Do we really need some spices in cooking chicken curry?

To some people the word spice means something hot that means chillies but that is a completely wrong idea. A spice could be a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or vegetable substance primarily used for flavouring, colouring or preserving food. Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are parts of leafy green plants used for flavouring or as a garnish. Many spices have antimicrobial properties. This may explain why spices are more commonly used in warmer climates, which have more infectious disease, and why the use of spices is prominent in meat, which is particularly susceptible to spoiling. Spices are sometimes used in medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics or perfume production, or as a vegetable.

Before we start to cook, need to cut off the excess fat and skin on the chicken because they are not quite healthy to eat. Then we cut the chicken into reasonable sizes before they are washed carefully and placed in the cooking pan. When I said carefully it means one must not splash any water all over while washing because it may have some germs, bacteria and salmonella contaminated with chicken.

I have seen in some British TV cooking programmes, some chefs do not care about the health aspects in handling and cooking chicken. May be because they are not aware of the dangers of not handling chickens but don’t be a chicken to handle chicken.

Supermarket chickens are contaminated

It is reported that millions of families are at risk of food poisoning after an investigation revealed three quarters of supermarket chickens are contaminated with a potentially lethal bug. The scandal, uncovered by watchdog the Food Standards Agency (FSA), also found one in five fresh birds has the highest level of killer bacteria campylobacter.

It is mentioned that washing chicken could wreck your health for years: It's not just tummy upsets - spreading bacteria in the kitchen can cause arthritis, eye pain and nerve damage. One person had contracted a campylobacter infection - and is thought to have caught it when he washed the chicken before cooking it. It was something he, like nearly half of the population, had always done, little realising how risky it could be for health. Recently the Food Standards Agency  (FSA) warned people to stop washing chicken before they cook it because of the risk of spreading the deadly bacteria. 

Campylobacter bacteria are the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, affecting an estimated 280,000 Britons a year - and are to blame for more cases than E.coli, salmonella and listeria put together. 

'Often people don't report their symptoms, so the true number of cases is likely to be even higher,' says Bob Martin, a microbiologist and head of food-borne diseases strategy at the FSA.

Around 80 per cent of these cases have been traced to contaminated poultry - it's thought that two‑thirds of chicken carries the bacteria, says  Mr Martin. Laboratory tests on samples from infected people have found they contain the same campylobacter DNA found specifically in chicken. Other sources of the bacteria include raw meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water.

In another report it says, a woman was left paralysed below her neck after eating chicken contaminated with bacteria found in 98% of poultry. Sandra Loftus, from Co Dublin, contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome – a severely debilitating condition of the nervous system – after she ate chicken infected with campylobacter. The bacteria commonly causes food poisoning and shockingly 98.3% of chickens bought by the public are infected with it. And like Sandra, one in 100 of us who contract food poisoning from campylobacter will get Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut in to the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that the juices run clear.

What is cross contamination?
Cross contamination occurs when harmful bacteria such as campylobacter are spread between food, packaging, hands, surfaces and equipment. Avoid cross contamination by keeping raw and cooked foods separate and washing utensils after you have used them for raw meat or unwashed vegetables. This prevents bacteria spreading to other foods that are ready-to-eat. Campylobacter causes more cases of food poisoning than E.coli, listeria and salmonella put together.

Asians always spice up the chicken curries, why?

I am sure most Asians and some others add plenty of different ingredients in cooking chicken, fish or any meat for example some green chillies, onions, garlic, ginger, curry leaves, lemon grass, curry leaves, tomatoes, tamarind, vinegar then comes the spices. Back home I can remember our Kussi Ammas take some red chilies, coriander, cumin seeds, ajwain seeds, caraway seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, nutmeg, paprika, saffron, turmeric powder and a few more then grind them in between stones until it forms a paste. Not that all these are present in a curry paste but some are certainly present. These people know exactly how much of each ingredients must be added for a particular type of food such as chicken, fish, pork, beef or even dry fish curry. Sometimes they are gently roasted before grinding. Now just put them into an electric grinder then press the button, job done in seconds.

Most people are unaware why do they use spices in meat dishes vary cross-culturally? Some hypotheses are spices inhibit or kill bacteria and fungi that either spoil food or harm humans. Spices provide macro or micronutrients. Spices enhance evaporative cooling and spices disguise the taste and smell of spoiled food then spices taste good.

Why do we add spices?

Although spices have been important for centuries in food preparation throughout the world, patterns of spice use differ considerably among cultures and countries. What factors underlie these differences? Why are spices used at all? To investigate these questions, we quantified the frequency of use of 43 spices in the meat-based cuisines of the 36 countries for which we could locate traditional cookbooks. A total of 4578 recipes from 93 cookbooks was analysed. They also complied information on the temperature and precipitation in each country, the ranges of spice plants, and the antibacterial properties of each spice. These data were used to investigate the hypothesis that spices inhibit or kill food-spoilage microorganisms. In support of this is the fact that spice plant secondary compounds are powerful antimicrobial (i.e., antibacterial and antifungal) agents. As mean annual temperatures (an indicator of relative spoilage rates of unrefrigerated foods) increased, the proportion of recipes containing spices, number of spices per recipe, total number of spices used, and use of the most potent antibacterial spices all increased, both within and among countries. Likewise, the estimated fraction of bacterial species inhibited per recipe in each country was positively correlated with annual temperature. Several alternative hypotheses were considered that spices provide macronutrients, disguise the taste and smell of spoiled foods, or increase perspiration and thus evaporative cooling; it also is conceivable that spice use provides no benefits. However, none of these four alternatives was well supported by our data. The proximate reason spices are used obviously is to enhance food palatability. But the ultimate reason is most likely that spices help cleanse foods of pathogens and thereby contribute to the health, longevity and reproductive success of people who find their flavours enjoyable. Next time I hope you would prefer spiced chicken than any other. Your comments are welcomed This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr Hector Perera


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