Nutrition Articles

Herbs and Spices to ''Spark'' Your Food

Add Flavor Without Adding Calories

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Wake up your taste buds! Cooking with herbs and spices will enhance the flavor of healthy foods without adding fat, salt, sugar, or calories. Herbs and spices contribute bright color, savory taste and sensational aroma.

Tips for using herbs and spices:
  • Avoid overwhelming a dish with too many seasonings, and never use two very strong herbs together. Instead, season with one strong flavor, and one milder flavor to complement the food.
  • When cooking, add dried herbs early in the process, but use fresh herbs at the end for optimum flavor.
  • Add herbs and spices to cold dishes several hours before serving to allow the flavors to blend.
  • Fresh leaves should be chopped very finely. Exposing a greater number of surface cuts will allow the food to absorb more of the herb’s flavor.
  • When necessary, a mortar and pestle can be kept in the kitchen to powder dry herbs.
  • If doubling a recipe, you may not need to double the herbs. Use just 50% more.
  • Dry herbs and spices carry more flavor than fresh. Use this guide when following a recipe: ¼ teaspoon powder = ¾ teaspoon dried = 2 teaspoons fresh 
How to store herbs and spices: 
Proper storage is essential to retaining the flavor of herbs and spices.
  • Dried herbs and spices should be kept in a cool, dry, and dark place. Storing right next to the stove, although convenient for cooking, is not the best location, because heat, air, and bright light destroy flavor.
  • Store dry herbs and spices in tightly covered containers.
  • Date dry herbs and spices when you buy them. Try to use them within one year.
  • If you can’t smell the aroma of an herb when you rub it between your fingers, then it is time for a new supply.
  • Treat fresh herbs like a bouquet of flowers: Snip the stems, stand the herbs in a glass of water, and refrigerate.
  • To increase shelf life, freeze or dry fresh herbs. To freeze fresh herbs, wash and pat dry. Remove the leaves from the stems and store the leaves in a freezer bag. They can also be chopped and frozen in ice cube trays and then stored in a freezer bag. 
Guide to using Herbs and Spices
Herb or Spice
Use to Enhance
Basil Italian foods (especially tomatoes, pasta, chicken, fish and shellfish)
Bay leaf Bean or meat stews and soups
Caraway Cooked vegetables such as beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips and winter squash
Chervil French cuisine, fish, shellfish, chicken, peas, green beans, tomatoes and salad greens
Chili powder Bean or meat stews and soups
Chives Sauces, soups, baked potatoes, salads, omelets, pasta, seafood and meat
Cilantro Mexican, Latin American and Asian cuisine; Rice, beans, fish, shellfish, poultry, vegetables, salsas and salads
Cumin Curried vegetables, poultry, fish and beans
Curry Indian or southeast Asian cuisine; Lamb or meat-based dishes and soups
Dill (fresh) Seafood, chicken, yogurt, cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes and beets
Dill (seeds) Rice and fish dishes
Ginger (dried) Rick, chicken and marinades
Mace Baked goods, fruit dishes, carrots, broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower
Marjoram Tomato-based dishes, fish, meat, poultry, eggs and vegetables
Oregano Italian and Greek cuisine; Meat and poultry dishes
Paprika Spanish dishes, potatoes, soups, stews, baked fish and salad dressings
Rosemary Mushrooms, roasted potatoes, stuffing, ripe melon, poultry and meats (especially grilled)
Sage Poultry stuffing, chicken, duck, pork, eggplant, and bean stews and soups
Tarragon Chicken, veal, fish, shellfish, eggs, salad dressings, tomatoes, mushrooms and carrots
Thyme Fish, shellfish, poultry, tomatoes, beans, eggplant, mushrooms, potatoes, and summer squash
Tumeric Indian cuisine; Adds color and taste to potatoes and light-colored vegetables


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Member Comments

  • Inspiring... I have grown parsley in the past and want to expand my herb garden attempts again. Also, we like to go to a store where we can buy dry spices in bulk in smaller amounts that will remain fresher as we use them. When you do that, the price is more manageable, too, even though they would probably be more per ounce than in a "normal" grocery store.
  • This is great for those of us trying to "spice" up tofu! thanks
  • DANDYLINES
    I am learning how to add spices and spice mixtures to my own salad dressing. Interesting and fresher tasting than store bought.
    Chicken almost requires some herbs and spices. Think about Indian spices - they really are not "spicy" and add a lot to almost any dish.
  • Lemon grass,cinnamon,mi
    nts are often used in teas here and just before the dried herbs get too old, I make up a broth to drink through the day. I may use something stronger tasting. Did you know that rosemary and bay leaves have other properties in healings / antibiotic properties? It is all good.
  • FOXGLOVE999
    I highly recommend growing an herb garden. Fresh herbs have such great flavor, and some, like dill, diminish in flavor rapidly after picking, so if I have to buy it at the store, it is never as flavorful as homegrown. Fresh herbs also tend to be pricey, but are extremely easy to grow, generally they don't require very good soil.
  • MMGAGE1701
    Did you know that the principle fat in eggs, red meat, and bacon is the same monounsaturated fat as is found in olive oil? Fats have been unfairly maligned for 60 years with absolutely NO real science to back it up.
  • Never say 'never', lol. There are good combinations for strong herbs. Rosemary is definitely 'strong' but pairs well with other strong herbs. I think immediately of rosemary/garlic (plus black pepper), rosemary/lemon or lemon flavored herbs, a favorite tea is mint/lemon herbs/rosemary. I also am a fan of ginger/lemon or even ginger/lemon/rose
    mary (think gingerbread with a lemon/rosemary sauce - yum!).

    To the person who likes 'Mural of Flavor' from Penzey's - great stuff. They also have their 'Forward' salt free seasoning which is awesome, and several other no-salt or low salt blends. They have a garam masala which is good, but very, very different from the Frontier brand sold at Whole Foods. I like the latter for dishes you would use cinnamon with - a sweet savory.

    And great advice - if you can't smell your herb or spice, you won't be able to taste it, either!
  • RTDAVIS1986
    By the way: you have Ginger being added to "Rick" ...unless Rick really is a food that I'm not aware of...
  • One of my very favorite "spices" is from Penzey's, called "Mural of Flavor". It's salt free, and sooooooo yummy!!
  • Thanks for the article on herb and spices.
  • KAYVIG
    Thanks for the great information!
  • Very helpful article. I don't use salt in cooking, but I do use spices, and some of these I had no ideal what to use them in. I will use this guide often.
  • I always plant Scarborough Fair - Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme together. I sing the song when I look at it. It is in a window box that can be brought in during winter. Believe it or not, it gives me some kind of comfort. Herbs grow quite well in the bathroom.
  • TISH0125
    having my first garden this year is fabulous! with only a handful of herb choices i can experiment and decide what works for me. maybe try growing new herbs nxt year based on my crop output and recipes this year. thx for the chart, very helpful!
  • Someone mentioned coriander and since their Spark Page is not visible, I can't ask them. I want to know where to purchase it as I have been unsuccessful in my area,

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

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