Healthy Cooking

7 Anti-Inflammatory Spices That Add Digestive Benefits (and Delicious Flavor) to Holiday Baked Goods

Photo: Stocksy/Treasures & Travels
It seems like holiday baking season is starting earlier each year—particularly this one. (Anyone else been banging out gingerbread cookies since July? Just me?) This can be a great thing for those who reap the stress-soothing benefits of baking, as well as for those that use anti-inflammatory holiday spices and healthy baking ingredients year-round.

With anti-inflammatory spices, you get two major perks in one. First, spices add delicate, pungently sweet or savory-zing flavors and aromas to festively baked good recipes; they can turn an everyday sponge cake into a holiday chai Swiss roll. Second, you reap anti-inflammatory benefits when baking with spices—and as a bonus, some have added digestive benefits that help during the holidays when our stress levels can grow and our gut health can slide. Bottom line? Adding spices like ginger, cloves, or cinnamon is something you can always feel good about.

Below are seven anti-inflammatory spice suggestions to consider incorporating into your holiday baked goods, plus the most delicious, nutrient-rich recipes to use them in. Why not amp up your regular baking game with spice-forward molasses cookies, breads, savory crackers, and so much more?

7 anti-inflammatory spices to use in all of your baked goods this season

1. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a holiday baking staple: It's naturally sweet, warming, and super comforting. "Numerous and ongoing studies point to cinnamon’s health and anti-inflammatory benefits," says registered dietitian Trista Best, MPH, RD at Balance One. But the type you use when it comes to reducing inflammation in your body matters. Ceylon cinnamon is considered true cinnamon, containing many properties that give its anti-inflammatory properties." Ceylon (or tree) cinnamon is also sweeter tasting, while cassia (traditional cinnamon), has a more pungent and slightly bitter sweet flavor.

Cinnamon works wonderfully in practically every baked good; its versatile flavor pairs well with chocolate, toasted nuts, oats, as well as pumpkin, pear, and other fall fruits. It's also the superstar ingredient in cinnamon buns and pretty much every apple desserts. If you want to bake a healthy-minded holiday cinnamon bun, this delicious vegan and gluten-free cinnamon roll recipe is the perfect fit. (Bonus holiday flavor perk: It's packed with pumpkin, too).

2. Ginger

Aromatic, sweet, and spicy, ginger adds a delicious kick to baked goods. Ginger, in the turmeric family, has long been known as a powerful anti-inflammatory spice. Many studies have shown that it also offers digestive benefits, including treating stomach issues like constipation, indigestion, and nausea.

"Ginger is a unique spice in that it contains compounds known as gingerols and shogaols," says Best. "These compounds act as antioxidants in the body, working to neutralize free radical damage. Because free radicals increase oxidative stress, they lead to inflammation and ultimately up your risk of chronic disease and digestive issues." This is why ginger is considered such a potent anti-inflammatory spice. "But ginger has also been used commonly as a natural treatment for gastrointestinal issues like nausea and vomiting, but many researchers believe that it is due to ginger's impact on stabilizing the digestive tract and keeping blood pressure and glucose levels in range,” Best adds.

Sprinkle ginger—either fresh or dried, though fresh ginger will give you more of its benefits—in the badder of festive chocolate cakes, gingerbread cookies, bars, and breads. You could pack a punch with ginger in banana bread, or make these five-spice gluten-free gingersnaps made with molasses, coconut sugar, and coconut flour.

3. Allspice and Cloves

Cloves and allspice (which is made with cloves as well as cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper) are pungent spices with matching strong anti-inflammatory benefits. “Most cloves have polyphenols, or plant compounds that naturally occur and provide protective benefits for the plant," says Best. "When consumed, many of these compounds give the consumer antioxidant benefits by reducing free radical damage.” And in addition to fighting inflammation, Best explains that allspice also protects the gastrointestinal system. "It is a naturally calming spice which helps to facilitate healthy digestion while also potentially eliminating nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.”

Use allspice and cloves in holiday sheet pan dinners (why limit yourself to only sweet baked goods when it works wonders on roasted veggies or chicken?), biscuits, or pumpkin cheesecake. You could make a winter holiday bread, like this breakfast-ready paleo pumpkin bread recipe.

4. Cardamom

Cardamom is spicy-sweet, fitting right into the ginger family with similar antioxidant benefits. Research suggests that when cardamom and pepper are used together—like in a peppery-spice pfeffernusse cookie or chai spiced sweet bake—they provided added anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits.

For delicious cardamom chai flavor, you could open a chai tea bag (they're full of cardamom) add directly into your baking ingredients, or serve cardamom spice straight-up if you have it on hand. Keep in mind that a little goes a long way: One teaspoon of cardamom can add a flavorful kick to a dozen cookies. Cardamom goes well with citrus, fruits, coconut, cinnamon, chocolate, and allspice flavors. Better yet, make these almond and cardamom-scented shortbread cookies.

5. Anise

Anise is another special holiday baking spice and has that unmistakably distinct black licorice flavor. You might be surprised to learn that the green-hued aniseed is part of the parsley family, and pairs well with fruit bakes. Star anise (brown and star-shaped) comes from the magnolia family, however—this is why the two types look different. When it comes to baking, they’re similar but star anise is slightly more bitter. Either can be ground into a holiday biscotti or shortbread cookie.

Anise does not fall short in anti-inflammatory and digestive health benefits, either. One 12-week trial study suggests epigastric pain (or abdominal pain discomfort) was lowered in those who consumed anise after each meal. "Anise may beneficially reduce chronic, low-grade inflammation in the body that can lead to chronic illnesses if left unchecked,”  Best says. "But before considering anise as a medicinal spice, it is of course important to get clearance from your healthcare provider.”

Because of anise's strong flavor plus digestive benefits, it can be the sweetest ending to any meal. Try adding it to these peanut butter baked apples—they're the ideal healthy holiday dessert.

6. Sumac

Indeed, the reddish-purple sumac spice is great for savory baked goods—perfect for those that don't have a sweet tooth. Sumac is one of the main ingredients used to make za’atar, an anti-inflammatory savory spice mix with sumac, sesame seeds, and thyme. Try stirring za’atar into hummus dips or savory breads, or make za’atar crackers. Our personal favorite use for sumac, however, is this sumac-seasoned flatbread pizza.

7. Nutmeg

Nutmeg’s anti-inflammatory and medicinal properties are known to benefit your liver, and ongoing studies suggest nutmeg (among other spices) are beneficial antimicrobial agents.

Nutmeg is a milder tasting, very versatile spice. Though it rarely gets a callout in a baked good titles (rude), it’s in so many holiday spice mixes and part of a classic spice trio—cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg—in savory, sweet, or creamy tarts, pies, and breads. Try adding nutmeg to your spiced nuts: Stir pecans, almonds, and pistachios with coconut oil, honey, or maple syrup (and any other spices you like) and bake on a low temperature. If you want to go all out, you could also try your hand at making this nutmeg-spiced zucchini bread.

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