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Healthy Cooking

Using Herbs and Spices
You need to keep some basic herbs and spices on hand to be prepared for any recipe. Using herbs and spices in your recipes offers a flavor advantage as you attempt to trim fat and sodium from your diet. Spices come from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds, or stems of plants and trees. They are usually dried. Herbs, on the other hand, are the fragrant leaves of plants. Some plants supply both spices and herbs.

Fact: It is best to store dry herbs and spices in tightly covered containers and keep them in a cool, dry, dark place. Avoid storing them in the refrigerator, near a window, or above the stove. The atmosphere in some of these areas can destroy the flavor.

Herbs and spices lose their potency over time. As a rule of thumb, most whole herbs and spices retain their flavor for about one year. Dried and ground versions are best when used within six months. Before adding dried herbs to your recipe or dish, crush them between the palms of your hands to release their flavor. As a general rule for most herbs, 1 teaspoon of dried herb can be substituted for 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh herb. This is only a general guideline, so you should make sure to take your own tastes into consideration when selecting pantry basics.

Whether you are using fresh or dry seasonings, be sure to use them carefully—a little can go a long way. You can experiment with all types of combinations of herbs and spices to make up your own blends. Flavors will become more concentrated, the longer the seasoning mixture is on the meat. In recipes that require a long cooking time, such as soups, stews, and sauces, add herbs and spices toward the end of cooking so their flavor won't cook out.

Herbs such as basil, bay leaf, oregano, or rosemary add distinctive flavors and color to meat, vegetables, and salads. Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg enhance the sweet taste of foods. Seasoning blends such as chili powder and curry powder provide complex flavors. If you are just starting to use herbs and spices, go slowly. Try one new spice at a time, and soon you'll love the new flavors.

Some basic herbs and spices for stocking your pantry include the following:

Allspice, ground and whole Fennel seeds Peppercorns, dried black
Arrowroot starch Five-spice powder Poppy seeds
Basil Garlic powder Rosemary, dried
Bay leaves Ginger, ground Sage, dried
Chili powder Marjoram, dried Salt, table and Kosher
Cinnamon, ground and sticks Mint, dried Sesame seeds
Cloves, ground and whole Mustard, dried ground Tarragon, dried
Coriander, ground Nutmeg Thyme, ground and dried
Cream of tartar Onion powder Turmeric
Cumin, ground Oregano, dried Vanilla extract
Curry powder Paprika, Hungarian sweet  
Dill weed Pepper, cayenne, dried red flakes  

A rub is a mixture of herbs and/or spices that is pressed onto the surface of meat before cooking. Rubs are commonly used on lean meats, poultry, and fish. Rubs can add lots of flavor to your meal without having to add fat or other higher-sodium marinades. Try some of these rub combinations for starters:

  • Citrus rub: grated lemon, orange, or lime peel with minced garlic and black pepper.
  • Pork rub: brown sugar, garlic powder, chili powder, black pepper, oregano, salt.
  • Italian rub: oregano, basil, rosemary, minced Italian parsley, and garlic.
Herbs have recently received much attention for their possible medicinal benefits. Herbs and plants have a chemical structure and, like any chemical, can have some effect in the body. It is still uncertain how and which herbs may provide medical benefits as well as in what quantities. Begin to use herbs in cooking to help enhance flavor, and you can possibly provide a health benefit, as well.

Finding a Good Cookbook
The following books and Web sites can help get your library started:

  • The All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook, edited by Susan Westmoreland (Hearst Books)
  • American Heart Association Cookbook (Random House, Inc.)
  • American Heart Association Meats in Minutes Cookbook (Clarkson Potter Publishers)
  • Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (Meredith Books, Inc.)
  • Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook, by Lucy Moll and Vegetarian Times editors (Hungry Minds, Inc.)

Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.


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