The key to keeping meals exciting and avoiding food ruts is a great spice cupboard. But spices and herbs aren’t just for building flavour, they also have numerous health benefits, like antioxidant properties that help fight disease in our bodies.
Spices are the seeds from a plant whereas herbs are the leaves and in some cases we use both parts from the same plant, for example coriander seeds and cilantro leaves, which are abundantly used in Indian and Mexican cuisine. Besides coriander, Indian cooks use a wide array of spices to make their own ‘curry’ powder or masala, much different than the curry powder you find premade which is more of a Western ingredient. Some of the essential individual spices to build beautiful Indian flavour are cumin, mustard seed, cardamom, fenugreek and of course turmeric which provides the yellow colour curry is known for. Turmeric also contains a potent anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin.
Herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, mint and dill are abundant in Mediterranean cuisine. Consider starting a few pots on your patio or in a sunny window and add leaves to salads, dips, pasta—pretty much everything! The green colour comes from chlorophyll, the ‘blood’ of plants, and another powerful antioxidant. The bay leaf is usually used dry and adds wonderful flavour to soups and legumes.
Some of the warm spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, are major players in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines. These spices may be known for their baking benefits but also add a unique flavour to tagines and stews. Cinnamon may also be beneficial in lowering blood sugar.
Star anise is one of the prettier spices, along with saffron and both add very unique flavour to rice dishes whether more Asian or Mediterranean.
And of course we can’t fail to talk about how to really spice things up with black or cayenne pepper and paprika, chili powders or pastes. Some research shows that eating spicy food can help to fight cancer and keep our immune systems strong.
So pick up a spice or two you’ve never used and experiment with some exciting new flavours—it will help add some new meals to your repertoire. Variety is the spice of life after all!