Nigerian Spices and Their Nutritional & Therapeutic Benefits


There’s something different about the taste of Nigerian delicacies. One prominent reason is the spice used to prepare them.

But beyond the taste, these spices also add nutritional value to the food that you eat.

In this post, you’ll learn about some of these spices along with their nutritional and therapeutic benefits.

Common Nigerian Spices and their Health Benefits

nigerian spices

Thyme

Thyme is an interesting spice with diverse applications. This spice has several health benefits. For instance, thyme has been known to protect the heart as well as improve blood circulation.

Additionally, thyme has been linked to treating respiratory ailments such as bronchitis and seasonal allergies. But if you have a sensitive stomach, thyme may cause gastro-intestinal discomfort.

There are several ways to use thyme. You can spice your meat with it or you can use it to cook jollof or fried rice.

Curry leaves

Curry leaves are often used to prepare fried or jollof rice as a way of giving the food a unique taste. The leaves contain calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin A, B, C and E.

Some of the health benefits of curry leaves include:

  • Reduction of  blood cholesterol
  • Lowering of blood sugar in diabetic cases
  • Boosting of blood levels in anaemic cases.

Black pepper

Black pepper is another spice that is known to give food a unique scent. It is usually added to pepper soup to give it a traditional peppery taste.

The origin of black pepper can be traced to South India. But the pepper has been cultivated in tropical countries like Nigeria where it has adapted well.

Some of the nutritional benefits include:

  • Prevention of cancer

The spice contains vitamin C, vitamin A, flavonoids, carotenes and other anti-oxidant that help to remove free radicals and protect the cells of the body. It is said to be twice as potent as turmeric in preventing cancer.

It is best to eat the pepper when it is freshly ground rather than cooking it along with your food

  • Digestion

The piperine in black pepper is known to stimulate the stomach to secrete more acid which helps to ease digestion

  • Respiration tract infection and allergy

Black pepper can serve as a remedy for cold and cough due to its antibiotic property. You can mix the crushed black pepper with a teaspoon of honey.

It can also help to clear chest congestion. You can do this by adding hot water and eucalyptus oil to the black pepper. The pepper is also rich in vitamin C which helps to alleviate cold.

  • Weight loss

Black pepper is also an excellent remedy for weight loss. It contains phytonutrients which can help break down fat cells and increase metabolism.

  • Improves skin

Black pepper is an excellent exfoliator but you shouldn’t use it directly on your skin. You can add a bit of honey to it then apply it to your skin. This blend can also help clear skin wrinkles and even vitiligo.

  • Depression

The piperine in black pepper stimulates the brain and helps it function properly. This had been found useful in dealing with depression.

Additionally, you can add freshly crushed pepper to almost anything. These include salads, soups, pastas etc. The freshly ground pepper is the best option.

Calabash nutmeg

It is locally known as ehu, ehuru or ariwo depending on what part of the country you’re from.

The seed contains some essential oils which is responsible for the aroma and fragrance of the nutmeg.

You should always add in teaspoons and the longer you leave it to infuse, the stronger the flavour in your meal.

Nutmeg is rich in potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A and many flavonoid anti-oxidants that are essential for optimal health.

Onions

Onions is a spice that helps to enhance the taste of meat, fish, chicken or soups.

It can also be used to cook your porridge, jollof rice or beans. Onions may not work well with some traditional meals like bitterleaf soup or ora soup. But it can be added to peppersoup.

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Raw onions have been known to lower bad cholesterol levels. It also contains quercetin which plays a prominent role in preventing cancer.

Ogiri Okpei

Ogiri Okpei is fermented, mashed and compressed locust bean which is a popular spic among the Igbos. The unfermented one is called iru by the Yorubas in the same way.

If you’re wondering how to make the ogiri, here’s a quick guide:

  1. The seeds should be sorted, washed and cleaned in water.
  2. The next step is to cook the seeds until they are soft enough. Then peel off the covering for easy removal. Wash the seeds again and pour a sieve to drain excess water.
  3. Add the seed into a container; then cover with local leaves. You can use plantain leaves. Allow to stay for four day so that the seed can ferment. You can place the container under direct sunlight in order to hasten the process of fermentation.
  4. After the process of fermentation, ground the seed into a smooth and thick paste then mold then into small balls and allow to dry by exposing to direct sunlight. After drying, your ogiri is ready to be used.

Locust bean is high in lipid, protein and carbohydrate. It is also a good source of fat and calcium for rural dwellers

The nutritional benefits include:

  • Reduces blood sugar and cholesterol
  • Promotes vision
  • Stimulates digestion
  • Treats stroke and hypertension
  • Manages bacteria infection
  • Treats diarrhea
  • Weight loss

Also the crushed bark of locust bean tree has been known to stimulate wound healing. It can also be used to treat leprosy when blended with other ingredients.

Anise seeds

Anise seed contains an essential volatile oil that gives a characteristic sweet and aromatic flavour.

The seeds contain anethole which is the essential oil that gives it the special fragrance.

Both the fruit husks and the oil from the seed can be used as spice for your food.

Some of the use of anise seed oil have been linked to different properties which include digestive, expectoratn, stimulant, carminative, tonic anti-spasmodic and antiseptic properties.

The seeds are also an excellent souce of the B vitamins which include pyridoxine, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. Antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin A and C as well as minerals like calcium, iron, copper, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium can also be found in the spicy seeds of Anise.

Anise seeds may help those with hypertension and heart related problems because of its potassium component which helps to control heart rate and reduce blood pressure.

The copper component also helps those who are anemic as it helps to boost the production of red blood cells.

Anise seed is available all year round both in dried forms as well as powder. It is recommended that you buy them in small quantities because they tend to lose their flavour over time due to the evaporation of essential oils.

You can store your product in airtight containers in cool, dark places.

Some of the therapeutic uses of anise seeds include:

  • Treatment of asthma, bronchitis and cough
  • Remedy for digestive disorders such as flatulence, bloating, colicky stomach pain, nausea and indigestion.

The decoction from anise seed can help promote breast-milk production in nursing mothers

Infants can also benefit from anise seed water when they have running nose

When cooking, you can add anise seed oil or the fresh leaves to your meals. The blend gives your food a sweet aromatic flavour. Some of the meal options that you can use this spice with include traditional soups, sauce, bread, cake and biscuits.

Scent leaves

It is also known as sweet basil or beletientien leaf. It is a sweet smelling herb that is used mainly for its aroma and therapeutic benefits. It can be sold fresh or dried. Scent leaves can serve as a great option when preparing soups and stews. It can also be added to suya to spice it up. Scent leaves helps to boost blood circulation.

Dried herring

Also known as shawa or bonga fish, dried herring is not a spice but when added to traditional meals like mon-moin and ifokore, it gives the delicacy a traditional taste and flavour. Herrings contain omega-3 fatty acids which have been known to boost the functioning of the brain.

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Garlic

Garlic is a member of the onion. It is known for its strong pungent flavour which has some medicinal properties due to the essential oils contained.

Garlic can be sold in the bulbs or powdered form. Garlic is a natural anti-hypertensive.

Turmeric

Turmeric is popularly called ata’le pupa by the Yorubas. It is available in its fresh, dried and powdered forms. When added to soups, stews and marinades, it gives the meal a distinct taste. It can also be used to brew ginger tea or zobo. Turmeric is well known immune booster.

Lemon grass

Lemon grass is commonly used by the Urhobo people because of its aromatic fragrance. It can be used in making traditional pepper and yam porridge. It is also useful when preparing fish or chicken based delicacies. Lemon grass can also be used in preparing tea.

Lemon grass can be used to treat stomach disorders, fever and common cold.

Bay leaf

Bay leaf is a dark green leaf with a distinctly pungent aroma. It is used for making soups, stocks and broth. Bay leaves are available as whole dried leaves and can be used when preparing jollof and fried rice.

Bay leaf is loaded with calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and manganese. It has been useful in treating arthritis and other forms of body aches and pains.

Cloves

The Yorubas call it kanafuru. The dried flower buds or the clove plant has a unique sweet smell and a pungent taste. It can be used as spice in a variety of meals. These include pepper soup, suya and other savoury meat delicacies.

Clove is a proven remedy for tooth aches.

Cumin

Cumin is another unique spice. It is similar to mil curry but its flavour is more subtle and pleasant. It can be used when preparing fried or jollof rice.

Some of the health benefits include:

  • Boosting the immune system
  • Treating anaemia
  • Remedy for asthma and bronchitis

Shallot

The Yorubas call shallots alubosa wewe. Shallot is a hybrid of onions and garlic. It has a sweet and mild flavour and can be used to season meat and fish based delicacies. It can also be chopped and used to garnish salads.

The health benefit of Shallot is similar to those of onions which include cancer prevention and reducing bad cholesterol levels.

Chives

Chives are a member of the onions family. The stalk is used in garnishing salad. You dont have to cook it with any meal to get its full effect. Some of the benefits include improve heart health, bone health as well as boosting vision.

Paprika

The origin of Paprika can be traced to Spain and it is usually available in dried and powdery forms. It can be used to give depth to soups and stews. It can also serve as colouring to the stew because of its deep red colour.

Paprika contains vitamin A, E, B6, iron and capsaicin. Capsaicin is known for its antihypertensive properties.

Uziza Leaves

This is a sweet smelling green vegetables/herb that is used to add flavour to soups. It is commonly used by the Igbo and Efik people when preparing the ibaba soup. The seeds of Uziza can also be used as a spice to give a peppery flavour to soups like banga and pepper soup.

Uziza leaves can be used to treat gastrointestinal disorders like indigestion, flatulence, diarrhea and dysentery.

Uda

It is also referred to as Negro pepper. Uda has an aromatic crisp flavour and a slight bitter taste as a result it should be used in moderation. It can be used to make pepper soup and banga soup. Some studies have shown that this pepper can be used to induce labour as well as stimulate appetite.

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