Holiday Spices – How to Use Them and Their Health Benefits

‘Tis the season for snow, comfort foods and family gatherings! I don’t know about you, but this time of year is one of my favorites. It’s the second month in a row where you are presented with yummy food and delicious treats. The holidays look different for everyone but for me, it is the perfect excuse to dig out those warm holiday spices and explore different creations. When I mention “holiday spices”, I am referring to things like allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, sage and rosemary. Not only do they infuse your kitchen with memorable scents, but some of them also deliver several health benefits when consumed.

Cinnamon is a very versatile spice. It can be used in sweet and savory foods as well as herbal teas. This spice is rich in antioxidants which can help support blood sugar levels, protect against heart disease and may also reduce overall inflammation in the body. Cinnamon has been used and known for its medicinal components for thousands of years. One of my favorite ways to use cinnamon during the holiday’s is fresh cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting on Christmas morning. Although this isn’t the healthiest use of cinnamon, it is the perfect treat for the holidays. Perhaps a lighter way to enjoy cinnamon is by simply adding a cinnamon stick to your favorite hot tea or even sprinkle some on top of yogurt or oatmeal. The possibilities are endless!

Ginger also holds significant nutritional benefits and many uses. Like cinnamon, this spice has been widely known for its medicinal properties. It is often used to soothe upset stomachs, relieve nausea and fight against the flu. Additionally, it has been said to help with osteoarthritis, menstrual cramps and may help to lower cholesterol levels. Ginger is available in almost every grocery store and can be purchased whole, ground or dried. This spice is potent and can very easily overpower other spices so use caution when making recipes!

Sage originates from the herb family. This herb is best consumed in a savory dish and houses several benefits due to its high levels of nutrients and antioxidants such as vitamin K, magnesium and zinc. It may relieve menopause symptoms, reduce blood sugar levels, support memory and brain health and could also aid in lowering LDL cholesterol, which is the cholesterol we don’t want too much of in our bodies. Sage may be a little intimidating to work with, so I have included one of my favorite ways to use sage in the recipe at the end of this page.

Rosemary also comes from the herb family and is typically found in savory dishes. Although rosemary is a vibrant herb, it can be used to help bring out flavors of other spices in your dish. This herb is known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties which help our body’s immune system fight off infection when consumed. According to the National Library of Medicine, rosemary leaves contain carnosol, carnosic acid, rosmadial, caffeic acid and several other antioxidants which are substantial for viral antibody formation. Rosemary is typically purchased as dried leaves but can also be found fresh in the produce section of your grocery store. The most common ways to use this herb are sprinkling on top roasted veggies, adding fresh leaves as a garnish to mashed potatoes or a poultry dish.

I hope this gets you just as eager to get in the kitchen and use these spices as it does to me! Check out a few of my favorite ways to use some of these spices during the holiday season below.

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls: (Servings: 9)

For the dough:

¾ c. whole milk, warmed
2 ¼ tsp. yeast (quick rise or active)
¼ c. granulated sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (room temperature)
¼ c. unsalted butter, melted
3 c. bread flour, plus extra for dusting*
¾ tsp. salt
¼ c. unsalted butter, softened

For the filling:

2/3 c. light brown sugar, packed
1 ½ Tbsp. ground cinnamon

For the cream cheese frosting:

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
¾ c. powdered sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract


For the dough:

1) Place milk in microwave safe bowl, heat about 40-45 seconds depending on your microwave or until it reaches about 110 degrees F. Sprinkle yeast on top of milk, add in sugar, egg, egg yolk and ¼ cup melted butter. Beat until well combined.
2) Stir in flour and salt with sturdy wooden spoon until dough forms.
3) Place dough on stand mixer and knead on medium speed for 8 minutes until ball forms and mixture is slightly sticky. If dough sticks to bottom of mixer, add in 2 Tbsp. bread flour). If no stand mixer, use hands to knead dough for 8-10 minutes on floured surface.
4) Transfer dough to well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and warm towel. Allow dough to rise for 1-1.5 hours or until double in size.
5) Transfer dough to floured surface, roll out into a 14x9 inch rectangle. Spread softened butter on top of dough, leaving ¼ in. margin at the far end.

For the filling:

1) In small bowl, mix brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle over buttered dough then rub into the butter.
2) Tightly roll up dough starting from the 9-inch side, seam side down.
3) Cut into 9, 1-inch sections with knife or dental floss.
4) Place cinnamon rolls into greased 9x9 inch baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap and a warm towel, allowing to rise for 30-45 minutes.
5) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove plastic wrap and towel, bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 5-10 minutes before frosting.

For the frosting:

1) In a bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
2) Spread frosting over cinnamon rolls, serving immediately. Enjoy!

*Bread flour is made from spring wheat which has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour. This strengthens the dough and allows bread to rise higher.

Brown Butter and Sage Roasted Vegetables: (Servings: 4)

For the vegetables:

2 c. broccoli florets (fresh or frozen) *
2 c. cauliflower florets (fresh or frozen) *
2 c. baby carrots (fresh) (carrot coins if using frozen) *
Olive oil

For the sauce:

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
10 fresh sage leaves (¾ tsp. ground)
¼ tsp. salt


For the vegetables:

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2) Line 9x13 inch baking sheet with foil. Place broccoli, cauliflower and carrots in single layer on sheet and drizzle with olive oil until evenly coated, toss to combine.
3) Bake for 12-15 minutes or until tender.

For the sauce:

1) Place butter in small skillet over medium heat, swirling the plan until butter begins to brown, about 3 minutes.
2) Add the sage leaves and fry about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
3) Stir in salt until dissolved.
4) Drizzle the sauce and sage leaves over roasted vegetables. Enjoy!

*If using frozen vegetables, thaw thoroughly before roasting.

Cassie Oman

Cassandra R. Oman is a dietetic student at Minnesota State University in Mankato, MN. After completing my bachelor’s degree in Family Consumer Science- Dietetics, I plan on attending graduate school to obtain my master’s in dietetics. A few things I love most with nutrition is trying new recipes, figuring out ways I can make a dish more balanced and I have always been fascinated by carbohydrates and their significance to active lifestyles. I personally am a very active person and enjoy walking, running and CrossFit. Being an active person most of my life has taught me the importance of fueling my body with good food and sparked my interest in becoming a Registered Dietitian.

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