Nutrition Corner: Spice up your cooking this new year

January 2nd, 2018 8:32 pm

Tired of the same old foods? Want to spice up your cooking this new year?

Herbs and spices might just be your answer.

Herbs are the leaves of plants. We often use them in larger amounts than spices. Spices can be from any other parts of the plant, the root, flower, fruit, seed, or bark. They are usually more potent and stronger in flavor than herbs.

Some plants yield both herbs and spices. For example, the dill plant gives us both herbs and spices. The seeds of the dill plant are the spice dill seed, however, the dill weed is an herb from the plant’s leaves. Another is the herb cilantro and the spice from the plant’s seeds is coriander.

Both herbs and spices give flavor to our foods. Their flavors can replace the traditional salt shaker and maybe even replace butter or margarine on top of vegetables. Here are a few hints to get you started using herbs and spices.

If this is your first time using herbs and spices, start sparingly.

If a recipe calls for ¼ teaspoon of a powdered herb, you can use ¾ to 1 teaspoon crumbled or flaked, or 2 teaspoons fresh.

Add whole spices during cooking, ground or cut herbs and spices midway or towards the end, and for cold foods, add the herbs several hours before serving.

Season meats before, during and after cooking. For vegetables, add seasoning to the cooking water or mix herbs with vegetables before roasting.

To release the flavor of dry herbs, crumble them in your palm before adding them to your dish. Start with vegetables to give them a new flavor. For potatoes, try basil, dill, chives, oregano or thyme to replace salt and butter. On green salads, sprinkle basil, chives or dill to reduce the amount of salad dressing you normally use.

Next, try using herbs and spices on meats instead of high salt spice blends. To flavor beef, use marjoram, rosemary, thyme and tarragon. To flavor pork, try ginger, cloves, basil and nutmeg. For chicken, try fennel seed, savory, saffron and sesame seed. For seafood, use red pepper, poultry seasoning, anise seed and curry powder.

Herbs and spices cost money, so it’s important to store them properly.

Keep dried herbs and spices in a cool, dry place (not over the range) and in air-tight containers and out of sunlight. Sunlight fades the color of the herb and reduces the strength.

Check whole spices for freshness once a year by crushing a small amount and sniffing it. The aroma should be fresh and pungent. Use the same method to check ground spices every six months and dried herbs 2 to 3 times a year.

Be creative and follow this recipe to make an seasoning blend to give your foods and extra secret flavoring without adding salt!

Salt-Free All-Purpose Blend

2 tablespoons onion (dried)

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons thyme

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl, using a spoon. Place mix into a container that allows you to shake to dispense. Enjoy!

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at