How to Use Herbs and Spices

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How to Use Herbs and Spices

Even small amounts of herbs and spices give lots of flavor.

In addition, many herbs and spices are loaded with antioxidants – substances that help protect your body from diseases.

Like antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits, herbs and spices come from plants.

An herb is usually made from leafy plant material, while spices can come from any other part of the plant, although most are made from seeds.

Generally, spices grow in tropical climates, while herbs grow in more temperate areas.

The leaves of the cilantro plant, for example, are used as an herb, while its seeds are made into the spice coriander seed.

A handful of plant families give us the bulk of our herbs and spices.

The mint family

Largely consisting of plants native to Mediterranean climates, this family is the source of our most familiar herbs.

*Oregano – this popular pizza flavoring has a warm, slightly bitter taste.

*Peppermint and spearmint – both plants have a refreshing menthol taste used in everything from cocktails to candies.

*Basil – this fresh, vegetal herb is best known as the base ingredient for pesto.

*Rosemary – the leaves of this evergreen shrub have a piney appearance and a woody, rich flavor popular in autumn and winter dishes.

*Sage – this slightly peppery herb is perfect for marinades.

*Thyme – with a slightly lemony, vegetal flavor, goes well with seafood.

The carrot family

In addition to carrots, celery, and other vegetables, this family includes a number of plants rich in essential oils and flavor.

*Coriander/cilantro – a warm flavor with citrus overtones, coriander seed is also a popular spice for Indian dishes.

The leaves of the same plant, cilantro, have a flavor some find too “soapy” for their liking.

Cilantro is added to many Mexican dishes for a note of freshness.

*Anise and fennel – both herbs have a licorice flavor; the slightly spicy, crunchy bulb of the fennel plant is typically sliced thin and eaten raw in salads.

*Parsley – this leafy herb adds a fresh note to almost any dish; chopped parsley is often sprinkled on food just before serving.

*Cumin – the warm, sharp aromas of this spice are popular in Indian cooking and can also add tang to soups, fish dishes, and even some gingerbread recipes.

The ginger family

Native to southern Asia, these plants have warm flavors and make everyday dishes smell wonderful.

*Cardamom – this warm, slightly sharp, citrusy spice is used in Indian spice mixtures and is also found in northern European sweet pastries and breads.

In Middle Eastern culture it’s steeped daily for tea.

*Ginger – when used fresh, the root of this plant is both refreshingly pungent and spicy, adding a zing to beverages, soups, poultry, and fish.

Dried and crushed to a powder, ginger is a popular flavor for baked goods.

The mustard family

This family is the source of many hot, biting flavors, including:

*Mustard – the seeds of the mustard plant are crushed and made into the popular condiment we spread on sandwiches.

*Horseradish – the roots of the plant are crushed to make this zesty part of cocktail sauce which also lends its heat to many dips and spreads.

The pepper family

The best-known species in this family is the vine making pepper seeds (or peppercorns), which account for one-quarter of all spice production worldwide.

White pepper is made from a different species of plant and usually has a milder flavor than black pepper.

The chile pepper family

This plant family includes both potatoes and nightshade and is the source of habaneros, poblanos, jalapenos, and other types of spicy chile peppers, as well as milder bell peppers.

Latin and Mexican dishes often use sliced, crushed, or diced chiles, while Italian recipes sometimes call for a roasted hot pepper or a dash of spicy dried hot pepper flakes to add subtle heat to tomato-based sauces.

The onion family

Besides onions, this family includes garlic, a potent source of flavor for many cuisines around the world.

Chopped garlic can be sauteed with a wide variety of ingredients for an extra kick of flavor.

Roasting garlic in the oven creates a milder, almost nutty flavor to complement poultry, meats, and rich sauces.

Shallots and chives are also members of the onion family.

As you expand your ingredient repertoire, you’ll also expand your repertoire of flavor.

There are literally hundreds of herbs and spices to explore.

If you have questions about herbs and spices, send us an email.

Come join us on our natural weight loss journey!  We’d love to have you along!

Have an awesome day!

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Dick and Lenay

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from Flavor First by Cheryl Forberg, RD

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