It’s a latte more than seasonal spice.
Okay, be honest. How many pumpkin spice lattes have you had so far this season? (It’s alright if you said every day. We understand.)
Next time before you sip that PSL, however, ask yourself: What’s in this pumpkin spice stuff, anyway?
As it turns out, pumpkin spice is usually a blend of allspice, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, spices that are not only soothingly aromatic but have a history of serving as medicinal plants in traditional medicines.
For this reason, these spices have been deeply researched for their health benefits and nutritional value, demonstrating a wide range of uses from pain relief to metabolic function to bacteria-killing capabilities. So, let’s break down fall’s iconic spice mix into its five components and find out what each one can do:
(A quick disclaimer: A little spice is nice, but too much of it can be harmful–and in overdose, toxic–to your body. Make sure to stay within the daily recommended dosage when using these spices.)
Allspice has significant amounts of eugenol, which is commonly used for tooth pain and muscle pain relief and is also found in cloves and cinnamon (but we’ll get to those later). (1) In addition to eugenol, allspice contains triterpene acids, which have recently demonstrated their own potential for health benefits. A study published in July 2017 reports that such triterpene acids extracted from allspice and cloves may show promise as a treatment for metabolic diseases such as obesity and Type II diabetes (2).
Another traditional treatment for toothache, cloves contain the same eugenol found in allspice, but clove oil has also demonstrated antimicrobial properties against many strains of bacteria, especially those that can cause food poisoning (3). This confirms many years of clove’s use as a minor food preservative. Moreover, cloves are high in manganese, which are important to bone health, brain function, and the body’s ability to process toxic free radicals through antioxidants.
A sweetly-scented bundle of dietary fiber and nutrients, cinnamon is rich with iron, vitamin K, and calcium, and a decent amount of vitamins E and B6, magnesium, and zinc (5). The high concentrations of cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon can potentially maintain blood glucose levels, making it a possible supplementary treatment for diabetes (6). Along with ginger, cinnamon flavored candies are also used to promote salivation, which is important for maintaining oral and dental health and relieving dry mouth (7).
As a moderate source of magnesium, manganese, and vitamin B6 ginger is extremely helpful in combating digestion issues, gastric ulcers from anti-inflammatory drugs, and nausea (5). Recently, ginger was the center of a 2016 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial on eighty obese women, which showed that consuming a small dose of ginger powder (2g) appeared to have a slightly beneficial effect on BMI and fat mass (8).
Last but not least, just a little bit (emphasis on a little bit) of nutmeg can go a long way. Nutmeg contains a compound known as macelignan, which has been shown in studies to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Furthermore, the macelignan in nutmeg may be helpful for maintaining cognitive function and neural pathways along with myristicin, which is also found in nutmeg (9). Nutmeg displays antibacterial activity which makes it helpful in warding off bad breath, and may even assist in liver and kidney function (10).
Whether you’re looking to manage your metabolism, keep your food safe, or trying to maintain a healthy brain, pumpkin spice has something for you. Make sure you consume the recommended amount of pumpkin spice, and pumpkin spice up your life!
- Monteiro, O., Souza, A., Soledade, L., Queiroz, N., Souza, A., Mouchrek Filho, V. and Vasconcelos, A. (2011). Chemical evaluation and thermal analysis of the essential oil from the fruits of the vegetable species Pimenta dioica Lindl. Journal of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry, 106(2), pp.595-600.
- Ladurner, Angela et al. (2017). “Allspice and Clove As Source of Triterpene Acids Activating the G Protein-Coupled Bile Acid Receptor TGR5.” Frontiers in Pharmacology 8: 468. PMC. Web. 13 Oct. 2017.
- Mostafa, A., et al. (2017). Antimicrobial activity of some plant extracts against bacterial strains causing food poisoning diseases. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences
- Sultana S., Ripa F. A., Hamid K. (2010). Comparative antioxidant activity study of some commonly used spices in Bangladesh. J. Biol. Sci. 13, 340–343. 10.3923/pjbs.2010.340.343 [PubMed]
- US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. Version Current: September 2015, slightly revised May 2016.
- Zhu, Ruyuan et al. (2017). Cinnamaldehyde in diabetes: A review of pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and safety. Pharmacological Research, 122, pp.78-89.
- Haniadka, Raghavendra, et al. “A review of the gastroprotective effects of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe).” Food & Function 6 (2013): 845-855.
- Ebrahimzadeh Attari, Vahideh, et al. “Changes of Serum Adipocytokines and Body Weight Following Zingiber Officinale Supplementation in Obese Women: A RCT.” European Journal of Nutrition, vol. 55, no. 6, Sept. 2016, pp. 2129-2136. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s00394-015-1027-6.
- Paul, S., Hwang, J., Kim, H., Jeon, W., Chung, C. and Han, J. (2013). Multiple biological properties of macelignan and its pharmacological implications. Archives of Pharmacal Research, 36(3), pp.264-272.
- Ibrahim, Kadhim M., Rana K. Naem, and Amaal S. Abd-Sahib. “Antibacterial activity of nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) seed extracts against some pathogenic bacteria.” Journal of Al-Nahrain University16 (2013): 188-92.