Guide to herbs and spices
Herbs and spices add lots of flavor with negligible calories to your food. They can help you reduce the amount of salt and fat in your recipes. Some herbs and spices even boast health benefits because they're good sources of antioxidants.
Do you know the difference between herbs and spices? Herbs are fragrant leaves of plants that grow in temperate climates. Herbs, such as thyme, can be used fresh or dried. Spices are seeds, fruits, roots, buds, stems or bark of tropical plants and trees. They're usually dried.
Cumin is made from the dried seeds of a plant in the Apiaceae family, which includes parsley and carrots. Its flavor is earthy and nutty. Cumin is sold as seeds or as a powder. Cumin seeds can be toasted in a dry, nonstick skillet to enhance their flavor.
Cumin is commonly used in Indian cuisine to season chickpeas, rice, couscous and vegetables, and in condiments such as raita, a yogurt-based dish. It is also used in Latin American dishes, including as a rub for grilled meats, poultry and seafood.
Paprika is made from ground sweet red peppers. Paprika's flavor may be mild and sweet or hot, depending on the variety. It's traditionally used in goulash, but you also can add paprika to potatoes, cheese sauces, tomato sauces, baked fish or chicken, soups, and salad dressings.
Saffron is made from a purple-flowered crocus. Saffron generally comes in a powder form or as saffron threads. To use saffron threads, crush and then soak them in hot liquid for about 15 minutes before adding to your dish. Or add them to a dish early in the cooking process. You can remove saffron threads from a dish before serving, but they are edible.
Saffron lends a golden color to foods, such as paella, a traditional Spanish dish. You can also use saffron in soups, seafood, poultry, pasta and rice dishes, or even in baked goods, such as bread, rolls and cookies.
Basil, which belongs to the mint family, has a pungent, slightly sweet aroma. There are many kinds of basil, each with its own flavor and intensity, so experiment to see which you enjoy using.
Basil is commonly used to season Italian tomato-based dishes, sauces and rubs. Basil pairs well with garlic and olives. Basil is widely used in Thai cuisine. Basil is also used to season meats, fish, pasta, stuffing, soups and vegetables.
To release more flavor and aroma, crush dried basil, either by rubbing with your fingers or using a mortar and pestle. Fresh basil freezes well. Simply wash and dry well, then seal in plastic freezer bags.
The soft leaves of dill have a tangy flavor. Dill is used in dips, such as low-fat yogurt-based dips, or vegetable toppings. Dill is also used to season fish, chicken, eggs, potatoes, soup, pasta and a variety of vegetables. Fresh dill freezes well. Simply wash and dry well, then seal in plastic freezer bags.
Oregano is related to marjoram, but has a stronger, more peppery flavor. Oregano is typically used in its dry form. To release more flavor, crush dried oregano, either by rubbing with your fingers or using a mortar and pestle.
Oregano is used in Italian rubs and sauces — especially pizza sauces. It's also used to season fish, beef, lamb, pasta, poultry-based salads, vegetable salads, seafood salads and a variety of vegetables.
Rosemary is a member of the mint family and boasts needle-shaped leaves like those of an evergreen. Rosemary's strong piney lemon flavor can be overpowering, so use it sparingly.
Rosemary is used in Italian rubs and sauces. Rosemary is also used to season roasted vegetables, lamb, milk- or cream-based soups, stuffing, and herbed vinegars.
Savory herbs such as rosemary can make a surprise appearance in some desserts, such as pound cake, or even in some fruit dishes. Rosemary freezes well. Simply wash and dry well, then seal in plastic freezer bags.