Old answers to new problems

The herbs you put into stuffing and seasoning are not just there for the flavour, although of course that is part of why we use them. Long before the days of refrigeration and other sophisticated preservation techniques, our ancestors discovered – probably by trial and error – that food which contains herbs and spices will keep for longer, and be less likely to make you ill.
Aromatics inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi and various toxins, and modern food chemists are investing a great deal of time and money in research into their potential uses. With mass production comes mass risk; one batch of food containing botulism or aflatoxins, for example, could poison thousands of people and put its manufacturers out of business, so anything that prolongs shelf life and reduces the risk of toxicity is well worth investigating. Currently, herbs like garlic, cinnamon and rosemary are the focus of intense interest, and there is a growing body of scientific evidence that bears out what our forebears understood very well.
They also understood that aromatic seasonings help us to digest our food, counterbalancing the fats and starches that we need to give us energy. What they may not have known is that some herbs – garlic and cinnamon among them – also help to even out blood sugar. Nowadays, the burgeoning problem of late-onset diabetes makes that a very interesting property. The medical focus tends to be on developing drugs to help control diabetes, but the obvious implication is that using herbs like these as a regular part of your diet should help to prevent diabetes in the first place.

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