This section is from the book "Practical Dietetics With Special Reference To Diet In Disease", by William Gilman Thompson. Also available from Amazon: Practical Dietetics with Special Reference to Diet in Disease.
Next to salt (see p. 45), the most useful condiments are pepper, mustard, ginger, and vinegar, but much difference in taste exists in the use of condiments, and their selection is to some extent a race characteristic. Thus the Persian prefers his asafcetida, which no one else can tolerate; the Spaniard and Mexican his garlic; the East Indian his curry; and the French' man his salad with vinegar.
From long-continued association certain condiments appear to serve best with definite foods, and so accustomed are most persons to their combination that we cannot easily recall the one flavour without the other; thus mustard is associated with ham, black pepper with eggs, red pepper with raw oysters, vinegar with spinach and raw tomatoes, etc., and when deprived of the usual relish the food tastes insipid. Such details, insignificant as they may ordinarily appear, become very important for certain classes of invalids in whom it is necessary to preserve the appetite by pleasing the palate in order that they may take food enough to sustain them. Such are cases of phthisis, empyema, and other forms of chronic wasting diseases.
Often by varying the flavouring slightly from day to day two or three times as much of the same food will be taken by the invalid.
A skilful use of condiments may do away with the necessity for alcoholic stimulation and serve a better purpose.
Mustard does not greatly stimulate the gastric secretion, but many persons find that it increases the appetite somewhat, and it often produces a sensation of warmth or mild burning in the stomach or a feeling akin to hunger. It is used to advantage in moderation in salad dressings or with cold meat, and is sometimes serviceable in those cases in which the main difficulty is a lack of appetite without special enfeeblement of the digestive organs, but it has very little positive value, and while its use in health may be left as a question of individual taste, it is scarcely ever to be specifically recommended, and its abuse, like that of all condiments, may give rise to gastric irritation. The general irritating effect of mustard in large quantities applied to the skin or gastric mucous membrane is well known, and diluted with lukewarm water (a teaspoonful of mustard to a pint of water) it constitutes a very prompt and valuable emetic. Mustard is said to make the evacuations of the bowels somewhat more moist (Ringer). The seeds are sometimes eaten for their laxative action.
The diuretic effect which has been attributed to mustard is not established.
Black pepper is the berry of a plant, the Piper nigrum, which grows in the West Indies, Sumatra, and other Eastern countries. The whole berry is dried and ground for use.
White pepper is made from the same berry by previously soaking off the outer husk in water. About thirteen million pounds of black pepper are annually consumed in the United States. It is often adulterated, and to avoid deception it may be purchased in corns and freshly ground at the table.
Cayenne pepper is not a true pepper, but is made from the crushed pod of various species of Capsicum. It grows in the tropics, especially along the eastern coast of Africa and in Zanzibar.
The Capsicum annuum is cultivated in this country for the making of pickles from the large unripe green fruit.
The Capsicum fastigiatum is a variety employed medicinally, and recognised by the Pharmacopoeia.
Chilies is a common name given to this pepper in England, and chili sauce is an essence prepared from it. It is the strongest variety of capsicum.
Capsicum, called also Cayenne or red pepper, like mustard, is a strong irritant to both the skin and the mucous membranes. Overdoses of it excite violent local inflammation and gastro-enteritis. Like mustard, it is doubtful whether capsicum in any degree promotes the secretion of the gastric juice, but it sometimes stimulates a flagging appetite and produces a feeling of warmth in the stomach; the latter readily becomes tolerant to increasing doses of capsicum, and it is found that more and more is required by those who have to use it habitually to excite the accustomed stimulation. Its chief use is as a substitute for alcohol for dipsomaniacs, especially where the effort is being made to stop drinking abruptly. Its fiery nature temporarily satisfies the craving of the stomach. When chronic alcoholic gastritis exists, the stomach digestion is often improved and the craving to satisfy it by strong liquor may be relieved by the tincture of capsicum given in doses of ten or fifteen minims diluted.
The use of capsicum in health is far from necessary, but it forms an agreeable condiment for many persons. It forms an ingredient of many dinner pills which are taken by elderly people with inactive digestion for the purpose of promoting the appetite.
Red pepper, like black, is often adulterated. When pure it may be partially but not entirely suspended in water. Red lead has occasionally been used as an adulterant.
Capers are the flower buds of a bush, the Capparis spinosce, which grows in Eastern countries bordering on the Mediterranean. They are preserved in salt and vinegar, and are used for flavouring sauces for mutton and other foods. They contain tannin, volatile oil, yellow pigment, and a bitter principle.
Spices are solely of value in giving variety of taste to the food, and hence tempting invalids or convalescents with lagging appetites to eat more. Comparatively tasteless food, such as rice, may be made very attractive by spicing.
For children the most useful flavouring substances are cinnamon and ginger, and, although not a spice, vanilla extract. For invalids there may be added nutmeg and cloves, although any agreeable spice may be used in moderation, such as mace or allspice. Patients who will not drink hot water when it is ordered will often do so if they can steep a few cloves or a small piece of cinnamon in it, and this can rarely do harm. Those who object to the taste of milk punches, custards, and simple farinaceous foods will often take these substances when slightly flavoured with a trace of some agreeable spice. The latter as ordinarily used for flavouring is never injurious. Only in large doses are such spices as those above mentioned capable of such irritant action in the stomach as may be produced by curry or mustard. Several cases of nutmeg poisoning are recorded. The symptoms are excessive thirst, vertigo, and muscular prostration. Such effects are produced by taking a whole nutmeg, ground and mixed with hot water.
Ginger is useful both as a condiment and as a food. It is the dried root of the Zingiber officinale, which grows in Jamaica, China, and elsewhere. The rhizome is scraped and either dried and powdered, or, if it is to be preserved, it is washed and boiled for twentyfour hours, and then soaked for another day in salt water. It is then washed, sun-dried, and boiled for half a day with an equal weight of sugar (Clark). It is placed in jars for several days, and then once more boiled, when it is finally sealed in jars. It is excellent for flavouring rice and other insipid farinaceous foods for convalescents and children.
Vanilla is derived from vanilla beans, grown in Mexico, Java, and other tropical regions. It makes an agreeable flavouring extract for foods for invalids and children, such as farinaceous gruels, custards, blancmange, or ice cream, for, unlike the spices, it is very bland. Its chief use is in the manufacture of chocolate (p. 226).
Vinegars are made from wine, beer, cider, various fruits, and even from the dry distillation of wood. They contain, besides acetic acid, traces of dextrin, sugar, organic acids, pigment, extractives, and acetic ether. White vinegar is the best in taste and odour.
The acetic acid in good French vinegar exists in the proportion of 5 per cent. Ordinary table vinegar contains between 2 and 7 per cent.
The acidity enables this condiment to soften muscle fibre so that the digestion is facilitated of tough meat, such as corned beef, boiled beef, and other foods with hard fibre, like salmon, lobsters, or hard-boiled eggs.
The action of mild acids, such as vinegar, favours the digestion of tough cellulose, and aids the formation of sugar. For this reason vinegar is a wholesome addition to coarse, fibrous, or stringy vegetables, such as beets, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, celery, etc., and to raw vegetables, such as cucumbers, cole, lettuce, and like materials used in salads. Vinegar is often eaten with baked beans, but it is said to make their legumin less soluble (Chambers). If vinegar taken in a salad dressing disagrees, white wine may be substituted with pepper or mustard and oil.
Pickles are indigestible, and should take no part in an invalid dietary.
Vinegar is often adulterated, or spurious articles are substituted for it. This is especially true of that used for the cheaper varieties of pickles, and weak sulphuric acid is quite commonly employed for this purpose.
Sauces, such as Worcestershire, Tabasco, tomato catsup, etc., are used to stimulate a flagging appetite, and add flavour to soups, broths, etc. Taken in great moderation, they are not injurious, and in cases of alcoholism they are sometimes useful by inducing the patient to take more food and less liquor.
For invalids, for whom strong sauces of this kind should always be forbidden, a very good substitute may be made for use with broiled fish, etc., as suggested by Chambers, by boiling a few plain aromatic herbs, like parsley or mint, in a little water, and adding pepper and salt.
Horseradish is a condiment which excites the flow of saliva and gastric juice when eaten early in the course of a meal with meat or raw oysters, or otherwise.