9 September 2019Is your food always bland? You may be missing the trick with these spices and herbs!

How many herbs, spices, and seasonings do you have in your home? In 1950, the average was ten spices. Today the average is over 40. When I was a child, in my mother's alphabetized spice shelf in South Dakota, cumin was not one of the spices on the shelf. Yet, today according to McCormick Spices, cumin is one of the top five spices making up the vibrant flavoring in Indian, Moroccan and Mexican dishes. Not only do spices make food more flavorful, they also provide a host of health benefits. Just remember, friends should not let their friends eat naked - naked food that is - meaning snacks or meals without spices!

What is the difference between herbs and spices?

Herbs, such as basil, are from the leaves of a plant and are generally mild flavored. Add fresh herbs to a dish the last 10-15 minutes so they don't lose their color or flavor. In general, 1 Tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs equals one teaspoon of dried herbs.

Spices, such as cinnamon are usually made from the bark, berries, roots or seeds of a plant. They generally have a stronger, more pungent flavor.

Both are used to flavor food.

Both are full of phytochemicals, the healthy chemicals found naturally in plant foods.

What can herbs and spices do for you?

1. Improve your Meals

  • Jazz up vegetables
    Sauté garlic in oil with oregano and mix with green beans. Sprinkle with lemon juice.
  • Enhance fruit
    Make melon balls and top with squeezed lime and chopped fresh mint leaves.
  • Spice up bean dishes
    Top your bowl of quinoa and beans, cheddar cheese, tomatoes with fresh cilantro.
  • Liven up rice, pasta and grain dishes
    Make your own pesto with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese.

Fight inflammation

  • By reducing damage to your body's cells, chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes can be prevented.

Decrease use of other ingredients in your cooking

  • Salt, fat, and sugar can be reduced when using flavorful herbs and spices.
  • Herbs and spices are "Nature's salt shaker."

My Top 5 Herbs and Spices

  1. Cardamom
    Especially with fall in the air, I enjoy this sweet, pungent spice in warm chai tea, pumpkin bread, and apple crisp. In addition to helping fight inflammation, cardamom is high in zinc, which is important for growth and development and for immunity, to help prevent winter colds.
  2. Ginger
    Not only can ginger help with an upset stomach or nausea (remember drinking ginger ale as a child?), but it has antioxidant properties which can help prevent cancer. I sauté finely chopped ginger in my stir fry dishes to add an extra zip.
  3. Basil
    Basil is an aromatic leaf and a member of the mint family. I make my own vegetable dip with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (0% fat) and 1/2 cup low fat sour cream mixed with chopped fresh vegetables, such as basil, parsley, and chives. Not only are my children receiving their calcium from the yogurt and antioxidants from the fresh herbs, but they are enjoying their vegetables at the same time.
  4. Cinnamon
    Cinnamon is sweet and sugar-free. Once I found out how rich cinnamon is in antioxidants, I tripled the amount of cinnamon I sprinkled on my oatmeal for breakfast! It is also good on ham, stewed fruits and in hot beverages.
  5. Turmeric
    This bright yellow spice is a good source of curcumin, which is an antioxidant that eases inflammation and possibly pain. Some research has shown that even small amounts of turmeric can help or prevent Alzheimer's because it possibly prevents brain plaques that lead to dementia. It is delicious on hard-boiled eggs and mixed with rice.

If you are new to adding herbs and spices in your cooking, begin with just a pinch to see what flavors and combinations you like. Buying one of the many spice blends available can also help you discover what mixtures are your favorites.

In conclusion, not only will spices and herbs improve the flavor of your dishes, they are also rich in antioxidants which may help prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Remember, friends should not let their friends eat naked - naked food that is, meaning snacks or meals without spices! Try "nature's salt shaker" for better health.

Please share your favorite herb or spice or even a recipe with MyNetDiary!

Martha M. Henze, MPH, MS, RDN

Martha recently completed her Masters of Public Health (MPH) in global epidemiology and aims to help people improve their health on a population basis around the world.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Foods & Recipes/"Herbs, Spices, & Flavor"

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