Properties

Condiments and spices are substances which are used as adjuncts to food, and which in themselves supply but little nourishment, their effect being mainly of a stimulating character either to the nerves of taste or secretion. They add flavour to otherwise insipid food, and relieve monotony in diet. Some condiments, such as mustard, contain a slight amount of nutritious material, but the total quantity of any of them which can be taken is so small in comparison with the bulk of the food that they may hardly be said to subserve nutrition.

Curry powders of various sorts are prepared by mixing strong condiments, such as Cayenne pepper and ginger, with starchy food and turmeric.

Some foods are themselves so stimulating to the mucous membrane that they answer the double purpose of food and condiment combined; such, for example, are onions and garlic.

In the mouth condiments produce an agreeable taste, with an increased flow of saliva, and the desire for food in the stomach is stimulated. They also increase the secretion of gastric juice.

Uses

In some dyspeptic conditions of the stomach accompanied by local sensation of weight or oppression, or even of pain, the use with the food of strong condiments - such as mustard, Cayenne pepper, or Tabasco - affords relief by exciting the functional activity of the stomach. Cayenne, in fact, is a favourite ingredient of various dinner pills.

With the exception of salt, the use of which has been elsewhere fully described (p. 45), none of the condiments are absolutely indispensable in the sense of being essential for prolonging health, but so accustomed are all classes of men to their use from heredity or personal experience that, despite the aphorism of Plutarch that "hunger and salt should be man's only sauce," without other relishes the appetite soon fails. There are many cases of feeble digestion and diminished activity of the gastric juice which are decidedly benefited by their use in moderation.

Harmful Effects

The use of some condiments is likely to be abused, and this is particularly true of peppers, curry, pickles, and vinegar. If consumed habitually in excess, these substances excite gastric hyperaemia and catarrh by overstimulation, and may disorder intestinal digestion as well. They at first cause more food to be eaten than necessary, and eventually destroy the appetite, developing chronic dyspepsia of an aggravated type. Persons living in tropical climates where food and service are cheap are apt to lead indolent lives and indulge too liberally in the pleasures of the table, and the overloading of the stomach tempts them to add quantities of condiments to their food for the purpose of stimulating an already overworked digestive system to the performance of further duty. The heat of the climate prevents active exercise, which in turn reduces the oxidation processes of the assimilated food. The rational diet for those not acclimated to the tropics should consist largely of vegetables and fruits, while nitrogenous food, strong condiments, spirits, bitter beer, etc., should be carefully shunned. I have seen one case of the ginger habit, in Bellevue Hospital, in a woman thirty years of age.

It was first acquired by chewing the roots of Jamaica ginger, and subsequently the patient drank large quantities of the beverage sold under that name, and ate powdered ginger of every variety. The patient became maniacal and greatly emaciated. The symptoms in general resembled those of the cocaine habit.