March is National Nutrition Month! Discover new and exciting tastes while trimming salt from your cooking. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages everyone to experiment with new combinations of herbs and spices as you savor the flavor of eating right.
You have likely heard the advice to use less salt and more herbs and spices in your cooking. But how do you know which ones to use and when? First, let’s talk about the difference between herbs and spices.
- Herbs grow in mild climates and are the fragrant leaves of plants. Basic herbs to keep on hand: Basil, oregano, garlic, thyme, chives, and rosemary
- Spices grow in tropical areas and come from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds, and stems of plants and trees. Basic spices to keep on hand: Cumin, paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder
Be prepared, this will take some trial and error in the kitchen. If you are concerned about an overwhelming flavor, start with small amounts, taste test, and add more as needed. Once you have mastered the basics, explore new flavors with curry powder, turmeric, clove, and bay leaf.
To decide which herbs and spices will go with your dish, think about the cuisine. These are some popular ethnic cuisines and the flavors associated with them:
- China: Low-sodium soy sauce, rice wine, ginger
- France: Thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram, lavender, tomato
- Greece: Olive oil, lemon, oregano
- Hungary: Onion, paprika
- India: Curry, cumin, ginger, garlic
- Italy: Tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil, marjoram
- Mexico: Tomato, chili, paprika
- Middle East: Olive oil, lemon, parsley
- Morocco/North Africa: Cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger
- West Africa: Tomato, peanut, chili.
Try these salt-free seasoning blends. Combine ingredients and store in a tightly covered jar. Rub or sprinkle them on food for added flavor.
Mixed herb blend: Mix together ¼ cup dried parsley flakes, 2 tablespoons dried tarragon, and 1 tablespoon each of dried oregano, dill weed, and celery flakes.
Italian blend: Mix together 2 tablespoons each of dried basil and dried marjoram, 1 tablespoon each of garlic powder and dried oregano, and 2 teaspoons each of thyme, crushed dried rosemary, and crushed red pepper.
Mexican blend: Mix together ¼ cup chili powder, 1 tablespoon each of ground cumin and onion powder, 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano, garlic powder, ground red pepper, and ½ teaspoon cinnamon.
According to McCormick, which has been selling herbs and spices since 1889, today’s home cook is likely to keep at least 40 different seasonings on hand, whereas the typical 1950’s American homemaker relied on fewer than 10 spices. Whenever possible, buy spices in amounts that you can use within 12 months. To keep herbs and spices at their peak of flavor and nutritional potency steer clear of that wooden rack next to the stove. Spices should be kept away from heat, moisture and light, and they are best stored in a cool, dark cupboard in airtight containers.