Spice It Up! Spices and Herbs you need at Home

Spices and Herbs you need at Home              By Dr. Iris I. Mercado, EdD, CDN

Spices and herbs (fresh or dried) are commonly used to add flavor and color to your dishes but they also add some nutritional and health benefits. In addition to vitamins, minerals and the food preservation capacity of spices, they provide antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that can bring remarkable disease-fighting benefits and medicinal value to your meals.

Both, spices and herbs come from plants, what make them different is from where they are obtained. Herbs are from the leafy, green part of the plant and Spices are from the root, stem, bulb, bark or seeds. Herbs include basil, oregano, cilantro, parsley, rosemary and mint. Spices are usually dried and/or powdered like cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, cloves, ginger and pepper.

Use fresh herbs and spices to boost nutrients and flavor in your green salads, vinaigrettes and sauces and to “spice up” your favorite dishes. Some herbs/spices are used for their taste while others for their aroma. The cooking stage at which herbs/spices are added to a dish can make a big difference. Soft leaf herbs such as basil and cilantro are best uncooked or added at the end of cooking to retain flavor, aroma and color. Hardy herbs like rosemary and oregano can stand the heat so it is better to add them early in the cooking process.

The aroma and flavor of spices come from its essential oils. The oils in most spices contain many constituent chemical compounds that enhance taste and impart their medicinal benefits. Spices like turmeric and garlic need to be cooked for their extraordinary medicinal compounds and flavors to be released. Stay away from the bland stereotype associated with nutritious food and keep your healthy dishes colorful and tasty with these essential herbs and spices.

Cayenne Pepper– Made from red chili pepper. Capsaicin is the compound in peppers that gives them their “heat” and stimulates the release of endorphins in the body, a natural pain and stress relief, and has been shown to curb appetite and boost metabolism and fat oxidation.

Cinnamon– Helps Diabetics to better control their condition by naturally lowering blood sugar levels.

Ginger– Can be used fresh or as ground dehydrated fresh ginger. It has a spicy zesty bite and is known to control nausea and upset stomach.

Cilantro– The leaf of the Coriander plant and imparts a unique refreshing lemony/floral flavor. Cilantro is a good source of potassium manganese, magnesium beta-carotene and vitamin K. The leaves, root, and stem of the plant have anti-septic and flatulence relieving properties. Fresh cilantro should be stored inside the refrigerator in a zip pouch or wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel.

Basil– There are many different type of basil (sweet, Asian or lemon) but sweet basil is the most recognized as a culinary herb all over the world. Basil leaves’ flavonoids have anti-oxidant properties and their essential oils are known for their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. This herb contains exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A & K, potassium, manganese, iron and magnesium. Fresh basil should not be stored inside the refrigerator. Instead, treat it as a flower, clean and cut the ends and put it in water.

** Other herbs/spices that you should keep handy are oregano, garlic and turmeric.

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