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Airdate: Aug 20, 2001
Scientist: Prof Paul W. Sherman

Spices: Germ Killers

Spices: Germ Killers
Spices can enhance your health as well as the taste of your food.

Transcript:

ambience: Indian music, sitar, tabla

Whenever you take a bite of a spicy Indian curry or a tangy Vietnamese dish, well, you’re probably getting more than a hit of exotic flavors. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Researchers are telling us that certain cultures make ample use of spices because of the ingredients' ability to protect us from food-borne illnesses. The hotter the climate, the greater the chance that bacteria will thrive and grow on food, and the greater the likelihood that the cuisine will be spicy. So how can a spice protect us? Paul Sherman is a professor at Cornell University.

"Spices are plant products and they have these aromatic, pungent qualities. Those qualities come from the secondary compounds in the plants that are there as defensive compounds having evolved in the plants to deter the biotic enemies of the plants. The herbivorous insects and vertebrates, the parasites and microorganisms. Those pungent plant products have found many different uses by humans through the ages. They have been used in embalming. They have been used as antibiotics for cuts and open sores. They are used sometimes to quell internal infections, and they are used in cooking. These are chemicals that evolved in the plants to protect the plants, and humans have borrowed those same compounds for similar sorts of uses as medicine, and as food additives through the ages."

Can you guess which spices have the best track record for killing the highest
number of bacterial species? The four most potent spices are garlic, oregano, onion,
and allspice.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation.

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