HERBS & SPICES
Fresh Herbs and spices are a healthy way to flavour your meals, and can turn boring, bland food into a delicious dish! Salt, sugar and flavour boosters are often found in our foods to enhance taste, which can often cause us to over eat. Here I talk about some different herbs and spices so you can start to use them in your cooking for natural, healthy flavour enhancement
If you can start to learn to cook with flavoursome natural herbs, you can reduce the amount of salt, premade sauces and processed condiments you use. Aside from removing the need to add excess sugar, salt and other flavour boosters to your meals, they also pack nutritional punch and come with health benefits. Along with fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices can protect us from many health risks including possible protection against some chronic conditions, like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Limiting your sodium intake is essential to preventing high blood pressure and herbs and spices are just the alternative! Many herbs and spices have strong antioxidant properties, contain some vitamins and minerals and also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Let's take a look at some of the common ones.
Basil: Very aromatic with a fresh strong flavour. It is a main ingredient in pesto’s, as a finishing touch on many pasta dishes, or tossed through salads
Coriander/Cilantro – Coriander (cilantro) these stems and leaves have a strong but fresh flavour. Used in Caribbean, Latin American, and Asian cooking. Great in salads and on tacos/sandwiches
Dill: Light and feathery looking but pack a pungent herb flavour. Used for pickling, on top of eggs, fish, or over potatoes. Also goes great with lemon
Thyme: gives fresh lemony-herbal flavour. This is great with chicken or turkey, rub it the meat before cooking/roasting
Mint: is an intense slightly sweet flavoured herb. Matches in sweet dishes, goes well with fruit salads but also tastes great in some salads or with smashed peas, potatoes or some meats like lamb.
Parsley: Available in flat-leaf (Italian) or curly varieties, this very popular herb is light and grassy in flavour. (Also can buy dried in jars)
Sage: Pine-like flavour, with more lemony and eucalyptus notes than rosemary. Found in a lot of northern Italian cooking.
Thai Basil: A spicy, and more edgy version of basil. Commonly found in Thai stir-fries, always in Vietnamese pho, rice paper rolls, and other Asian dishes.
**These can all be brought fresh (which have more flavour) or can be brought in dried form, often found in mini jars at the supermarket (which last much longer). I use both fresh and dried herbs, dried herbs and spices are handy to have in the pantry.
OTHER GREAT DRIED HERBS AND SPICES:
Asafoetida: Great if you are sensitive to garlic and onion as asafoetida has a strong odour that mellows out into a garlic-onion flavour.
Bay Leaf: Adds a nice woody background taste to soups and sauces, great in Bolognese
Cayenne Pepper: Made from dried and ground red chilli peppers. Adds a sweetish and slight heat to soups, braises, and spice mixes.
Chia seeds: are flavourless, they can be used whole in baked goods for more texture (instead of thickeners) or ground into smoothies, cereals, and for extra nutrition and texture, or even used as a vegan egg substitute.
Cinnamon: cinnamon is a great spice as it can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. It is great to use for sweetness to decrease sugar, my favourite sweet spice! Add to cereals, oats or anything to add a bit of sweetness
Chilli Powder/flakes: dried chillies. Great way to add just the amount of spice you are after!
Cloves: Sweet and warming spice. Used most often in baking, but also good with some meat.
Cumin: Quite an earthy taste. Used in a lot of Mexican, North African, Middle Eastern, and Indian dishes
Fennel seeds: a sweetish liquorice flavour. Not my favourite flavour but some people like it in meat dishes!
Garlic Powder: Garlic powder is just made from dehydrated garlic cloves and can be used to give dishes a softer less intense garlic flavour. Garlic makes everything savoury taste tasty!
Ginger powder: has a zesty slightly sweet bite taste to it, used for savoury or sweet. A unique flavour
Kaffir Lime Leaves: Used to flavour curries, gives a Thai taste to curries
Nutmeg – Sweet, nutty flavour and quite pungent. Best in baked goods, but also can add a warm note to savoury dishes.
Nutritional yeast: is NOT bread yeast, this is a great natural cheesy, savoury, salty flavour. This can be sprinkled onto or into any savoury dishes. Adds heaps of flavour to curries, stir-fries, sauces
Oregano: a strong, herb lemony flavour. Used in a lot of Mediterranean dishes especially margarita pizza, Bolognese – goes well with tomato dishes
Paprika: A very slightly sweet note and creates a nice red colour to your dish. Used in stews and curries. It looks it, but it is not spicy
Peppercorns-what pepper is made from! They have a mild heat to them.
Rosemary: A pine taste, quite a strong flavour. It is really great to roast with- roast red meats, roast chicken, roast pumpkin/potatoes, as well as grilled meats.
Saffron: Saffron is not a very strong flavour, just a soft fresh taste and it also gives foods a bright yellow colour.
Smoked paprika: Adds slightly sweet and smokiness to dishes, also gives a red colour.
Turmeric: Gives dishes a yellow colour, it has a mild, aromatic, earthy flavour and features in many Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. Studies show it could be good to reduce inflammation.
There are also lots of popular spice mixes available, which are a mixture of spices and herbs to give a particular flavour. Just check the back label, and if the ingredients are all spices or herbs then you are good to go! Some examples:
Chinese Five-Spice Powder – Chinese mix which includes: Star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel, cassia, and clove. Adds sweetness and depth to savoury dishes, especially beef, duck, and pork.
Curry Powder – Indian mix which usually includes turmeric, coriander, cumin, pepper and other spices. A great quick mix to use in curries!
Dukkah – Egyptian mix which includes nuts usually hazelnuts, seeds, coriander, and cumin. Sprinkled on eggs or avocado and great to rub into lamb, chicken, and fish.
Garam Masala – an Indian mix which typically includes cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, and pepper. Sweeter than curry powder. Also used to season curry sauces. (Indian)
Pumpkin Pie spice mix: a sweet mix of Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. A nice spice for baked goods.
There are so many herbs and spices available around the world - I would have certainly missed some!
** I have listed some of my favourite natural flavour alternatives in my article on how to limit pre made sauces and condiments here
So if you're only cooking with the simple duo of salt and pepper, its time you start adding some of these herbs and spices to your meals! Search some recipes that use a variety of whole, fresh ingredients (including different herbs and spices) to expand your palate naturally, and get it away from craving processed foods full of sugar, fat and salt.