Last week I shared a post with you about cooking with herbs as a healthy seasoning. Today, I am back to move on to spices. What’s the difference between herbs and spices? Herbs are generally considered to be the leaves of plants which are used to flavor foods and beverages. On the other hand spices are considered to be from the root, stem, bark, fruit or seed of the plant.
Like herbs, spices have had many uses throughout the years in addition to being used to flavor foods. Spices are often used to make perfumes in the past and even today. In addition, some spices were also included in various religious ceremonies and even used to embalm bodies.
I have also created a collection of fabulous recipes using these various spices, further showing you ways to use spices as a healthy seasoning.
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Buying and storing spices
When cooking with herbs I generally prefer to use the fresh form, but in the case of spices I mostly cook with the dried version of the spice. Most likely you will find them available ground, and in some cases the whole seed is sold, such as cumin or coriander seeds. The primary exception for me are ginger and garlic, which I always prefer to use the fresh version whenever possible. The flavors of spices are way more intense than those of herbs so using them sparingly is best so they don’t over power the dish.
The biggest problem with dried, ground spices is that they don’t keep their flavor forever. So it is always best to buy them in the smallest quantity possible whenever you can. The trick is to make sure that the lids on your spices are tightly secured and that you store them in a dark, cool place. In this manner, your spices will last about six months. You can also buy whole spices and ground them in a spice or coffee grinder as you need to cook with them. This method will help the spice retain more of its flavor than the pre-ground version.
However, if your spices are a bit on the old side, you can try to heat them on the stovetop or in the oven for 3-5 minutes. Heating the spice, activates the oils in the spice and may reinvigorate the flavor.
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I have been slow to truly appreciate using ginger in my savory cooking. I guess I’ve always included it when cooking Asian dishes and the recipe called for it. But beyond that, I just never really enjoyed the flavor of it. But something has changed in recent years and I have really come to appreciate the flavor it brings. It adds a pungent and almost sweet, spicy-like flavor when it’s added to various dishes. It’s used most frequently in Asian, Indian and over the year it has made its way into broader use worldwide.
It comes in a dried powdered form and also widely available fresh. Personally, I would rather use the fresh because the flavor is more intense and has more of a bite which I love. If your recipe calls for dried, you can substitute fresh at a ratio of 1 tablespoon of fresh for every ¼ teaspoon of dried. The trick with using fresh ginger, particularly in baking or making desserts, is to grate or chop it finely so that it mixes evenly and is dispersed throughout the dish. No one wants to get a huge piece of ginger when eating a cake, cookie or other dessert. Even when I use it in more savory dishes, I prefer to either grate it and then chop even more to get the pieces as small as possible.
Ginger contains hundreds of compounds that provide its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cancer and microbe killing abilities. In addition to its use as a healthy seasoning, it is also recommended as a natural remedy for easing stomach unease especially nausea from motion sickness, pregnancy or undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
Cooking with Ginger
Sichuan Eggplant // This recipe created by Cardamom & Coconut combines sweet and spicy in a delicious dish prepared with ginger. Eggplant has a super meaty texture so you won’t even miss meat in this vegetable centered recipe. Or it makes a great Asian-inspired side dish as well.
Fresh Ginger Cookie Crust Pumpkin Pie // Fresh ginger pumpkin pie is absolutely delicious. Using fresh ginger imparts a clean and fresh flavor to the pumpkin pie and makes it extra special and delicious.
Gingerbread Energy Balls // This is gingerbread but in a healthy protein packed energy ball created by The Live-in Kitchen. Featuring the classic gingerbread flavors of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Easy to make and take on the go for a morning or afternoon snack. And you can even freeze them to extend their life beyond a week!
This spice is used most frequently in Latin American, Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. It has a very complex flavor for me. I like to cook with it but it’s flavor can often be overwhelming to my tastebuds, so it’s important for me to find the right balance of cumin when cooking with it. But I do cook with it frequently, mostly in combination with other healthy seasonings such as chile powder, oregano or cilantro.
Cumin has traditionally been used to promote good digestion. This benefit comes partly from a mechanism where it promotes the release of bile from liver. In turn, the release of bile helps the body digest fat more easily. It is also thought to provide some relief to those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Cumin is naturally high in iron so for those of us who need to boost our iron intake, cooking with a bit more cumin may be a way to achieve the RDI for this nutrient. In addition, its microbe killing ability may help reduce the likelihood of getting a foodborne illness. Last, early research indicates it may have uses in treating diabetes and reducing blood cholesterol.
Cooking with Cumin
Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Fritters // Food n Everything Else is bringing you these veggie packed fritters. Sweet potatoes and cauliflower both contribute great nutrition and flavor in this recipe. Slightly spiced with just a bit of cumin.
Instant Pot Vegan Lentil Chili // This recipe by White Coat Pink Apron actually features cumin along with several other spices to create a burst of flavor in this super easy chili recipe.
This spice is bright yellow and has an extremely distinctive and strong flavor. I wouldn’t say it is one of my favorites, but it has so many health benefits that I am trying to experiment more with finding ways to incorporate it as a healthy seasoning into my cooking. So I am sure that there will be more on this spice in the future.
Turmeric is actually the root of a plant that is in the same family as ginger. This spice is a super vibrant yellow-orange color and in addition to adding flavor, it also contributes the color yellow to foods. We Americans are most likely familiar with its use in the bright yellow mustard found in our grocery stores.
While you may be able to find this root fresh in specialty or ethnic markets in the United States, the powdered version is readily available in all grocery stores. And to be honest, in most cases the powdered version of this spice is perfectly adequate.
Turmeric contains a polyphenol, called curcumin which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Research indicates that it may protect against such chronic diseases as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, joint pain and stomach/digestion problems. Turmeric may also have an impact on the development of Alzheimer’s. Though at this time the research is early and experiments have only been conducted on animals. The current thought is that turmeric may prevent the buildup of beta-amyloids in the brain which is the mechanism that causes Alzheimer’s.
Cooking with Turmeric
Turmeric Paprika Vinaigrette // Check out this fabulous salad and dressing combination from Fried Dandelions. It’s sweet and smokey combined with citrus flavors. It works well paired with a salad of beans, fresh tomato, avocado and roasted potatoes as mentioned in this post. But on the other hand, you can pair it with your own salad combination.
Golden Turmeric Cracker // I fell in love with this recipe by Elephantastic Vegan at first sight. The vibrant color in the crackers is just lovely and the perfect combination paired with fresh made hummus or guacamole. Yum!
This spice is most commonly associated as healthy seasoning for sweet dishes but it also has some use and functionality in savory cooking, particularly in curries and stews. Because of the natural sweetness that it lends, I have often used it in place of some sugar in coffee and desserts. Try adding a sprinkle or two on top of your latte makes it easier and palatable to reduce the amount of sugar you use in your coffee. It’s likely you won’t be able to tell a significant difference.
Cinnamon has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and microbe killing properties that it shares with us when we consume it. Early research indicates that it may also lower blood glucose levels in people with Type II diabetes.
Cooking with Cinnamon
Peach and Ginger Granola // Cinnamon is paired with candied ginger in this recipe by Can Be Bribed With Food. Use this homemade granola on top of yogurt, as a snack on its own with a few nuts added or top a 1/2 cup of it with milk for a delicious whole grain cereal.
Healthy Morning Muffins // Cinnamon is used as the base for flavoring this muffin recipe by Vegan in the Freezer and the flavor is enhanced by its usual counterparts, nutmeg and ginger. These muffins are perfect to make ahead, freeze and take on the go.
Historically, garlic was thought to provide strength. It was apparently even fed to the slaves who built the pyramids in Egypt. And over time it has been used in a variety of medicinal treatments and as a healthy seasoning in food. It is related to the onion and grows as a bulb below the ground. It is found in various forms, but most frequently used in cooking are the dried version and cloves of the fresh version.
I prefer the taste of fresh garlic especially in dishes that are simple and not super saucy because I think the fresh garlic flavor really shines. But the powdered garlic works well too, but I believe it has a slightly different flavor. Garlic salt is also a dried version of this spice, but when using it be sure you remember it also contains salt and adjust the salt you add.
Many studies indicate that eating garlic is really good for your heart. Mainly because it reduces inflammation, levels of cholesterol in the blood, and lowers blood pressure. It also has an antioxidant effect and may reduce clotting in the blood vessels which may build up and lead to blockages.
Cooking with Garlic
Butter Bean Mash // This recipe by Greedy Gourmet features the butter bean, in my opinion one of the most underrated beans out there. It’s naturally super creamy and buttery so it works well when mashed, creating a delicious and smooth dish. Roasting the garlic before adding it, softens the intense flavor of the garlic and makes it just a bit sweeter. Delish!
Garlic Broccoli Side Dish // This recipe by Joy Filled Eats is so easy. It’s only five ingredients. Rather than cooking with fresh garlic, the recipe uses dried which most of us always have in our pantry, making it the perfect side dish using items in your pantry.
Spicy Red Pepper
Spicy red pepper is just one variety of pepper that may have health benefits and is by far one of my favorite healthy seasonings to use. Other peppers include the most commonly used black and white pepper. Other members of this family frequently used in cooking are chili peppers, paprika, red pepper (cayenne) and many others.
The health benefit of cooking with peppers comes from the phytochemical, capsaicin that they contain. Research indicates that capsaicin may have cancer prevention, inflammation reducing and pain-relieving properties. Piperine, the bioactive compound found in white and black pepper is thought to have antioxidant effect in addition to its ability to fight cancer cells and reduce inflammation.
Cooking with Red Pepper
Rosemary, Maple and Cayenne Mixed Nuts // The hint of spice in these nuts by Nutrition Hungry combines well with the sweetness of the maple and the herbiness of the rosemary. A perfect combination! Use them to top a salad or eat a few for a healthy snack.
Garlic Ginger Chili Sauce // This simple chili sauce recipe from Daily Cooking Quest features the fresh variety of red peppers using red Thai chilies.
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Using spices as a healthy seasoning
Similar to herbs, many of the health benefits that spices offer still need more research and in many cases it’s too early to make the call on the reliability of the current results. But there is definitely no harm in trying to include these spices and flavors in your food.
There may be a weight loss or weight management benefit from cooking with spices as food more flavor may be more satisfying. The idea is that if you are more satisfied, you may eat less and either lose weight or at least not gain weight. Some spices, mainly those found in peppers, are also thought to possibly have an effect on rising your metabolism, meaning that you may actually burn more calories when eating spicier foods.
Enjoy cooking up these fantastic recipes and experimenting with new flavors!!
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