The Latest in Nutrition and Wellness

Simple, Low-cost Ways to Add Flavor to Your Food

By Sally Squires, M.S.

Everyone gets tired of eating the same old foods. Using herbs and spices offers an easy way to surprise your palate with flavor and add some possible health benefits to your food.

  1. First, do you know the difference between an herb and a spice?
  • There’s no clear-cut definition of an herb and a spice but there are some rules of thumb 
  • Merriam’s dictionary took on this question and noted that in many cases, herbs tend to be leafy—think basil, tarragon, thyme—while spices are often created from seeds—coriander and cumin for example.  
  • But there are exceptions to this rule 
  • Cinnamon is actually a bark 
  • Pepper comes from a berry that is dried and ground up  
  • Garlic is actually a bulb 
  • Last but not least, how you pronounce the word herb depends on where you live. In the UK, they say herbs so that you hear the ‘h.” Through the years on this side of the Atlantic, the “h” has been dropped so we say erbs.   
  1. What kinds of flavors can herbs and spices add? 
  • Herbs and spices tickle our taste buds by providing an array of flavors—sweet, tangy, spicey, tart and more 
  • Spices that add sweet flavor to food are cinnamon, ginger and basil.  
  • Thyme gives a kind of earthy taste, smoked paprika adds that smoky and woody flavor, cumin is a little spicey and toasty, curry poweder is pretty aromatic and can also be quite spicey. It contains a mixture of spices including coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugeek and others.  
  • I’ve recently discovered Za’atar, a wonderful Mediterranean spice that I use in soups, salads and other dishes. I’m eager to try Chinese black vinegar.  
  • As the US has gotten more diverse, there are many herbs and spices to try.  
  1. Are there any proven health benefits from using herbs and spices? 
  • That’s a question that scientists  and such groups as the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the Arthritis Foundation have been looking into for years.  
  • In some cases this is to help cut the use of added salt and sugar without cutting flavor.  
  • There’s also research to suggest some positive health effects 
  • Some studies have found that cinnamon may help lower blood sugar and improve insulin after a meal and could help prevent type 2 diabetes 
  • Garlic, turmeric and ginger all have some anti-inflammatory properties, which may help with heart disease and with joint problems. 
  • The caveat for all herbs and spices is that they are best incorporated as food not as supplements while the research continues.  
  1.  What’s the best way to store herbs and spices and what is their shelf-life? 
  • The USDA says that ground spices lose their aroma more quickly than whole spices, say ground cinnamon versus a cinnamon stick 
  • According to the USDA, most whole spices will last about 2 to 4 years if kept sealed at room temperature. Ground spices last about 2 to 3 years under the same conditions.  
  • One of the ways to shorten shelf life is to shake the spice container over a steaming pot, which can let in moisture.  
  • Measure out herbs and spices with dry utensils.  
  • Some herbs and spices freeze well: garlic is one of those that do.  

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