Variety is the Spice of Life: Spices and Herbs 101
By Lauren LaVecchia, LD, RD, CPT
Founder and CEO of Food Connect
Incorporating a pinch of nutmeg, a dash of red pepper or even a sprinkle of turmeric into your favorite dish provides an aromatic and comforting experience. Spices and herbs have a long history of medicinal uses and contain essential antioxidants that can support health. Spices typically come from the seeds, berries, bark, and roots of plants, while herbs come from plants and plant parts. Both can be purchased fresh, dried and even frozen. So, how do we add these functional ingredients into our daily life? Let’s go through some of my top picks that should be staples in any kitchen.
1. Ginger: traditionally used for treating motion sickness and gastrointestinal conditions, certain animal studies have shown that it may protect organs and tissues from oxidative damage. Consider using ground ginger in smoothies, yogurt, adding an Asian flair to sautéed veggies, and sprinkled on top of grilled sweet potatoes. Even better, make your own ginger tea by placing 1-inch fresh sliced ginger into a tea infuser, pour hot water over it and add a splash of lemon juice for a refreshing beverage.
2. Clove: its reported superior antioxidant content has made this a staple in ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. This spice can be a substitute for cinnamon or ginger in most recipes. Try adding it to oatmeal, unsweetened applesauce or even yogurt.
3. Turmeric: Curcumin, the bright yellow component found in this spice, has grabbed our attention due to its potential to avert commons diseases like arthritis, heard disease and Alzheimer’s. It’s most commonly used with vegetables and is best cooked into meals, rather than added at the end of the cooking process.
4. Cayenne pepper: a concentrated source of capsaicin, this potent phytochemical is reported to target pathways involved in cancer development and even inflammation. It’s perfect on top of seafood, eggs, marinades, grilled veggies, and beans.
5. Rosemary: its potential to help increase circulation and improve digestion makes this a key herb in all households. Rosemary has a pine-like flavor that can be used fresh in omelets and a perfect seasoning for chicken and lamb dishes. You can also place rosemary sprigs in ice cube trays, cover with water, freeze, then add to soups or stews.
When it comes to storing your herbs and spices, there’s a few things to keep in mind. First, store dried herbs and spices in airtight containers in a cool, dark places to maintain their freshness. Second, it’s better to under-season and add more, then over season and be left with a spoiled dish. Lastly, dried herbs don’t usually taste like their fresh equivalents. Therefore, a rule of thumb for substituting is one part dry herb for three parts fresh in most recipes.
While research is still not ready to commit to providing specific health claims, herbs and spices are an easy way to provide even more nutrients to already healthful foods and enhance the flavor profile. I challenge you to enhance your taste buds and experiment with these antioxidant packed additions to any meal!
Supermarket Shopping Tip: Buying spices in bulk? You can store larger backup supplies in spices in the freezer! Whole spices can be stored in the freezer for up to three years, while ground can be stored up to six months.
Lauren LaVecchia, registered dietitian and nutrition expert, is the founder and CEO of Food Connect. After years of providing personalized health and wellness services as supermarket dietitian, Lauren proudly created Food Connect with the goal of connecting food, nutrition and lifestyle into her clients personalized needs. Lauren holds a Level 1 and 2 Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management and Obesity from the Commission on Dietetic Registration. More recently, she was awarded Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year by the New Jersey Dietetic Association. Lauren now resides in Charleston, SC with her husband and their adventurous dog, Ellie. Contact Lauren at 908-868-5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.