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Herbs and Spices to ''Spark'' Your Food

Add Flavor Without Adding Calories

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian

Wake up your taste buds! Cooking with herbs and spices will enhance the flavor of healthy foods without adding fat, salt, sugar, or calories. Herbs and spices contribute bright color, savory taste and sensational aroma.

Tips for using herbs and spices:

  • Avoid overwhelming a dish with too many seasonings, and never use two very strong herbs together. Instead, season with one strong flavor, and one milder flavor to complement the food.
  • When cooking, add dried herbs early in the process, but use fresh herbs at the end for optimum flavor.
  • Add herbs and spices to cold dishes several hours before serving to allow the flavors to blend.
  • Fresh leaves should be chopped very finely. Exposing a greater number of surface cuts will allow the food to absorb more of the herb’s flavor.
  • When necessary, a mortar and pestle can be kept in the kitchen to powder dry herbs.
  • If doubling a recipe, you may not need to double the herbs. Use just 50% more.
  • Dry herbs and spices carry more flavor than fresh. Use this guide when following a recipe: ¼ teaspoon powder = ¾ teaspoon dried = 2 teaspoons fresh <pagebreak>
How to store herbs and spices: 
Proper storage is essential to retaining the flavor of herbs and spices.
  • Dried herbs and spices should be kept in a cool, dry, and dark place. Storing right next to the stove, although convenient for cooking, is not the best location, because heat, air, and bright light destroy flavor.
  • Store dry herbs and spices in tightly covered containers.
  • Date dry herbs and spices when you buy them. Try to use them within one year.
  • If you can’t smell the aroma of an herb when you rub it between your fingers, then it is time for a new supply.
  • Treat fresh herbs like a bouquet of flowers: Snip the stems, stand the herbs in a glass of water, and refrigerate.
  • To increase shelf life, freeze or dry fresh herbs. To freeze fresh herbs, wash and pat dry. Remove the leaves from the stems and store the leaves in a freezer bag. They can also be chopped and frozen in ice cube trays and then stored in a freezer bag. 
Guide to using Herbs and Spices
Herb or Spice
Use to Enhance
Basil Italian foods (especially tomatoes, pasta, chicken, fish and shellfish)
Bay leaf Bean or meat stews and soups
Caraway Cooked vegetables such as beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips and winter squash
Chervil French cuisine, fish, shellfish, chicken, peas, green beans, tomatoes and salad greens
Chili powder Bean or meat stews and soups
Chives Sauces, soups, baked potatoes, salads, omelets, pasta, seafood and meat
Cilantro Mexican, Latin American and Asian cuisine; Rice, beans, fish, shellfish, poultry, vegetables, salsas and salads
Cumin Curried vegetables, poultry, fish and beans
Curry Indian or southeast Asian cuisine; Lamb or meat-based dishes and soups
Dill (fresh) Seafood, chicken, yogurt, cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes and beets
Dill (seeds) Rice and fish dishes
Ginger (dried) Rick, chicken and marinades
Mace Baked goods, fruit dishes, carrots, broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower
Marjoram Tomato-based dishes, fish, meat, poultry, eggs and vegetables
Oregano Italian and Greek cuisine; Meat and poultry dishes
Paprika Spanish dishes, potatoes, soups, stews, baked fish and salad dressings
Rosemary Mushrooms, roasted potatoes, stuffing, ripe melon, poultry and meats (especially grilled)
Sage Poultry stuffing, chicken, duck, pork, eggplant, and bean stews and soups
Tarragon Chicken, veal, fish, shellfish, eggs, salad dressings, tomatoes, mushrooms and carrots
Thyme Fish, shellfish, poultry, tomatoes, beans, eggplant, mushrooms, potatoes, and summer squash
Tumeric Indian cuisine; Adds color and taste to potatoes and light-colored vegetables

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