If you cook, chances are you have a cabinet full of herbs and spices in your kitchen. Even if all you do is add a dash of black pepper to your eggs in the morning, you’re still using a spice! From common herbs grown in North America to exotic spices from other lands, these flavorful plants are used widely for their flavorful addition to food as well as their medicinal properties. But why are herbs and spices so popular in modern day cooking?
A taste of the world
The use of herbs and spices in cooking is not new. In Ayurvedic medicine – which dates back over 5,000 years – herbs and spices have played a large role in the healing process. Particular herbs and spices are used in Ayurveda to help achieve a proper balance between mind, body, and soul.
Herbs and spices offer an easy, healthy way to add a bright burst of flavor to a meal, without having to add extra salt, sugar or fats. Boiled broccoli isn’t much of a tantalizing dish, but add a quick pinch of garlic, basil, and oregano and voila! That bland broccoli is instantly transformed into a delicious side dish.
Worldly uses of herbs and spices
Learning how to properly use herbs and spices in a meal can help you use less processed sauces and condiments, which are often high in salt and sugar. They also offer a quick and easy way to get a taste of different cultures without flying halfway across the world! Whether you’re looking for an exotic Indian dish or a feel-good Italian meal, a strategic blend of herbs spices can instantly transport you.
- Indian meals often incorporate a mix of cardamom, clove, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, mustard seeds, fenugreek, and turmeric.
- Italian food often mixes oregano, parsley, basil, sage rosemary, and thyme.
- If you’re looking for more of a Thai inspired meal, try using garlic, ginger, coriander, galangal, lemongrass, basil, cilantro, turmeric, and Kaffir lime leaves.
- Moroccan dishes use a delightful mix of ginger, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, coriander, anise, nutmeg, fenugreek and bay leaves.
- For a spicier, Latin America inspired meal, try using dried chili peppers, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, annatto, cilantro and garlic.
Herbs and spices add a delightful flavor and aroma to any dish. They offer an easy way to enhance the flavors in a dish, as well as add a pop of color! Many people add spices like turmeric and paprika to dishes to add a lovely yellow or orange color.
Learning how to use herbs and spices
Herbs are generally the green, leafy parts of the plant. They are either fresh, dried or ground and are great for adding into roasted or sautéed vegetables, meats, and salads. Fresh herbs are wonderful as garnishes and offer a fresh burst of flavor to any meal. Dried herbs are wonderful when mixed with a fat (either oil or butter) and left to infuse. Crushing dried herbs with a mortar and pestle before adding to a dish can help release some of the flavors. Many people prefer to add herbs to a dish towards the end of cooking.
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Spices are generally the seeds, bark, roots, fruit, flower or bark of the plant. Dried or ground spices are common. Spices can generally withstand higher temperature and longer cooking times than herbs, so people choose to add them toward the beginning of cooking. Their flavor really packs a punch this way, especially if you choose to add cooking oil or butter too.
Practice makes perfect!
The best way to learn how to incorporate herbs and spices into your meal is by experimenting! If you like Italian food, try adding more basil and oregano into your dishes. If you’re into more of an exotic, Moroccan flavor, add a pinch of turmeric, coriander or cumin. The trick is to add a little at a time and taste as you go. The more you work with herbs and spices, the easier it will be to create your own unique dishes.
Trying to stock your spice cabinet with every herb and spice imaginable can be very overwhelming. If you have a bit of a green thumb, try growing your own rosemary, mint, thyme, and basil! You can start with just a few of your favorite herbs and expand from there. Dried herb and spices lose their flavor over time, so try to use them within a year and get rid of them when they no longer have a potent fragrance.
An easy health boost
Herbs and spices have thousands of years of history of being used for medicinal purposes. Not only do they add a delicious flavor to your meal, but they also offer a variety of different medicinal properties. A small pinch of basil or cumin won’t instantly cure all your ailments. However, regularly adding herbs and spices to your dishes can help benefit your overall wellness over time. The popularity of fresh herbs and herbal teas can be attributed to their myriad of abilities. They can reduce inflammation, ease stress and anxiety, boost the immune system and more.
The therapeutic properties of herbs don’t only come from consuming them! If you want the health benefits of ginger but can’t handle the taste, diffusing ginger essential throughout your home or adding it to homemade body care products can give you similar results.
Tips and examples
- Adding fresh basil to your meal can help reduce inflammation and support the immune system. It can also give your body a boost of antioxidants to help fight off free radicals. It is also known as a natural adaptogen, which helps your body better adapt to stress.1 Diffusing basil essential oil throughout your or adding a few drops to a massage oil can help soothe the digestive system, stimulate the nervous system, and relax painful or fatigued muscles.
- Adding a pinch of ground or grated ginger to a dish can help reduce inflammation, ease nausea, and improve heart health by lowering blood sugar levels and cholesterol.2 Diffusing ginger essential oil throughout your home or using a few drops topically can help relieve respiratory symptoms, prevent infection, improve digestion and relieve feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Fresh peppermint leaves are a wonderful addition to salads, their ability to support digestion is well-known. Mint can help ease feelings of nausea, improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and relieve bloating and gas.3 Peppermint essential oil can clear congestion, relieve the pain of headaches, support the digestive process and improve circulation.
- Coriander can help lower levels of bad cholesterol while increasing levels of good cholesterol. It can also help lower blood sugar levels, promote healthy liver function, and support the digestive system.4 When used aromatically and topically, coriander essential oil can help improve the appearance of skin, alleviate the pain of sore muscles and joints, promote healthy digestion and reduce stress levels.
Your favorite herbs and spices offer a variety of health benefits when used in roasts, sautés, salads and teas. With their ability to add potent, delicious flavors to meals as well as their myriad health benefits, it is no wonder herbs and spices are so popular in modern day cooking!
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