There’s some serious power hiding in those colorful jars of herbs and spices you have in your cupboard, and it’s time to bring them out. Herbs and spices have been used for centuries to not only enhance our enjoyment of food, but to treat illness and diseases.
You can define herbs as the leaf of a plant used for seasoning. Spices come from the bark, berries, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or stems of plants and trees. Rosemary, cilantro and basil are herbs, while cinnamon, turmeric and cloves are spices. It’s probably not essential to know if it’s an herb or spice, but it can be beneficial to use them more in cooking. Not only will your food taste better, it will be better for you.
Herbs and spices contain polyphenols and antioxidants, the same compounds found in fruits and vegetables. Basil can fight inflammation, ginger helps with nausea, turmeric inhibits the growth of cancer cells, and rosemary prevents the gene mutation that can lead to cancer.
The Mediterranean Diet Study showed the health benefits of eating a diet high in vegetables, lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids, and it included a serving of “sofrito” each day in the meal plan. There are several versions of sofrito, but most contain garlic, onion, pepper and herbs (parsley or cilantro) sautéed in olive oil. You can add tomatoes or celery too. Pick and choose what suits your tastes best.
Using herbs and spices is also a great way to reduce the need for salt and sugar in our food, something most people could use a little help with. Some ideas:
• Roast potatoes with olive oil and rosemary.
• Make some roasted, curried cauliflower for a colorful side dish.
• Sprinkle cinnamon on oatmeal.
• Nibble on a small piece of dark chocolate flavored with chili powder.
• Use fresh ginger in a marinade or stir-fry.
• Make a quick snack of bruschetta by dicing fresh tomatoes and adding fresh basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
• Season your popcorn with a little chili powder and cumin instead of salt.
• Top grilled fish with sofrito.
Of note: Dried herbs and spices can lose potency, so buy smaller quantities and keep them stored in a cool, dark place away from direct light and heat. If you’ve had them for more than one or two years, it’s likely time to replace them.
Shelly Wegman is a registered dietitian at Rex Wellness Centers in Raleigh and Garner. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.