Spice Up Your Life for Health and Flavor

Sharon Palmer

Spice up your life for health and flavor! Since the beginning of time, people have cherished herbs and spices. Plants – in particular, herbs and spices – were the only form of medicine known throughout human history. These seasonings turn out to contain very high levels of antioxidants. Studies show that diets high in plant antioxidants are associated with longevity and heart health, and can significantly contribute to your total intake of antioxidants for the day.

Culinary spices and herbs from Chiang Mai, Thailand

The leaf of a plant used in cooking is generally referred to as a culinary herb; any other part of the plant, such as the buds, bark, roots, berries, seeds, and the stigma of a flower, is called a spice. Typically, fresh herbs and spices contain higher levels of antioxidants than dried or processed products. For example, fresh garlic is 1 1/2 times more powerful than dry garlic powder.

Organic herb garden in Carmel, California

The good news on herbs and spices comes at an opportune time, because hot and bold on the dinner table is in. More than ever, Americans are folding spicy, global cuisine into their own food traditions. I urge you to spice up your life for health and flavor by including these powerful plant foods in your diet to boost your natural defense system against disease.

Herbs for sale at the Ojai farmers market

6 Spices I Can’t Live Without

Grilled Peaches with Basil

1. Basil. This bright green leafy plant gives off a fresh, sweet, herbal taste and aroma. Use in salads, appetizers, and side dishes, or enjoy with pesto over pasta and in sandwiches.

Simmered Romano Beans with Tomatoes and Rosemary

2. Rosemary. Rosemary has been prized for its medicinal strengths throughout history. The needles of this herb produce an aromatic, piney quality. Try it in vegetables, salads, vinaigrettes, and pasta dishes.

Red Cabbage Raisin Slaw with Cumin Vinaigrette

3. Cumin. Ground, or whole, this small seed offers a characteristic bitter yet warm flavor. Cumin is good in Mexican, Indian, and Middle Eastern dishes, as well as with vegetables, and in chili.

4. Turmeric. This spice that gives curry powder its golden hue is the most exciting spice on the nutrition science front. The ground root boasts a bright orange-gold shade, as well as a bold, citrus-ginger flavor. Turmeric is most popular in Indian foods, but it can also flavor soups, beans, and vegetables.

Use a variety of pepper in recipes, such as this Smoky Lentil Chili.

5. Pepper. The catch-all term for all hot red pepper spices such as, cayenne pepper (ground red pepper), red pepper flakes, and paprika. A little goes a long way in dishes such as beans, chilis, curries, sauces, and marinades.  Pepper is a key ingredient in ethnic foods from Mexico, Thailand, and India, as well as Creole regions.

Cinnamon Apple Crumble

6. Cinnamon. This dried, curled bark of a tree yields a sweet, woody flavor in both stick and ground forms. Cinnamon suits fruits, baked desserts, and breads, as well as Middle Eastern savory dishes.

Images by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

For other favorite recipes featuring herbs and spices, check out some of my favorites:

Watermelon Basil Slushie
Pistachio Turmeric Rice Power Bowl
Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice
Easy Cumin Citrus Vinaigrette
Heirloom Tomato Eggplant Pasta Sauce

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