Poll: What's the Best Way to Add Flavor without Calories?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
There is a certain evolution to healthy cooking. You cut back on oil, butter, cheese, bacon, and cream. You reduce the sugar, you lay off the salt, you use whole-wheat instead of white flour, you add in an extra serving of vegetables.

The reason why restaurants rely on fat, sugar and salt so heavily is because they're the trifecta of flavor in most kitchens.

In a healthy kitchen, they've been demoted from star attraction to guest star, but they leave quite a void. So how do you fill the role of Flavor in your meals?

When you open your spice drawer or your refrigerator door, what are your secret weapons?

How have you kept (or added) flavor without adding fat or calories?

You tell me yours and I'll tell you mine…

I have quite the arsenal of low-fat, low-calorie flavor enhancers.

Wine: I always keep a bottle on hand for soups, stews and sauces. Add a half-cup to the pan when after sauteing chicken and scrape up all the bits in the bottom of the pan to create a quick pan sauce. The wine adds a tangy flavor and a level of depth to my dishes. You can also add wine instead of water or broth when cooking rice, couscous or other grains.

Broth: Buy reduced-sodium broth or stock (or make your own), and use it instead of water. You'll add a layer of flavor for essentially no calories.

Sriracha:This amazingly versatile sauce is sweet, spicy, and tangy. A few drops or a drizzle add heat to any dish, from scrambled eggs to chili and tomato soup. If you don't like regular hot sauce, try this. It's available at most supermarkets, and the complex flavor is a nice change from the vinegar-heavy standard hot sauce.

Cumin: Cumin is possibly the most versatile spice in my kitchen. I add some to almost every dish, from lentil soup to hummus, roasted turkey to tofu cutlets. It adds a home-cooked flavor to any dish. I'm not sure why, but when I taste cumin, I think a food has been cooking all day.

Balsamic vinegar: Rich, sweet and syrupy, balsamic vinegar is great on salads, drizzled over root vegetables and even mixed in to tomato sauce. It's just that good. It's even great atop strawberries.

Those are a few of the low-calorie flavor enhancers in my kitchen. What are your favorite flavor enhancers?

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Depends on the foods - I use cinnamon for a lot of things. Lemon or lime perk up foods without the sodium, as does Bragg's Liquid Aminos. I'm a "super taster" so Sweet & Low tastes absolutely nasty to me, but I use stevia just fine. Go figure. Report
cajun spice - I'm addicted to it! Report
I must smell really bad, but I add garlic to everything, everyday ! Together with raw ginger, chilli flakes, and plenty of black pepper. Lemon juice, sometimes curry powder, sometimes fish sauce (which you only need to use the smallest amount of because it is so strong). I almost always add cinnamon to my oatmeal. Report
My smoker and various rubs are my best secret for flavor without guilt! Report
I use broth, chicken and vegetable, vinegar or apple cider vinegar, onion, garlic, low sodium soy very seldom, sea salt and occasionally a dash of garlic salt. I'll have to try your suggestions. Thanks! Report
I use tons of cinnamon for many foods - oatmeal or quinoa, chili, toast, raisin muffins etc. Citrus slices like grapefruit pork, lemon when poaching fish, lime to flavor water, oranges for baking chicken. Dill in my veggies soups along with fresh cilantro and parsley. Fresh sage for turkey or pork stuffing. Great in potato dishes. I've learned that using different peppers = ground white for poultry, red flakes for hotter spicy foods, green and black peppercorns for longer cooking stews and soups makes a big difference. Grate fresh each use. Dry mustard in many appetizers & other dishes and of course, garlic & onions. I do use various vinegars and types of oils for both their flavors and cooking temperatures - like peanut oil for stir fry and cider vinegar for dressings. Sometimes balsamic can be a bit heavy when not using the really dark greens. Report
I use onion and garlic in practicly everything....
I love the flavors of ginger and lemon. Also herbs, like fresh basil leaves, dill, parsley, chives, green onions, and I love pepper. Report
garlic and adobo are my favorites Report
Jean Paul Prudhomme - probably killed the spelling Report
I love Adobo. It's a great spice. It tastes delicious and you can use it on almost anything. Report
I love spicy foods, so I try to make everything I eat just a little bit hot. It actually keeps me from eating because I have to take breaks so my mouth doesn't explode. Also, it really makes me drink a TON of water with dinner.

One of my favorite foods is spicy chicken wings, which are 100% awful for you...so what I did the last time I went out was ordered a dozen wings, and THREE orders of celery with the sauces. I actually found that I ate the celery faster than I did the wings. Next time I'll order half a dozen wings and FOUR orders of celery! (And drink water instead of beer) Report
Depending on the dish - lots of ways to add flavors. I also like using sesame oil to add a nice complex flavor - works for adding an Asian or Middle Eastern flavor to dishes. Cinnamon is an interesting way to flavor meats like beef or lamb. Lemon juice gives a nice zippy flavor, as does lime juice, or even Bragg's Liquid Aminoes. Report
I like to use a lot of different spices. Love to use cinnamon in chili and other foods. Ginger and vanilla are other good flavors to add. Rooster sauce, hot sauce and picante sauce for heat. Love my red pepper and red pepper flakes and mustard. Mustard is good on all poultry.Can't forget the jalepeno peppers! Report
Almost every 'non dessert' dish in Indian cuisine has cumin, mustard seeds, turmeric, chilli powder, coriander powder and cilantro for garnishing. Ginger or garlic is also usually present.

Additionally we add a blend of spices - cinnamon, cardamom, clove, star anise and things like anardana, dry mango, dried fenugreek leaves & fennel seeds. The taste of the dish differs with the blend of these ingredients. Report
Since I have given up all fatty & sodium laden condiments, I find that I love red pepper flakes and dijon mustard. In terms of spices, I am a fan of cumin, but find that I actually have developed more of an appreciation for the essential tastes of raw foods themselves. Report
Why is the woman in the picture holding the mixing spoon to her lips?? Yuck.....
Favorite spice here is Morton's Hot Salt, a tasty chipotle flavor, give a quick kick to egg substitutes, veggies, meats, etc. I buy bottles of it whenever I see it to make sure I have a stash of it. Report
I love Mrs. Dash seasonings - they are flavorful and have NO sodium. Report
Italian flat leaf parsley, basil, red pepper flakes and oregano; lemon and lime juice with the zest, course grain mustards, herb flavored vinegars and oils -- also, a little pesto goes a long way! Report
In addition to fresh seasonings such as onions, scallions, garlic, thyme, rosemary and sage, I really enjoy adding a bit of allspice and scotch bonnet pepper (seeds removed) to enhance the flavors; in curry recipes cumin is a great complement as well. Report
Hot Sauce for me too. I can put it on most meals and sometimes it saves the day! Report
I love herbs like rosemary, thyme, cilantro and sage... cumin, ginger and curry powder are my best friends ;-) Report
One underused herb I haven't seen on this list is dill weed. It's one of my top five. I also keep dried chives on hand though would prefer fresh.

Unfortunately, my husband balks at any spices (yes, he's the guy who will eat his salads without dressings too.)

Then I'm a problem in another area. I mainly have to avoid the three ubiquitous things every cook (and definitely every TV chef thinks they have to have all the time) black pepper, onion and garlic. Onion, shoot, they use a whole onion in a single recipe. A single yellow onion can last me a month or more. I use some garlic powder, minimally, and a few things I use whole garlic cloves not sliced or crushed, and then fish them out half-way through cooking. All three things hit my stomach like flame throwers if more than that.

Ironically though, I've been exploring the world of chili peppers. I can actually get by with some minimal levels of jalapeno (chipotle favorite version). One of my favorite salad dressings? Victoria taco sauce. Love taco salads but you know while high in salt it takes very little to add some flavor to dull lettuce leaves in just a regular salad too.

There are also fat free versions of crumbled feta, some with other things like sundried tomato in it, and while not calorie or salt free, it takes very, very little in a salad to add a zing to it.

Another thing I discovered a while back is a product called True Lemon, it's a (sugar/artificial sweetener free) powder found either in spice or sugar sections of stores, but can be added to various things. Yes, if you can afford and keep real lemons around long enough I suppose that would be better, but as something you can keep in your purse/pocket this works very nicely. They make other fruits now but still prefer the lemon. In hot weather, one appetite suppressor is to treat a 16 ounce bottle of water with some and keep it cold. You get the urge do the refrigerator door arm pull exercise too often, pull out the bottle of mild lemon water (lemonade has sugar added, lemon water doesn't) then drink down some and it, one, fills you, two, hydrates you, and three the minimal taste of lemon tricks your system into thinking you really had something!

Last, but certainly not least, is get to know your vinegars. Get beyond balsamic, red wine or apple cider. There is a world of different kinds to try. Get on-line and find out you can make flavored vinegars by adding some things like herbs, lemons, chilis, etc. to have on hand. Oils can be done as well but both things you need instructions depending on what you use to keep longer than a few days.

Speaking of oil, when you put your minimal oil in cooking for sauté or before you sear something, put your spices like chili flakes, coriander, so on in at that point (just don't burn them). Let the flavors permeate as much as possible the oil you do use. Fats are not just necessary for proper nutrition to carry things to be use in our bodies but they are also necessary for carrying flavors. Make the most of what oil you are using. Most of those kinds of spices have oils in them that's why toasting them brings it out and why chefs think fresh ground pepper is better and also zest! How many of you watch those cooking shows where they harp on putting in citrus zest (thin parts of peelings)? Well, that's where the fruit's oils are.

Cook's tip: Even if you have citrus like zest or fresh herbs in your dish, as a final touch before serving squeeze fresh or sprinkle fresh on the dish. Once cooked those things lose their flavors in the food. Give your mouth the immediate treat of wake up with fresh. -p-

PS - if you are a oil & vinegar salad dresser add them in reverse order. Otherwise the oil keeps the vinegar from sticking to the leaves. Report
Spices, spices, spices, you don't need fat , salt or sugar for your food to be tasty. I absolutely love adding all sorts of herbs and spices to everything I cook plus that means that I cook indian, thai, chinese style just by adding different blends. all you need to go is chicken breasts or other lean meats, lots of different vegetables and rice or couscous and you're off. Yummy!!! Report
What a grand article and fantastic comments! I love this SPARKiness! Get some www.blenditup.com Spice blend; I add lemon juice to that great Organic Better-Than-Bouillon, reduced sodium at Costco, I love dry shallots, lemon juice, dry mint in salad, garlic, and cilantro, both leaves and stems which I chop and sauté. Tamari, Worchestershire Sauce, Bragg's Liquid Aminos, nutritional yeast, and Sriracha!!!!!! My favorite Vietnamese vegetable sauce with chicken or shrimp for over rice is one part each: tamari sauce, sriracha, sugar, corn starch, rice wine, and oyster sauce. It really makes everyone happy! Report
mustard, and not just plain, try jalapeno mustard, horseradish mustard, spicy brown. And I have almost given up salt due to the great flavors offered by Mrs Dash. Also grow a variety of peppers, pickle them in vinegar and can be put on everything from eggs to vegies Report
As Emeril says........"Gaaaaahhhhhlic" in just about everything....all the time! I keep a jar crushed garlic and one of chopped garlic in my fridge at ALL times! When I'm not in P2 of garlic, I have a jar of whole cloves in olive oil in my fridge that I crush when I want a "fresher" variety. My family LOVES garlic! Report
Hot sauce, hot sauce, and more hot sauce. Thank you Texas Pete--I couldn't do it without you! Report
thanks for the tips! Report
Depending on the dish (savory, sweet, spicy, etc), there is an array of herbs and spices that can add lots of flavor with minimal calories, and as a bonus, many of them also have healthy side effects or are thermogenic. My favorites include cayenne (flakes, powder or in the form of hotsauce), black pepper, ginger (fresh is the best), garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, etc. Vinegar and lemon juice are great too, I make a pretty awesome low-cal salad dressing that's basically a mix of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and a pinch of sea salt. Report
I love hot sauce, homemade salsa, sazon, adobo, I use lots of garlic and balsamic vinegar....oh, also cajun seasoning...okay, now I'm hungry! Report
dried crushed chipotle pepper. It adds a subtle smokey zing to everything! Report
I add a variety of things mustard, miso, various hot sauces, cumin, cilantro, parsley, tarragon, tamari (yeah I know that's salt but I have low blood pressure), oh basil and oregano. Report
Hubby adds whole seed mustard to our balsamic vinegar/canola oil/Mrs. Dash salad dressing and it adds zing. I highly recommend it. Maybe about half a cutlery teaspoon is enough. Report
Freshest veggies and fruits possible make other seasoning far less important. I do use garlic powder and black pepper a lot. I love balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard and make a great vinaigrette with balsamic, dijon, olive oil and fresh basil, garlic powder and black pepper. Yummy. Report
I love lots of garlic and I use lots of Mrs Dash lemon pepper... Report
Sriracha mixed with pizza sauce is actually very good. Report
Everyone has lots of ideas. I have not been good at seasoning, but plan to try some of the ones mentioned. This was a very helpful blog to those of us struggling to make tasty, healthy food for our families. Many of the comments have been helpful too. I thank all of you for sharing. Report
gourmet peppercorns freshly ground, chili pepper flakes, garlic, and ginger in tea and muffins is fabulous! Report
I love those comments-i use a lot of Indian and thai spices,Mr Dash and Spike among a few.With Fish I love Wine and sherry and usually Salad dressing with vinegar in it.Will try Sriracha-wonder if it is in Whole Foods?I love thats tore though it can be expensive! Report
I love cinnamon! Report
when i bake potatoe wedges in the oven I use 1 tsp of canola oil and add garlic powder and chives. Yummy.
I also use a garlic plus with roasted red peppers. Great in mashed potatoes.
I really like Italian seasoning for cooking skinless baked chicken.
I'm sure I could go on with other ideas.
sriracha and two other hot sauces - Chulola (sp?) Original, and Yucatan Sunshine. Both have good flavor in addition to the heat. Worcestershire and Soy sauces, but I have to watch the sodium. Molly McButter. (Try soy and McButter on steamed broccoli!) Fresh garlic and crystalized ginger. Fresh ground black pepper - grind it fine for heat, or coarse for flavor.

ps - Dairy quenches hot peppers. If you want to try a new hot sauce, put 1-2 drops on a spoonful of food at a meal. If it's too hot, eat cottage cheese or yogurt. Skim milk also helps, but does not work as well for me. Report
I use cumin on a lot of my dishes. I love it. I also keep home made broths and stocks in my freezer, that I reduce down to about half the volume to concentrate the flavor. I guess my biggest flavoring agent would have to be tomato paste. I make a wonderful dressing with the paste, a little olive oil, cider vinegar, some garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and black pepper. I just put it into a jar cover and shake it up. It's great on salads, roasted veggies, and even chicken breast. It is sort of a cross between Italian, and French dressing but healthier than any bottled dressing.

I really want to try sriracha, but I am such a big chicken about it for some reason. Report
Lots and lots of pepper! Report
I put garlic powder and onion powder into pretty much everything I make Report
salt, garlic, pepper and red pepper flakes are the staples., (along with lots of fresh onion)...I know pretty basic, I really do need to try all of the new spices in my new spice rack Report
I am working on getting healthier and Mrs. Dashes adds the seasoning that I want to spice up my food and want me to keep on going with my goal. Report
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