Using herbs and spices can enhance flavor


Herbs and spices have been used for centuries to season and flavor foods.

In prehistoric times, people discovered that certain parts of plants made food taste better. Herbs were the flavoring of the common people, often grown in kitchen gardens or gathered in the woods. They were used for medicinal purposes and to enhance the flavor of foods. Herbs were even used to mask the taste of off-flavor, tainted meats.

Spices are usually grown in tropical countries and are the natural aromatic parts of the plant from the dried seeds, buds, fruit, flower, bark, or root. (For example: cinnamon – bark; ginger – root; black pepper – berry; nutmeg – seeds; cloves – bud.) At one time spices were so costly that only the wealthy could afford them. The Spice Road between Europe and the Middle East was one of the first international trade markets. The discovery of America was not a quest for new lands, but a journey to find a new and shorter path to bring spices back from Asia to the merchants in Spain.

Modern consumers use both herbs and spices to enhance the flavor and healthfulness of foods. Spices from all over the world are widely available. Herbs can be grown in the home garden, or purchased from a farmers market or grocery store. Seasonings are sold whole, crushed, powdered, dry, or fresh to provide a variety of flavors.

Herbs and spices can be a great addition to your diet. By reducing sugar, you can save calories. Eating 100 fewer calories than needed a day can lead to a 10-pound weight loss in a year. Adding spices such as allspice, anise, cardamom, or cinnamon will add flavor and allow you to reduce the amount of sugar in some preparations. (Note: Sugar also plays a part in browning, tenderness, and leavening of some baked products, so the finished product may be different in taste and appearance. Experiment with gradual changes.) Try sweetening oatmeal, sweet potatoes, or squash with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.

Another benefit of using herbs and spices is reducing the salt and sodium you use. Replace salt in savory preparations with black pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, dill seeds, basil, ginger, coriander, or onion powder. Be sure to check the ingredient label of seasoning mixes to ensure that salt is not the first ingredient. To reduce sodium, buy powdered garlic or onion instead of garlic salt or onion salt.

Eating lower-fat preparations can reduce calories and decrease the risks of heart disease and some cancers. Using herbs and spices for flavoring — instead of breading, batters, gravies, or sauces — is a healthier preparation method. Grilling foods seasoned with herbs and spices, instead of frying, is another way to reduce fat.

Remember, your diet includes choices you make every day. By making small changes one at a time, you can be on your way to being healthier.