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Top 5 Spices to Improve Your Holiday Baking

It’s nearly impossible to think of the holiday season without thinking of holiday treats like cookies, cakes and other comforting, decadent delights. And when most of us think of holiday baking, we are immediately reminded of the vivid warming scents and aromas of holiday spices – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and so on.

‘Tis the Season to Spice Up Baked Goods

The cooler months of the year inspire a deep longing for warm and cozy moments whether it’s curling up with a throw by the fire or baking with our loved ones in the kitchen. This holiday season, as we connect with these grounding, comforting rituals, here’s a gentle reminder to lean into those warming holiday spices to uplift our taste-buds and our health!

Here are some of my favorite spices to bake with this holiday season for both flavor and health-enhancing benefits.


Cinnamon and holiday treats are a match made in heaven. The warm, woodsy, sweet and spicy notes of cinnamon complement the richness of holiday baking beautifully.

Cinnamon is also known for several health-enhancing benefits like compounds that help balance blood sugar (1) and exert anti-inflammatory effects (2). Some studies have shown that just the scent of cinnamon may enhance our cognitive function (3).

The two main varieties of cinnamon are Cassia cinnamon, which is most routinely encountered on grocery store shelves and True or Ceylon cinnamon, which is harder to find but has a delicate, light and citrus flavor. If you use cinnamon often, I encourage you to procure True cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon has a compound called Coumarin, which at high enough doses may be a liver toxin, whereas True or Ceylon cinnamon has negligible amounts of Coumarin (4).


Cardamom is one of those luxurious, complex, floral spices that makes everything it touches taste like dessert, thereby reducing the need for added sugar!

Cardamom is known for its’ anti-nausea (5) and gut health-boosting effects (6). I love using it in all my holiday baking to add peppery, minty and floral notes and to help me get away with less refined sugar. It’s also an ant-bacterial spice (7) with anti-oxidants that may improve our cardiovascular health (8).


Cloves are one of the underrated and underutilized holiday spices. Their slightly bitter, peppery flavor is a really nice contrast to the sweetness of holiday baking plus the usual suspects when it comes to holiday spices, cinnamon and ginger. A little goes a long way so use a pinch or two for a nice depth of flavor.

Cloves contain a compound called eugenol which is an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant (9) with potential cancer-fighting benefits (10). Cloves can also help balance blood sugar thanks to a compound called nigricin (11). Avoid large amounts of clove as found in teas and supplements and stick with culinary amounts as the compound eugenol can increase bleeding due to its blood thinning effects (9).


Ground ginger is sweet, peppery, spicy and warm and the perfect addition to almost every holiday treat even beyond the much adored gingerbread cookie.

Ginger contains gingerol and other beneficial compounds that can aid digestion, prevent bloating, help with PMS symptoms and curb unwanted inflammation (12). Ginger can also help our immune system function optimally boosting its anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties (13).


If you’ve enjoyed mulled wine or a spiced cider, you have likely encountered the smoky, woodsy flavor of star anise. This spice is a nice counterbalance to the sweet notes of the more common holiday spices like cinnamon but it also comes with unique health benefits.

Star anise contains shikimic acid which has anti-viral effects, especially when combined with the compound quercetin, found in apples (14). Apple star anise cinnamon muffins anyone?

Spices have been around for centuries and have been revered for both their health and flavor-enhancing magic. Here’s to adding some of that ancient magic to our delicious holiday baking with health benefits to boot!


  1. Allen RW et al. Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Fam Med. 2013 Sep-Oct;11(5):452-9.
  2. Gunawardena D et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of cinnamon (C. zeylanicum and C. cassia) extracts – identification of E-cinnamaldehyde and o-methoxy cinnamaldehyde as the most potent bioactive compounds. Food Funct. 2015 Mar;6(3):910-9.
  3. Jain S et al. Effect of Cinnamomum zeylanicum extract on scopolamine-induced cognitive impairment and oxidative stress in rats. Nutr Neurosci. 2015 Jul;18(5):210-6.
  4. Kawatra P et al. Cinnamon: Mystic powers of a minute ingredient. Pharmacognosy Res. 2015 Jun;7(Suppl 1):S1-6.
  5. Hunt R et al. Aromatherapy as treatment for postoperative nausea: a randomized trial. Anesth Analg. 2013 Sep;117(3):597-604. 
  6. A Jamal et al. Gastroprotective effect of cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum Maton. fruits in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006. 103(2):149-53
  7. Revati S et al. In vitro antibacterial activity of seven Indian spices against high level gentamicin resistant strains of enterococci. Arch Med Sci. 2015 Aug 12;11(4):863-8.
  8. Goyal SN et al. Protective Effects of Cardamom in Isoproterenol-Induced Myocardial Infarction in Rats. Int J Mol Sci. 2015 Nov 17;16(11):27457-69. 
  9.  Pramod K et al. Eugenol: a natural compound with versatile pharmacological actions. Nat Prod Commun. 2010 Dec;5(12):1999-2006.
  10.  Ma M et al. Eugenol alleviated breast precancerous lesions through HER2/PI3K-AKT pathway-induced cell apoptosis and S-phase arrest. Oncotarget. 2017 May 5;8(34):56296-56310.
  11.  Ghaffar S et al. Clove and Its Active Compound Attenuate Free Fatty Acid-Mediated Insulin Resistance in Skeletal Muscle Cells and in Mice. J Med Food. 2017 Apr;20(4):335-344.
  12.  Shaopeng Wang et al. Biological properties of 6-gingerol: a brief review. Nat Prod Commun. 2014 Jul. 2014 Jul;9(7):1027-30.
  13.  Jung San Chang et al. Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has anti-viral activity against human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013.
  14.  ​​Astani A et al. Screening for antiviral activities of isolated compounds from essential oils. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:253643.