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Spices Kill Bacteria

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E. coli Bacteria

E. coli Bacteria

Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH
In the hopes of finding ways to control pathogens in food, researchers have discovered that spices kill bacteria. Several studies have indicated that common spices, such as garlic, clove, and cinnamon, may be particularly effective against certain strains of E. coli bacteria.

Spices Kill Bacteria

In a Kansas State University study, scientists tested more than 23 spices in three scenarios: an artificial laboratory medium; uncooked hamburger meat; and uncooked salami. Initial results indicated that clove had the highest inhibitory effect on the E. coli in the hamburger while garlic had the highest inhibitory effect in the laboratory medium.

But what about taste? Scientists admitted that finding the right mix between the taste of the food and the amounts of spices necessary to inhibit the pathogens was problematic. The amounts of the spices used ranged from a low of one percent to a high of ten percent. Researchers hope to further study these interactions and perhaps develop recommendations for spice use levels both for manufacturers and consumers.

Scientists also cautioned that the use of spices is not a substitute for the proper handling of food. While the spices used were able to greatly curtail the amounts of E. coli in the meat products, they did not eliminate the pathogen entirely, thus the necessity of proper cooking methods. Meats should be cooked at approximately 160 degrees Fahrenheit and until the juices run clear. Counters and other items that come in contact with uncooked meat should be thoroughly washed, preferably with soap, hot water, and a light bleach solution.

Cinnamon Kills Bacteria

Cinnamon is such a flavorful and seemingly innocuous spice. Who would ever think that it could be deadly? Researchers at Kansas State University have also discovered that cinnamon kills Escherichia coli O157:H7 bacteria. In the studies, apple juice samples were tainted with approximately one million E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. About a teaspoon of cinnamon was added and the concoction was left to stand for three days. When researchers tested the juice samples it was discovered that 99.5 percent of the bacteria had been destroyed. It was also discovered that if common preservatives such as sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate were added to the mixture, the levels of remaining bacteria were almost undetectable.

Researchers believe that these studies demonstrate that cinnamon can be effectively used to control bacteria in unpasteurized juices and may one day replace preservatives in foods. They are hopeful that cinnamon may be as effective in controlling other pathogens that cause food-borne illness such as Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Previous studies have shown that cinnamon can also control microbes in meat. It is most effective however against pathogens in liquids. In liquids, the pathogens cannot be absorbed by fats (as they are in meat) and thus are easier to destroy. Currently, the best way to protect against E. coli infection is to take preventative measures. This includes avoiding both unpasteurized juices and milk, cooking raw meats to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and washing your hands after handling raw meat.

Spices and Other Health Benefits

Adding certain spices to your food can also have positive metabolic benefits. Spices such as rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder, and paprika increase antioxidant activity in the blood and decrease insulin response. In addition, Penn State researchers found that adding these types of spices to meals high in fat decreases triglyceride response by about 30 percent. High triglyceride levels are associated with heart disease.

In the study, the researchers compared the effects of eating high-fat foods with spices added to that of high-fat foods without spices. The group that consumed the spicy food had lower insulin and triglyceride responses to their meal. Along with the positive health benefits of consuming the meals with spices, the participants reported no negative gastrointestinal problems. The researchers contend that antioxidant spices like the ones in the study could be used to reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been linked to the development of chronic disease such as arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes.

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