Healthy Cooking 101: Herbs and Spices
If you are looking to get more bang for your buck in your cooking, becoming more familiar with herbs and spices can improve your eating experience while also promoting potential benefits to your health. Many of my clients are either completely new to cooking, or stuck in recipe ruts. In case you don’t have the Food Network piped into your office, keep reading for a few simple tricks of making your food full of flavor.
Herbs and Spices:
- Encourage healthy eating by making natural whole food ingredients taste delicious.
- Save you time by preparing simple, fast dishes with great flavors.
- Increase the nutritional benefit of your food.
What are the differences between herbs and spices?
Herbs are retrieved from the stems, leaves or flowers of aromatic plants, and can be fresh or dried. Drying herbs does alter their flavor and original aroma, and fresh herbs are considered more ideal. Spices come from the roots, seeds, berries, buds, or bark of plants and have strong flavors. Most spices grow in tropical-like climates. In traditional medicines, spices are thought to help build digestive strength and warmth so that nutrients are better absorbed from food.
When is the best time to add flavoring agents to a dish?
Herbs and spices can be added at any time, but whether they are incorporated towards the beginning, middle or end of the cooking process has a direct result on how much they can influence a dish. Fresh herbs should be added towards the end of cooking, but whole spices should be added towards the beginning of cooking. Ground spices release flavor faster than whole, but can be added in the middle of cooking or later.
What kinds of herbs and spices are good to have on hand?
- Basil: while there are many “flavors” of Basil, the sweet variety is typically found in most stores and provides a peppery taste. It is well incorporated into Mediterranean and Southeast Asian recipes and pairs well with garlic.
- Cilantro: Sharp, tangy, and used in Mexican, Asian, and South American cooking, cilantro should not be heated. If too much is used it can result in a soapy taste.
- Dill: Feathery in texture, strong in flavor, this anise-tasting herb is used in European dishes such as recipes with potatoes and fish. In traditional medicine, dill is suggested for menstrual difficulties.
- Parsley: There are two common types: curly and Italian (flat-leaf). One of the most common used herbs, the tangy flavor is stronger in the stems than in the leaves. Parsley can be used to flavor or garnish almost any dish, save for most deserts.
- Rosemary: With its evergreen savory flavor, this herb is best used fresh. It also might possess medicinal properties.
- Sage: Another savory herb with a medicinal past, sage is best used in deep dishes such as poultry, or lentil baked meals. In traditional medicine, it is used to help with parasitic infections.
- Allspice: Used in baking and pickling, this spice grows as a tree in Jamaica and is usually sold in the whole-berry form.
- Cayenne: Your basic “red-pepper,” is ground from multiple hot pepper plants and provides a kick to many different types of dishes. It also is a circulatory stimulant.
- Paprika: This sweeter Hungarian red pepper is used in a variety of dishes and is a great way to add color to the top of simple foods, such as mashed potatoes.
- Cinnamon: This sweet-affinity spice is often used in deserts but also pars well with spicy dishes. Cassia, a cousin of cinnamon with a courser and stronger flavor is often sold labeled as “Cinnamon” in the U.S.
- Ginger: This “root” (actually the modified root-like stem of the ginger plant) has a fibrous interior and papery skin. It is used in Indian and other Asian cooking. Medicinally, it is helpful with nausea and can act as a circulatory stimulant.
- Turmeric: Coming from a flowering plant related to the ginger plant, this spice has a woodsy-like connotation. While you can purchase it in “root” form, it is most commonly dried and ground and imparts a vibrant yellow to dishes. It also packs a medicinal punch, as there is building scientific evidence that it acts as an anti-inflammatory. Great with lentils.
While many recipes call for specific herbs or spices, it helps to experiment with flavors to see which ones you enjoy with different produce, protein, or grain companions. Know which ones you like the most, and always have them on hand to enrich the flavor of your cooking, even your take-out. Which are you favorites? As always, thank you for reading! Feeling like you need a healthy and flavorful boost to your food but don't know where to start? Sign up for a free consult with me today here and experience the benefits of having personalized support. I love helping people eat, look, and feel great!
- Labensky, S., Hause, A., & Martel, P. (2011). On Cooking. A textbook of culinary fundamentals. (5th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson.
- Pitchford, Paul. (2002) Healing with Whole Foods, Asian traditions and modern nutrition. (3rd ed.) Berkley: North Atlantic.
- Grafton, E. (n/d). Lecture: Topic Three Seasoning vs. Flavoring (PDF). Retrieved from http://muih.learninghouse.com/mod/url/view.php?id=15371