One of our funnest things at Tignum is trying to stay cutting edge. This means looking at the latest research, finding new applications to existing concepts, and of course looking at problematic situations in different ways and coming up with unique questions that lead to novel solutions. Interesting enough, the answers to many nutritional questions, like “Why do we choose the foods we do?” may be better answered by looking back in time. Speaking to some of my colleagues who specialize in Culinary Anthropology, we came up with some interesting insights.
Culinary anthropology studies the role of food and nutrition in the human experience, including nutrition and health, culture-based dietary restrictions, food and impact with economics and technology, and the historical diffusion of various food types between societies. To say my learnings have been fascinating would be an understatement, so I want to summarize just a few key learnings (and I’m always happy to engage in a longer conversation if any of you desire).
One very intriguing area is how taste, and the historical role food plays in the the pursuit of pleasure, led to the formation of the lucrative spice trade and the introduction of the sugar industry. Sugar’s role in creating an immediate high for the human brain has been linked to much suffering on the farming side and much illness on the user side. In fact, in a world where so many people find their autonomic nervous system out of balance (overstressed and under recovered), we are witness to more food addictions due to the brain’s craving for sugar.
On the other hand, it has been said the discovery and use of spices in the preservation/seasoning was as important to our ancestors, in both survival and economics, as petroleum is to the modern world. So, why were spices so highly prized in Europe? One widely disseminated explanation for medieval demand for spices was that they covered the taste of spoiled meat. Most spices used in cooking began as medical ingredients, and throughout the Middle Ages spices were used as both medicines and condiments. Above all, medieval recipes involve the combination of medical and culinary lore in order to balance food’s perishable properties and prevent disease.
So as we try to conquer our insatiable desire for sugar, it turns out that one plausible solution just may be our time tested reliance on spices. Cinnamon, an ancient spice known to help control proper insulin levels and steady blood glucose, can help reduce brain fog as well as add a great touch to any dessert or meal. Recent research shows it nourishes the pancreas which is a key organ for energy, balance, and digestion.
Two other great ancient spices are Cumin and Cayenne, which add heat to the body thus fueling optimal metabolism and supporting digestive function, especially for the proper breakdown and utilization of carbohydrates and fats within the cells. This is critical for providing energy to the brain and body as well as for resilience under stress. Current research indicates that they also show promise for supporting the immune system, supporting kidney and liver function, and even providing protection from cancer.
So as you experiment with food (after all, you are your own nutritionist and chef), play around with these ancient but very enticing spices. Notice not only how much better your food tastes, but also how they satisfy your hunger and improve your performance (both at work and away from work). If you have any great recipes, I’d love for you to share them.