Flavor Your Life with Herbs and Spices
By Micheline Hynes
Nutrition Services Manager, Tarrant Area Food Bank
While the most common flavor agents of any meal are some combination of salt, fat and sugar, herbs and spices really punch things up. Not only that, but they are leaps and bounds better for your health than eating food that is too greasy, salty or sugary. Herbs and spices have a lot of complicated compounds, often called “phytochemcials” (phyto=plant, chemical=substance), that are frequently the subject of health studies. Cinnamon, sage, turmeric and more have all been shown to prevent or provide therapeutic relief of chronic disease or common ailments.
Here are some of our top tips on using herbs and spices.
- In culinary terms, herbs are green and leafy plants used for flavoring food.
- Growing your own herbs can save you a lot of money and you’ll have the freshest, most flavorful available.
- Many herbs, like rosemary, sage and mint can be grown all year long in North Texas.
- Some herbs, like cilantro and parsley, grow best in cooler months.
- Basil, lemongrass and thyme grow best in warmer months.
- Herbs do surprisingly well in shady areas.
- When buying, herbs should look fresh and vibrant, with rich color, no wilting or yellowing, and should not be too wet, sticky or slimy.
- Recipes usually call for 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs. When using dried leaves like thyme or basil, start with 1 teaspoon. Typically, you use 1/4-1/2 teaspoon when ground. These are just starting points, so feel free to add more of your favorites or include other kinds of herbs in your recipe.
- You can find a lot of different definitions for spices, but the one we like best is that a spice is any dried part of the plant used to flavor food other than the leaves.
- While you technically could grow your own spices, it’s not quite as simple as growing herbs. These are definitely better to buy at the grocery store or your local market.
- When shopping for spices, look for stores that sell them in bulk. You can buy just the amount you need in a small baggie and save a lot of money since you don’t have to pay for a jar.
- The other benefit to buying in bulk is that you can buy just the amount you’ll use in 2-3 months. That way the spices—and the health-benefiting compounds in them—won’t lose their potency sitting in your cabinet. Where and how you store spices is important, too. Transfer them from plastic baggies into small jars so that you’ll be less likely to spill them and they’ll be easier to work with and put away. Be sure to keep spices away from light and heat to get the most flavor and health benefits.
- Recipes vary greatly in how much of a spice to use. It can be anywhere from 1/8 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon or more when ground. If you’re unsure about how well you like a spice, start at the low end and taste it. You can always add more.
Here are some tips on how to reduce sugar and salt in your meals using herbs and spices.
No matter what you’re cooking, adding herbs and spices will make a powerful flavor statement and provide healthful compounds to your meals. So, eat right and savor the flavor of great meals with herbs and spices.
For more information on how to grow herbs, vegetables and more, come out to one of our great workshops on gardening at the TAFB Learning Garden. To learn more about cooking, attend one of our Cooking Matters courses or workshops.