This is a great time of year to explore our spice racks! We are having holiday parties, transforming our traditional family recipes to make them healthier and searching for new food traditions to add to our tables.
I use my spice rack every time I cook for one food or all things I cook. I even grow some of my own herbs so that I can use them fresh anytime.
Wouldn’t it be great to use new spices, or new to you, to create delicious new foods and familiar versions of beloved foods?
Adding spices and herbs, whether fresh or dried, can really add a burst of flavor to our everyday foods, too, without adding things that you don’t really need! Herbs and spices are essential when we renovate our favorite recipes to reduce fat, sugar and sodium so that they will be healthier for everyone!
I was going to give you just my “essentials” list but I found that I use all these herbs and spices and think that a well stocked spice rack would include all these, including the blends for which I give you recipes at the end of this article.
Types of Flavoring Options
Before we start shopping, let’s learn about what types of flavoring options we have available to us and what the terms mean.
Aromatic vegetables – onions, garlic, leeks, peppers, celery and shallots. These are items that are whole and will need to be chopped, diced, or minced to be added to food.
Herbs are plants including leaves, seeds or flowers that we use to flavor our food. They are dried and ground or flaked or can be used in the fresh form for the most flavor.
Spices are aromatic vegetable products used to season foods. They come from the dried seed, fruit, or bark of a plant.
When you are deciding whether to use dried versus fresh remember that they don’t have the exact same flavor. When using the opposite of what is called for in the recipe, taste the food often to be sure you are not overpowering it with flavor.
Remember, you can’t take it out if it’s too much, but you can always add a pinch more.
The dried herbs are more potent in flavor and usually you need about a third less dried than fresh herbs for your recipe.
Storage of Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs are very flavorful and fun to grow too, especially on the kitchen windowsill where you can smell their aroma. Fresh herbs should be handled carefully to keep them flavorful as long as possible. They are best stored in a paper towel in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Remember that dry herbs and spices have a shelf life. Store dried herbs and spices in airtight containers in a cool, dark cupboard or pantry. It’s best to avoid storing them over the stove, where heat and moisture can hasten their spoilage. Most can be stored for up to one year.
Many companies are using “best by” dates on spices so check the container. If dried herbs or spices have lost their vibrant color or familiar aroma when rubbed between your fingertips, they should be disposed of because they won’t have much flavor.
Health Benefits of Spices and Herbs
Some herbs and spices have for centuries been used not only in foods for flavor but also for their medicinal benefits. Studies have shown that some of our favorite herbs and spices do give us health benefits.
- Cinnamon – ½ teaspoon improves cardiovascular health and blood sugar
- Garlic – Helps to reduce cholesterol and aid blood clotting
- Ginger – Eases nausea
- Oregano – Rich in antioxidants, good source of vitamin K and used to ease colds and flu
- Tumeric – Contains curcumin which acts as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound
|Spice or Herb||Foods Used In|
|Allspice||Jerk seasoning, moles, pickling, sausage, Middle Eastern cuisine, beef, coffeecake, mince pie, pumpkin pie spice|
|Basil||Pesto, soups, usually used fresh as flavor lost in drying, seeds used in Asian beverages, spaghetti sauce|
|Bay Leaf||Soups, stews, pasta sauce, ground leaves used in Bloody Mary; whole leaves removed prior to serving|
|Cayenne Pepper||Spicy dishes, buffalo wing sauce, marinades|
|Celery Seed||Canning, pickles, chutneys, vegetable dishes, sauces, breads, soups, stews|
|Chili Powder||Spicy dishes in many cuisines, meatloaf, BBQ, soups|
|Chives||Soup, fish, baked potato, spreads, herring, garnish|
|Cilantro||Salsa, avocado, fish, soups, lamb, pork|
|Cinnamon||Chocolate, desserts, candies, tea, liqueurs, lamb, chicken, pickling, soups, ham, rice pudding|
|Cloves||Meat, curry, marinades, pickling, corned beef, baked beans, soups, gingerbread|
|Cumin||Variety of cuisines, cheese, chili powder, stews, soups, gravies, pickles|
|Curry Powder||Indian foods|
|Dill||Salmon, borscht, boiled potatoes, butters, soup, pickled cucumbers, sauces, salads|
1 clove = 1 teaspoon chopped garlic = 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic = 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder = 1/2 teaspoon garlic flakes
|Beans, stews, beef, vegetables, pasta, salads, breads, fish lamb, casserole|
|Ginger||Pickled, candied, wine, ginger ales, gingerbread, tea, cookies|
|Marjorem||Soups, stews, sauces, beef|
|Mustard, ground||Sauces, gravies, pork, grilled beef, cabbage, seafood, sausages|
|Nutmeg||Soups, topping, haggis, pumpkin pie spice blend, drinks/punch, Italian dishes, flavor vegetables, hard sauce|
|Oregano||Italian dishes, flavoring meat especially lamb, Italian seasoning blend, salads, grilled vegetables, Swiss steak|
|Paprika||Casseroles, rice, stews, soups, goulash, sausages, garnish|
|Parsley||Garnish, stews, gumbo, bouquet garni, salsa verde, fish|
|Pepper, ground Black or White||Variety of dishes|
|Rosemary||Stuffing, roast lamb, pork chicken and turkey|
|Thyme||Bouquet garni, beef, chicken, figs, lamb, pork, soups, venison, chowder|
|Turmeric, ground||Indian and Thai recipes, coloring agent, rice dishes for color|
Salt is not included on this list since it is a mineral, not a spice or herb.