Spices of the World: Ikaria, Greece

Spices Up your world

Over the past year, FoodTrients has been exploring foods and flavors from around the globe. This week, we introduce a new series on the world of herbs, spices and ingredients that help create some of distinctive dishes we have featured and the age-defying benefits they deliver.

Ikaria is a beautiful Greek island located in the Aegean Sea and is known as a ‘blue zone’ due to many residents living well into their 90s. Cases of dementia almost non-existent. Often relying on only what can be grown at home, Ikarians consume diets high in fruits and vegetables, drink goat milk and wine, and cook using herbs with added medicinal properties such as dill, garlic, and rosemary. Ikarians value a slower paced lifestyle, social interactions, and working outside, which may contribute to their overall health. Here’s a list of the favorite herbs in Ikarian cuisine:

Star anise seeds on the wooden background

Anise

Known as one of the oldest used herbs, anise is used medicinally to treat a variety of health issues such as congestion, menstrual pain, headaches, gas, and indigestion. Anise has a licorice flavor, and is often used in Ikarian cuisine for flavoring alcohol and in sweet dishes such as koulourakia, a cookie often made for special holidays like Easter.

Fresh organic bay leaves on rustic wooden table

Bay leaves

Found on the laurel tree common to the Mediterranean area, bay leaves are used to treat arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and can be applied topically to help with joint pain and irritation. When cooking, bay leaves are often added to soups and stews to help give dishes an earthy flavor that is similar to oregano, another common herb of Ikarian cuisine.

Organic Raw Brown Cinnamon

Cinnamon (Cassia)

Cinnamon is used medicinally to help regulate blood sugar, especially in those with diabetes. When used in the kitchen, cinnamon adds a sweet flavor to not only desserts, but savory dishes such as Kouneli stifado, a rabbit stew that is seasoned with other herbs common to Ikarian cuisine such as bay leaves, coriander, and garlic.

Fresh coriander, cilantro leaves on basket

Coriander

Coriander is the ‘fruit’ of the coriander plant, while its leaves are known as another common herb, cilantro. It is typically used to help with gastric issues such as indigestion, diarrhea, gas, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and constipation. When cooking, coriander is added to Ikarian dishes to provide a lemony, floral taste profile that can be used in savory meat and vegetable dishes.

A bunch of fresh organic dill on a black vintage rustic background, tied with green twine and kitchen scissors. Freshly cut greens.

Dill

A common Mediterranean herb, dill may be used medicinally for fevers, colds, urinary tract infections (UTI), and gastric disorders. It is commonly seen in all types of dishes and is used to season tzatziki, a tangy yogurt and cucumber sauce that pairs well drizzled atop many common Ikarian dishes or as a dip for vegetables or bread.

Garlic bulb and cloves shot from above on rustic brown background

Garlic

A powerful herb, garlic may be used to aid conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as illnesses like the common cold and flu. It has antibacterial and antiviral properties as well. In Ikarian dishes, garlic is used often as it pairs well with other herbs such as dill, bay leaves, and oregano. It is grown in many gardens in the region.

Fresh mint on a wooden table

Mint

Mint can be used medicinally for stomach discomfort such as gas, indigestion, and diarrhea. In Ikarian cuisine, it is commonly used in a variety of meals such as meat and rice dishes, used to season sauces that are tomato based, and even drunk as an herbal tea.

Nutmeg seeds and ground nutmeg shot on rustic wooden table.

Nutmeg

If you experience gastric discomfort like diarrhea, gas, or nausea, nutmeg may be a spice that can help treat these conditions. Known for its sweet yet nutty flavor profile, nutmeg is a spice often used in a variety of Ikarian dishes as it pairs with other herbs such as cinnamon and coriander in squash pancakes or walnut cake.

Oregano aromatic herb bunch on wooden board

Oregano (Greek)

Greek oregano is medicinally similar to oregano and may be used for gastric and respiratory disorders. In the kitchen, Greek oregano is vital to Ikarian cuisine and is used in a variety of dishes. It pairs well with vegetables, fish, and meat, as well as salads and sauces. It complements other common spices such as garlic and rosemary by providing an earthy flavor.

Rosemary. Fresh rosemary herbs. Scissors cut herbs fresh rosemary.

Rosemary

A relative of mint, rosemary is used medicinally for brain health, stress, and treating depression. A common herb used throughout Ikarian cuisine, rosemary is added to provide a unique flavor to dishes like lamb roasts, which are popular during holidays like Easter and other holidays.

Italian Sun Dried tomatoes in olive oil with green basil and spices in glass jar on blue kitchen table, copy space

Sun-Dried Tomato

Dried naturally over the span of a few weeks in the sun, these flavorful tomatoes are used medicinally as tomatoes would, as their nutritional components do not diminish during the drying process. Sun-dried tomatoes may be helpful in treating gastric disorders, the flu, and even lowering blood pressure. In Ikarian cuisine, sun dried tomatoes pair wonderfully with other spices like rosemary, thyme, and garlic, and can be added to most meat and vegetable dishes.

close up view of potted thyme plant with green leaves

Thyme

Medicinally, thyme may be helpful with common cold symptoms such as coughing and sore throats, as well as inflammatory conditions like bronchitis. Popular in Italian cuisine as well, thyme is also seen commonly in Ikarian dishes due to its herbal flavor and ability to pair well with garlic and lemon. Similar to rosemary, thyme is often used to season lamb dishes such as leg of lamb, which is simmered with other fragrant herbs like garlic and oregano.

References:

Blue Zones. Sardinia. https://www.bluezones.com/exploration/ikaria-greece/. Accessed 12/20/20. Ikaria. Healthy Diet. http://www.island-ikaria.com/about-ikaria/Ikarian-Food-Diet. Accessed 12/26/20. Epicurious. Greek Honey and Anise Twists. https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/greek-honey-and-anise-twists-3051. Accessed 12/16/20. Taste Atlas. Most Popular Meat Dishes in Greece. https://www.tasteatlas.com/most-popular-meat-dishes-in-greece. Accessed 12/26/20. The Spruce Eats. Mint in Greek Recipes. https://www.thespruceeats.com/mint-in-greek-recipes-1705864. Updated 12/10/19. Accessed 12/26/20. The Spruce Eats. Greek Oregano. https://www.thespruceeats.com/rigani-oregano-greek-1705851. Updated 5/10/19. Accessed 12/26/20.

The Spruce Eats. All About Rosemary. https://www.thespruceeats.com/all-about-rosemary-3050513. Updated 10/24/18. Accessed 12/26/20.

Natural Medicines Database. Anise. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=582. Updated 11/06/20. Accessed 12/26/20.

Natural Medicines Database. Bay Leaf. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=685 Updated 7/10/20. Accessed 12/26/20.

Natural Medicines Database. Cassia Cinnamon. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=1002. Updated 10/02/20. Accessed 12/26/20.

Natural Medicines Database. Coriander. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=117. Updated 7/30/20. Accessed 12/26/20. Natural Medicines Database. Dill. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=463. Updated 2/25/19. Accessed 12/26/20.

About Ginger Hultin, MS RDN CSO

Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, is a health writer and owner of Champagne Nutrition specializing in integrative health and whole food-based nutrition. She serves as Immediate Past President for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chair-Elect of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and is a Media Representative for the Illinois Academy. Read Ginger's blog, Champagne Nutrition, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Ginger Hultin MS RD CSO LDN gingerhultin@hotmail.com | @GingerHultinRD Chair-Elect, Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group ChampagneNutrition.com  
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