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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Health Note

Air Date: Week of July 20, 2001

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Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports on how some common food seasonings like garlic, pepper and fennel may help the body build up its anti-bacterial properties.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Coming up, German technology leads the way in the fight against climate disruption. First, this health note from Diane Toomey.

TOOMEY: For thousands of years, humans have relished the flavors of spices in our foods. But we also may have been enjoying another benefit from those substances. Many spices such as garlic, pepper and fennel kill bacteria and fungi in food that can make us sick. Cornell University researchers set out to see how well various cultures made use of this anti-bacterial property. First, they looked at traditional meat recipes from 36 countries around the world. All of them called for bacteria-killing spices. What's more, recipes from hotter countries where bacteria grow more quickly, contained a higher concentration of these spices. But researchers wondered how much early cooks actually knew about the safety benefits in their spice cabinet. They decided to compare meat dishes with vegetable dishes to find out. Plants are protected against bacteria by natural chemicals, strong cell walls and a high acid level. This protection remains intact, even after some cooking. So, vegetable dishes should need fewer protective seasonings. The researchers hit the recipe books again. In all 36 countries, vegetable dishes called for far-fewer spices than meat dishes. It looks like our ancestors chose spices for more than their flavor or fire. That extra punch in the dish may have also kept them from getting sick. That's this week's health note. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And from the climate change talks in Bonn, Germany, you're listening to Living on Earth.

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