Herbs and Spices 101

February 03, 2017

Want to increase the flavor of your food while adding nutrition and virtually no calories? Choose herbs and spices - here is your quick reference 101.

What are Herbs and Spices? Culinary seasonings to add flavor to fresh or cooked foods and beverages, made from seeds, plants, leaves, used in fresh or dried form. 

How to Buy: Fresh herbs should smell piquant and lively, not be wilted. Dried herbs should have lively color, intense fragrance in the jar or tin or bulk bins. Whole spices last 2 to 5 years; ground, 6 month-2 years; leafy herbs, 3 months-2 years.

How to Read the Label: Check expiration date of dried spices, use promptly. Conventional are irradiated* for insects, bacteria, germs; organic are not. Check PLU of fresh herbs for country of origin, organic or conventional. 

Choices: Turmeric, coriander, ginger, chilies, paprika, rosemary, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, bay leaf, marjoram, tarragon, basil, dell, anise, thyme, oregano, nutmeg, mace, star anise, onions, garlic, vegetables powders, seeds (fennel, sesame, caraway, poppy, mustard, celery), combinations for particular cuisine: Chinese 5-spice, Cajun, BBQ, Indian garam masala, blends, for baking or cooking.

How to Use: Use savory or sweet herbs in cooking or baking or to garnish dishes with fresh. Use more dried spices and herbs than fresh. Whole seeds can be crushed.

How to Store: Essential oils give herbs and spices their taste, color, and fragrance; store away from moisture and heat, in a cool dark cupboard. Wrap fresh herbs tightly and refrigerate; some, like basil, cilantro or parsley, may be stored upright in cold water; use within 2-3 days. Vanilla beans may be re-used; store in glass jar, or add to sugar canister for extra flavor.

Health Benefits: Have more antioxidants than produce; aid digestion, add flavor.

Smarter Shopping: Good to enliven low-fat, low-salt foods.