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Lynn Little: Cook with herbs and spices for good health

May 26, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Herbs and spices can play an important role in your kitchen. They enhance the flavor of many foods and can help reduce the amount of salt/sodium in your diet. Herbs are the fresh or dried leaves of plants while spices are the ground seeds, bark or stems of the plant.

Herbs and spices do not add fat and they are very low in calories. If you follow a recipe it will usually guide you as to how much of which herb and spice to add. Some recipes include herbs and spices and give the amount to use. However, learning to use herbs and spices will help you enhance other foods and recipes you prepare.

The best way to learn how to use herbs and spices is to experiment with different flavors. Start with some basic herbs and spices and try a different one each week.

  • Basil has a warm, clove-like flavor. It can be used in tomato based dishes and is good added to mashed potatoes. Basil is very good used fresh.

  • Black pepper adds a lot of flavor to almost any food, especially potatoes, rice, fish, poultry, vegetables, fresh sliced tomatoes and salads.

  • Chili pepper is made from ground chilies. It has a rich aroma and a spicy hot taste. Use it to flavor chili, salsa, rice, soups and beans.

  • Cinnamon is good used in many foods especially oatmeal and sweet potatoes. It can add a sweet taste without added sugar.

  • Coriander has a spicy, fresh lime flavor and works well with rice, grilled chicken or fish.

  • Cumin has an earthy flavor and is very good added to beans and chili.

  • Dried dill leaves have a delicate flavor good with pasta, potatoes, potato salad and fish.

  • Garlic powder is a low-sodium alternative to garlic salt and really adds flavor to rice, soup, chili, salads and mashed potatoes.

  • Italian seasoning is a mixture of oregano, marjoram and basil used to flavor any meat, rice or pasta dish.

  • Oregano is a bold herb that adds flavor to beans, chili, pasta and salads.

    Tips for using herbs and spices:

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To start use a small amount. You can always add more, but it is impossible to remove excess. Just 1/4 teaspoon of dried herbs or 1 teaspoon of fresh is good to start for most recipes.

For short cooking times, less than 15 minutes, add seasonings at the beginning.

For longer cooking times, add the seasonings during the last 20 to 30 minutes.

Store dried herbs and spice in tightly sealed containers in a dark, dry place.

Buy herbs and spices in small quantities and for best flavor use within one year.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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