Culinary herbs and spices have been used as both food flavoring and food preservative agents for centuries. Moreover, due to their known and presumptive health benefits, herbs and spices have also been used in medical practices since ancient times. Some of the health effects attributed to herbs and spices include antioxidant, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory effects as well as potential protection against cardiovascular disease, neurodegeneration, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. While interest in herbs and spices as medicinal agents remains high and their use in foods continues to grow, there have been remarkably few studies that have attempted to track the dietary intake of herbs and spices and even fewer that have tried to find potential biomarkers of food intake (BFIs). The aim of the present review is to systematically survey the global literature on herbs and spices in an effort to identify and evaluate specific intake biomarkers for a representative set of common herbs and spices in humans. A total of 25 herbs and spices were initially chosen, including anise, basil, black pepper, caraway, chili pepper, cinnamon, clove, cumin, curcumin, dill, fennel, fenugreek, ginger, lemongrass, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, peppermint and spearmint, rosemary, saffron, sage, tarragon, and thyme. However, only 17 of these herbs and spices had published, peer-reviewed studies describing potential biomarkers of intake. In many studies, the herb or spice of interest was administrated in the form of a capsule or extract and very few studies were performed with actual foods. A systematic assessment of the candidate biomarkers was also performed. Given the limitations in the experimental designs for many of the published studies, further work is needed to better evaluate the identified set of BFIs. Although the daily intake of herbs and spices is very low compared to most other foods, this important set of food seasoning agents should not be underestimated, especially given their potential benefits to human health.
Keywords: Diet; Food exposure biomarker; Herbs; Metabolomics; Spices.