Cinnamon, ginger, cayenne…Aside from adding flavor to food, many spices also offer a lot of nutritional value. And you can share those benefits when cooking for your dog or cat!
The earliest evidence of spice use goes all the way back to 50,000 BC. Like herbs, spices can be made from seeds, flowers, leaves, bark, roots, saps and other plant products; the difference is that spices are “dried and ground” while herbs are “fresh”. Ground leaves, seeds and bark last six months, while ground roots last one year.
Read on to add some extra spice to your companion’s life. Just remember, as with anything else, to check in with your vet before adding something new to his diet.
Six favorite spices
Here are just a few spices that deserve a place of in your kitchen.
Cinnamon has a long history. As early as 2,700 BC, it was recommended for the treatment of nausea, fever and diarrhea. Cinnamon was also added to food to prevent spoiling, and during the bubonic plague, sponges soaked in cinnamon and cloves were put in sickrooms. Today, cinnamon is used for a variety of gastrointestinal problems, including nausea and flatulence. It is also recognized for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. One teaspoon of cinnamon contains as many antioxidants as half a cup of blueberries!
Cayenne also known as capsicum, packs a really powerful punch, so a little goes a long way. It’s rich in calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and vitamins A, B and C. It stimulates all the body systems, acts as a tonic and has antioxidant properties. Cayenne is valuable as a systemic stimulant, because it helps regulate blood fl ow and strengthens the heart, arteries, capillaries and nerves. It is especially helpful for treating arthritis, poor circulation and heart conditions. Very small amounts aid digestion, stimulate appetite and dispel gas. Cayenne has even been found to stop itching.
Cardamon is used to support the kidneys and a variety of digestive ailments, including anorexia and irritable bowel syndrome. Doggie breath? Cardamon leaves keep the breath fresh and support healthy gums.
Cloves are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat indigestion, diarrhea and even ringworm and other fungal infections. India’s traditional Ayurvedic healers have used cloves since ancient times to treat respiratory and digestive ailments. Like many other spices, cloves contain antioxidants.
Ginger is recognized as a valuable digestive aid. It helps increase the production of digestive fluids and saliva, and therefore helps relieve indigestion, flatulence, diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea. Ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve the pain of arthritis and muscle spasms. It is also known to support kidney function, healthy skin and respiratory function.
Turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, supports the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems, and is widely recognized for its anti-cancer properties.
Bison Burger Bits
1 pound organic ground bison (also labeled “buffalo”)
2 cups all purpose gluten-free or whole grain flour of your choice, or try sweet potato flour
1 tablespoon dried, rubbed oregano or 2 heaping tablespoons fresh oregano,
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
Dash of cayenne
3 heaping tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tomato, minced
1/4 cup beef or vegetable broth, or filtered water
Fresh blueberries and cranberries, or sun dried unsulphured berries of your choice
1. Choose organic ingredients whenever possible. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender.
3. Take small pieces of dough and form small balls, roll them lightly in rolled oats, place on cookie sheet and lightly flatten, using your “fingerprint” – the perfect size for holding a blueberry or cranberry. A teaspoon makes perfectly sized bits.
4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer bits to a plate that can be put in the fridge to cool. Store in the freezer in a Ziploc bag until you are ready to defrost, warm and serve. This recipe makes 63 treats and can be easily doubled.
Winter sun carrot and apple soup
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups pureéd carrots (with peel), or try sweet potato, yams, squash or pumpkin
1 cup pureéd red apples
1 tablespoon extra virgin cold extracted olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
Choose organic ingredients whenever possible. This soup can be served raw or cooked. For raw soup, simply combine all ingredients and add a tablespoon or two to your animal’s regular meals. You can also freeze this delicious and nutritious soup in ice cube trays for future treats and meals.
For cooked soup, combine all ingredients in a medium sized pot.
Bring to a boil. As soon as you see bubbles forming on the surface, turn down the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Cool soup to room temperature before serving to your animal companion. For an extra taste treat, add a dollop of goat’s milk yogurt just before serving.
Sweet and savory spice snacks
4 cups whole flour. Use one whole flour or a combination of flours. E.g. whole brown rice flour (contains bran and germ), whole oat flour, whole barley flour, chickpea flour, potato, quinoa, tapioca, hemp and coconut.
1 cup filling. Choose from fresh fruits and vegetables and hormone-free, antibiotic-free protein sources. Try bison, chicken, turkey, venison, rabbit, fish, ostrich, emu or duck, or choose unsweetened applesauce, organic canned pumpkin, butternut squash, banana or berries. You can make a vegetable and fruit blend, like sweet potato and cranberries.
1 part spice or herb combination. Consider 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon and 2 teaspoons ground carob powder for fruit based sweet treats; and 1 finely minced garlic clove and 2 teaspoons fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon ground dried parsley) or catnip, for savory treats that contain meat or fish. Alternatively, create your own spice blend consisting of ground allspice, ground cinnamon, ground cloves and ground ginger or cardamom.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Combine all ingredients in a food processor until the dough pulls away from the sides of the work bowl.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead well. Cut into desired shapes or squares and place on cookie sheet. Or, take small pieces of dough and roll out to the thickness of a pencil, and using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut pieces appropriate to your dog or cat’s size (like mini biscotti) and place on cookie sheet. Another alternative is to form the dough into a ball, place it in the centre of your cookie sheet, and using a rolling pin, roll it out to the edges and score with a sharp knife or pizza cutter.
Bake for 20 minutes, then turn oven down to 175°F and bake for 40 more minutes. Turn oven off and allow the biscuits to cool completely in the oven, before storing them in an airtight container or Ziploc bag.
Suzi Beber has been successfully creating special needs diets for companion animals for two decades. She founded the University of Guelph’s Smiling Blue Skies® Cancer Fund and Smiling Blue Skies® Fund for Innovative Research. She is the proud recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and was honored with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, for her work in cancer, from the University of Guelph/Ontario Veterinary College. The Smiling Blue Skies Cancer Fund is also the recipient of the “Pets + Us” Community Outreach Champion Award.