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Add A Little Spice (& Herbs) To Your Life


"An herb is the friend of physicians and the praise of cooks." ~ Charlemagne

"Pepper is small in quantity and great in virtue." ~ Plato

Spices and herbs have been used in foods for centuries. Archeologists estimate that by 50,000 B.C. primitive man had discovered that parts of certain aromatic plants help make food taste better, according to the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA).

Spices were once so costly only the wealthy could afford them. In 11th Century Europe , many towns paid their taxes and rents in pepper. The reason for Columbus ' voyage in 1492 was to seek a more direct passage to the rich spices of the Orient.

What's the difference between a spice and an herb ? Here are definitions of various seasonings from Ann A. Hertzler, PhD, RD, "Herbs and Spices," Virginia Cooperative Extension:

  • Herbs are leaves of low-growing shrubs. Examples are parsley, chives, marjoram, thyme, basil, caraway, dill, oregano, rosemary, savory, sage and celery leaves. These can be used fresh or dried. Dried forms may be whole, crushed, or ground.
  • Spices come from the bark (cinnamon), root (ginger, onion, garlic), buds (cloves, saffron), seeds (yellow mustard, poppy, sesame), berry (black pepper), or the fruit (allspice, paprika) of tropical plants and trees.
  • Many dehydrated vegetable seasonings are available. These include onion, garlic . and shallots.
  • Seasoning blends are mixtures of spices and herbs .

Fat, Sugar And Salt Reduction Tips

Spices and herbs can help retain flavor in your foods while cutting back on fat, sugar and salt.

Reducing Fat. " ... removing a tablespoon of fat removes about 10 grams of fat and 100 calories -- an amount which could represent a 10 pound weight loss in a year. The calories in herbs and spices are far less than in breadings, batters, gravies, sauces and fried foods," according to Hertzler.

Reducing Sugar. Reduce or eliminate sugar by using these sweet-tasting spices recommended by Hertzler: Allspice, Cinnamon, Mace, Anise, Cardamom, Cloves, Ginger and Nutmeg.

Reducing Salt. Here are some tips when using spices and herbs to help you reduce the salt in foods:

  • Savory flavors, and flavors with "bite," such as black pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, dill seeds, basil, ginger, coriander and onion, are the most effective in replacing the taste of salt, according to ASTA.
  • Omit the salt when cooking pasta and flavor with basil, oregano, parsley and pepper or use an Italian seasoning blend.
  • Use powdered garlic and onion rather than their salt form. Use half as much of the powdered form.
  • Check labels to see if "salt" or "sodium" are listed among the ingredients.

Flavor And Food Combinations

The following flavor and food combinations, adapted from information provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (, have the added benefit of making meat, poultry, fish and vegetables tasty without adding salt.

For meat, poultry and fish, try one or more of these combinations:

  • Beef: Bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, pepper, sage, thyme
  • Lamb: Curry powder, garlic, rosemary, mint
  • Pork: Garlic, onion, sage, pepper, oregano
  • Veal: Bay leaf, curry powder, ginger, marjoram, oregano
  • Chicken: Ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, poultry seasoning, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme
  • Fish: Curry powder, dill, dry mustard, marjoram, paprika, pepper

For vegetables, experiment with one or more of these combinations:

  • Carrots: Cinnamon, cloves, dill, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
  • Corn: Cumin, curry powder, onion, paprika, parsley
  • Green Beans: Dill, curry powder, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, thyme
  • Greens: Onion, pepper
  • Potatoes: Dill, garlic, onion, paprika, parsley, sage
  • Summer Squash: Cloves, curry powder, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
  • Winter Squash: Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, onion
  • Tomatoes: Basil, bay leaf, dill, marjoram, onion, oregano, parsley, pepper

The flavor of certain spices and herbs has been associated with different cultures, for example:

  • Oregano with Italian cooking
  • Cilantro with Mexican cooking
  • Ginger with Chinese cooking
  • Marjoram with French cooking

General Rules For Amounts

If possible, start with a tested recipe from a reliable source. If you're creating your own recipe, begin with trying one or two spices or herbs . The amount to add varies with the type of spice or herb , type of recipe and personal preference.

Substituting Equivalent Amounts of Different Forms. What if your recipe calls for fresh herbs and all you have are dried? Here are some approximate amounts of different forms of herbs equivalent to each other:

  • 1 tablespoon finely cut fresh herbs
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried herbs
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground dried herbs

Doubling a Recipe. When doubling a recipe:

  • DO NOT double spices and herbs .
  • Increase amounts by 1-1/2 times.
  • Taste, add more if needed.

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Last Modified: 11/28/11.