Spices, including dried roots, bark, buds, fruits, seeds, or berries, are plant products used to enhance the flavor, color, and palatability of foods and beverages. Today,
spice use is ubiquitous and decidedly nonrandom, although the frequency of use of individual spices varies among societies. For instance, pepper, ginger, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg can be found in the cooking of almost every country around the world. The phrase “spice of life” is no mere figure of speech. Spices play a major role in our lives as exotic and aromatic enhancement to food, as folk medicine, and even as modern remedies for today’s ailments. There is increasing evidence supporting the considerable health benefits of spices and their ingredients. Each spice has a unique spectrum of secondary metabolites that have evolved in plants to protect them against biotic enemies including insects, vertebrates, fungi, and parasites. Most spices contain dozens of such self-defensive phytochemicals, collectively called phytoalexins, that are plants’ recipes for survival strategies of their coevolutionary races against biotic enemies. Many phytoalexins in spices are phenolic substances with strong antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties that may confer chemopreventive activity (Fisher, 1992; Nakatani, 1992; 2000; Surh, 2002a). The following sections summarize the chemopreventive effects of selected antioxidant and antiinflammatory phenolics derived from representative spices.