Measurement of Spices and Seasonings in India: Opportunities for Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention


Bioactive components of many foods added during cooking have potential antioxidant, anti-inflammatory,antimicrobial, antibacterial and chemopreventive properties. However, epidemiologic studies generally do notcollect detailed information on these items, which include spices, chilies, coconuts, garlic, onions, and oils. SinceIndia has some of the highest spice consumption in the world, we developed a computer-based food preparerquestionnaire to estimate per capita consumption of 19 spices, chilies, coconuts, garlic, onions, and 13 cookingoils among 3,625 participants in the India Health Study, a multicenter pilot study in three regions of India. Weobserved notable regional differences in consumption of spices, chilies, coconut, garlic, and onions. In Trivandrum,over 95 percent of the participants consumed 12 different spices, while in New Delhi and Mumbai, 95 percentof participants consumed only four and five spices, respectively. Cooking oil use also varied, as ghee was mostcommon in New Delhi (96.8%) followed by mustard seed oil (78.0%), while in Trivandrum the primary oil wascoconut (88.5%) and in Mumbai it was peanut (68.5%). There was some variation in consumption by education,income, and religion. Using a novel method for assessing food items primarly added during cooking, we successfullyestimated per capita consumption within an epidemiologic study. Based on basic science research and suggestiveecologic level data on cancer incidence and spice consumption, improving epidemiologic assessment of thesepotentially chemopreventive food items may enhance our understanding of diet and cancer risk.