of cancer-causing chemicals like ethylene oxide, a harmful pesticide that can pose dangers to human health above permissible amounts.

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“In recent past, there has been discussion around whether Indian spices, which add flavour and aroma to countless dishes, could potentially lead to cancer. There have been reports that eating food with small amounts of ethylene oxide isn’t immediately harmful, but it can cause health problems over time. So, people should avoid this substance as much as they can. For example, some studies have suggested that certain spices, such as turmeric and chili peppers, contain compounds with potential anti-cancer properties. The main mechanisms of action include inducing apoptosis, inhibiting proliferation, migration and invasion of tumours, and sensitizing tumours to radiotherapy and chemotherapy,” says Dr Kanav Kumar, a Surgical Oncologist at the Punyashlok Ahilyadevi Holkar, Head and Neck Cancer Institute of India, Mumbai.

Homemade spices can prevent cancer

Since ancient times spices and herbs have been extensively used as food flavouring agents and being used in traditional medicine.

Spices have been part of different food recipes to impart aroma, colour, and taste to food preparations and sometimes mask undesirable odours. Spices refer to the dried part of a plant that contains volatile oils or aromatic flavours such as buds (cloves), bark (cinnamon), root (ginger), berries (black pepper), and seeds (cumin, coriander).

“It is believed that using herbs and spices in the diet can be protective due its medicinal properties and protective against chronic diseases, including cancer. Also, they have been hypothesized to be involved in reducing the risk of other chronic diseases like heart disease, arthritis, and certain types of cancer. They also aid digestion by promoting the production of digestive enzymes, reducing bloating, gas, and indigestion, and soothing the digestive tract. Several studies have shown spices and herbs having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory which may help in prevention and treatment of cancer. The main bioactive compound in spices and herbs include biophenols which has shown anticancer properties. The various spices known to have anticancer properties include ginger, peppers, rosemary, turmeric, cumin, and clove,” says Dr. Pritam Kataria, Consultant, Medical Oncology, Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital.

5 reasons to consume homemade spice blends

G Sushma Clinical Dietician CARE Hospitals Banjara Hills Hyderabad in an interview with HT Digital shares 5 compelling reasons to start making spice blends at home.

1. Quality control: Making your own spice blends grants you complete oversight of the ingredients you use. This means you can hand-select the freshest spices available, ensuring optimal flavour and potency. Unlike pre-packaged blends, where you might not know how long the spices have been sitting on the shelf, homemade blends guarantee freshness, resulting in richer and more vibrant flavours in your dishes.

2. Customisation: One of the most significant advantages of homemade spice blends is the ability to tailor them to your specific tastes and dietary requirements. Whether you prefer a spicier kick, a milder flavour, or a unique combination of herbs and spices, you have the freedom to experiment and adjust the proportions until you achieve the perfect blend. This customisation allows you to create seasoning mixes that perfectly complement your favourite dishes and cater to any dietary restrictions or allergies.

3. Cost-effectiveness: While the initial investment in purchasing individual spices may seem higher than buying pre-made blends, creating your own spice mixes can actually be more cost-effective in the long run. Buying spices in bulk quantities often works out cheaper per unit, and since you’re only using small amounts of each spice in your blends, you’ll be able to make multiple batches from a single purchase. Over time, this can result in significant savings compared to continuously buying pre-packaged spice blends.

4. Freshness: The freshness of the spices used in your blends can greatly impact the overall flavour of your dishes. By grinding your own spices as needed for each batch of seasoning, you ensure that they retain their essential oils and aromatic compounds, resulting in a more intense and robust flavour profile. This freshness also means that you can adjust the grind size to suit your preferences, whether you prefer a coarse texture for added texture or a fine powder for more even distribution of flavour.

5. Healthier option: Many commercially available spice blends contain additives, preservatives, and high levels of sodium to prolong shelf life and enhance flavour. By making your own spice blends at home, you have full control over the ingredients, allowing you to avoid these unnecessary additives and create healthier seasoning options for your meals. You can also adjust the salt content to your liking, making it easier to manage your sodium intake and create dishes that are not only delicious but also better for your overall health.

Creating blends at home is also good for people suffering from hypertension and heart diseases. One can control the amount of salt and customise them as per their own taste.

“Homemade spice blends offer a range of health benefits beyond just enhancing flavour. Crafting your own blends allows for customisation, ensuring minimal additives and preservatives. Incorporating spices like turmeric, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and cumin, rich in antioxidants, bolsters immune function and aids digestion. Creating blends at home also allows for portion control, reducing sodium intake compared to store-bought options. Additionally, personalized blends can cater to dietary restrictions, such as salt-free or low-sodium alternatives. Roasting spices before preparing them in powder form will enhance the flavour of the food. Grinding ginger, garlic, and cumin together not only gives a beautiful colour to gravies but also imparts a delightful aroma when prepared at home. Furthermore, when you buy whole turmeric and grind it at home, it avoids any chemical additives and pesticides, ensuring a healthier option,” says Suparna Mukherjee, Charge of Clinical Nutrition, Narayana Health City, Bangalore.

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