Ancient records show that spice flavoring was discovered by hunters who wrapped their meat in leaves for preservation purposes, only to discover that the leaves enhanced the meat’s flavor.
Soon, it was discovered that some nuts, berries and flowers did so as well. Later in history, spices were prized by the most elite of the world’s societies and traded as such. They were traded among the elite civilizations for high prices, sometimes amounting to the price of gold. In American history, both herbs and spices have served to enhance food flavors and for medicinal purposes from the time of the Mayflower in 1620. However, as spices grew more abundant in the world and the secrets to successfully cultivating and preparing them spread, their prices dropped. Today, spices are a very affordable way for the frugal-minded to boost good health and create tasty dishes. Here are 14 affordable herbs and spices you can use in your daily diet for greater health and a happier meal time.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/23435903@N02/3919552862″>FR_DSC1901</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
- Chili Pepper
Chili pepper is a great source of Vitamin A, which supports vision and cell growth. But, that’s not all. In addition, it helps to keep pain low, fights the free radicals that often lead to abnormal cell growth, helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, boosts immunity and keeps digestion flowing healthily. And, they can help you lose weight by boosting your metabolism and helping your body to burn fats. Lastly, though many believe they cause stomach ulcers, they actually help to fight them. Here are a few simple ways to incorporate chili pepper into your diet:
- Try some in an omelet for an extra kick and added flavor.
- Use them in corn muffins.
- Of course, use them to flavor chili.
- Use them in guacamole and cheese dips.
Oregano was popularized in the American culture when pizza infiltrated into our culture. And, though pizza is not traditionally considered the healthiest of foods, oregano is an exceptional ingredient in this dish. This herb offers superb health benefits, including helping with digestion, acting as an anti-bacterial agent and an antioxidant—preventing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, among other diseases–and reducing the effects of stomach bugs. It also offers a large portion of vitamin K and, thereby, works to prevent heart disease and helps with healthy blood clotting that is so important to keep bleeding under control. In addition to using oregano in pizza sauce, here are some of its other easily applied cooking uses:
- Add it to scrambled eggs for flavoring.
- Mix it into salad dressings for an extra tasty health boost.
- Use in marinara sauces.
- Stir into bean soups.
Bonus recipe: For a fun recipe with your kids, try using regular white or wheat bread and spreading it with ketchup sprinkled with oregano. Then, add whatever pizza toppings your kids desire, including mozzarella cheese, olives, pepperoni and more. Warm in the toaster oven until bread is toasted and cheese is melted. You’ll be amazed at how delicious this simple “home-made” pizza recipe is!
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7701251@N07/3291367279″>Licuado mañanero</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Many people think of cinnamon as an added treat to already tasty beverages and snacks. But, it is so much more than that. Cinnamon helps the body regulate glucose in the blood stream, helping to prevent diabetes. However, it is usually used in addition to a doctor ordered diabetes plan. In addition, it has helped millions relieve indigestion, avoid dangerous blood clots and it lends to heart health. Here are some tasty ways you can enjoy this healthy treat:
- Sprinkle some on your oatmeal.
- Sprinkle some on multi-grain or wheat buttered toast as a healthy way to start the day.
- Add it to muffin recipes.
- Roast vegetables and sprinkle some cinnamon on them to sweeten them up.
- Dust cinnamon over your coffee or hot cocoa.
- Use in French toast batter for extra flavor.
Used in pasta dishes, on breads and even on some kinds of pizza, garlic has a myriad of uses and is used in some of the world’s most delicious meals. But, as all our herbs and spices here, garlic has great health benefits as well. It has proven to help fight colds, is a natural anti-bacterial, lends to a healthy heart by ridding the body of unwanted cholesterol and triglycerides, and has anti-inflammatory properties that protect our blood vessels from damage. And, it even helps to prevent cancer and repels those pesky mosquitos from enjoying a taste of you! Try these simple garlic recipes for a health and taste boost:
- Add fresh garlic to your pasta dishes for a heavenly aroma and taste.
- Add chopped garlic to soups and stews.
- Finely mince garlic and add some to salad dressings.
- Add just a little (no more than half a clove) to guacamole for added flavor.
Just remember, a little garlic goes a long way. So, for most sauces, salad dressings, stick to ½-1 clove. For soups, use sparingly—just a couple to a few cloves for a typical family stew.
Ginger has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. Historically, mothers-to-be have used it to cure morning sickness and many mothers have used it to offer relief to children with stomach aches. But, it offers more health benefits than just reducing unwanted symptoms. It also helps our bodies fight the flue, coughs, colds, and congestion. In addition, it reduces inflammation and works as a natural pain killer by blocking the nerve pathways that signal pain. This is great news for arthritis patients, among others. Here’s how to easily incorporate this useful treat into your diet:
- Add finely chopped ginger to your stir-fry.
- Sprinkle ginger on cooked vegetables, such as carrots, for added taste and a health boost.
- Grate ginger and add it to bread batters.
- Sprinkle some ginger over hot tea. Or, make ginger tea with boiling water, honey, ginger and lemon.
It seems that many people steer clear of this healthy addition to their foods because they find it difficult to peel and grate ginger. Huffington Post’s, How to Grate Ginger Quickly and Painlessly, includes written instructions and a short video to help with this dilemma.
In terms of health benefits, cumin seems to be the cinnamon of the Mediterranean world. It is great for helping to maintain healthy blood glucose levels and, thereby, helping to control or prevent diabetes. In addition, like cinnamon, it works to reduce inflammation for arthritis patients and others. But, that’s not all. It is also works naturally to fight harmful bacteria. In this way, it helps to prevent stomach ulcers that stem from bacterial infections. This spice is great for flavoring dishes and dips such as:
- Lentil soups,
- Pork dishes,
- A wide variety of Mexican dishes, and
So, the next time you make lentil soup or chili, sprinkle some in to taste and enjoy.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/43880507@N05/4085736307″>Banana muffins #1</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Nutmeg is great for teeth health. This is because it has an antibacterial agent called macelignan that works away at plaque and eliminates the microbes that lend to cavity formation. In addition, it has been used much like ginger for medicinal purposes, including relieving the pain associated with digestive problems and reducing bloating. Here are a few quick ways you can incorporate this spice into your diet:
- Sprinkle some on hot cereals for a tasty breakfast.
- Sprinkle some in your hot chocolate, tea or coffee before brewing for a rich and tasty treat.
- Add a quarter of a teaspoon to your chili recipe for added flavor.
- Sprinkle nutmeg over fall vegetables like squash and pumpkin for added appeal.
- Sprinkle nutmeg over fruits such as bananas, apples and peaches.
Remember here also that a little goes a long way in terms of both health benefits and added flavor.
As part of the mint family, thyme has a reputation for having a strong herbal flavor. It, too, can help reduce painful and damaging inflammation. And, according to livestrong.com, thyme can help increase healthy fats in the brain, relieve colds and coughs, lend to healthy blood clotting and may even help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Thyme can be used quite easily in everyday cooking in the following ways:
- Thyme can be used to season cooked vegetables.
- You can also add a pinch to scrambled eggs and salad dressings for an extra tasty punch.
- When cooking salmon, rub thyme over the fish for complimentary flavoring.
- When used sparingly, thyme can spice up chicken salad and soup.
A little known fact about Cardamom: it is the ingredient in chai tea that gives it its distinctive and rich flavor. But, it’s not just a Starbucks treat. It has natural antiseptic properties, meaning it helps to prevent or treat infection. It is also a great way to avoid bad breath and can even reduce the painful effects of sore throats. And, it helps prevent cancer and makes consumers feel full, lending to healthy weight control. This spice has long been used in Indian or Middle Eastern foods. Here are a few ways you, too, can savor this spice in your daily eating routines:
- Add cardamom to tea, coffee or hot chocolate.
- Add it to baking recipes such as coffee cake and muffins.
- Use cardamom and lemon to flavor chicken before cooking.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/34168666@N07/6124169647″>2011 09 06_1682</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Basil is also a member of the mint family and, as such, its extracted oil has been used historically for medicinal purposes. For example, it has been used as an antioxidant and an antibacterial agent. Fresh basil also offers a healthy dose of vitamin K, which lends to normal blood clotting. This can surely be life-saving! In addition, it fortifies your bones, and helps with weight loss and wound healing. Its supply of vitamin A can help maintain a healthy vision and cell growth, and can boost your immune system. Lastly, it lends to heart health. Enjoy this added health supplement in your diet with these practical ideas, provided by foodnetwork.com:
- Toss some fresh basil into your salad.
- Use it as a home-made pizza topping.
- Season your veggie soups with a little basil.
Parsley is a powerhouse of essential nutrients. With vitamin K, the herb helps to slow bleeding to normal, controllable levels when you get injured. The iron in it helps ensure that all your body’s tissues get enough oxygen, that your muscles are healthy and strong and that your immune system is working for you. In addition, parsley contains vitamin A, a vitamin essential for strong eyesight. It does this by filtering light and shielding the most delicate of your eye tissues from the damaging effects of the sun. In the same way, it helps to ensure your skin is healthy. And, it’s a great source of fiber for digestive health and comfort. Incorporate parsley into your diet with these tips:
- Use chopped parsley in your meatballs and meatloaf.
- Chop parsley and include it in your salad dressings for added flavor.
- Brighten up your salad with a little parsley.
- Season chicken stock with parsley when cooking soups.
Cloves are the dried flower of a tropical evergreen tree and are used as spices. Like others on this list, they are rich in health benefits. First, they help to detoxify the body from environmental pollutants and, thereby, prevent some cancers. They also reduce painful inflammation and protect the body from its effects. In dentistry, cloves are used as a mild anesthetic and for anti-bacterial purposes and to reduce pain. These benefits also transfer into other medicinal uses quite nicely. For example, cloves are often an ingredient in over-the-counter throat sprays and mouth washes, helping to reduce pain and swelling and serving for anti-bacterial purposes, respectively. For use in cooking, try these tips:
- Use them in conjunction with cinnamon and ginger when baking sweet breads or cookies and even in your morning oatmeal.
- Sprinkle some in your tea for a rich, soothing flavor. This is especially great during cold season to relieve sore throats and congestion.
- Sweeten applesauce with a sprinkle of cloves.
- Black Pepper
Though very commonly used in American dishes, few people seem to know the health benefits of this spice. First, it helps with all-around nutrition by helping your body to make use of minerals and phytonutrients. Its manganese content also helps your body to process proteins and fats healthily. In addition, the manganese helps to strengthen your bones and in healing your wounds. Lastly, it helps you lose weight by boosting your metabolism and keeping fat cells from growing. Black pepper is great on just about any dish, whether it’s your breakfast omelet or your dinner pasta. It is also a great, basic seasoning for meats, soups and even salads. So, be sure to taste-test your pepper creations before adding too much but don’t be shy with this spice!
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/48763139@N00/”>Cinnamon</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Best Practices for Optimum Health Benefits
Now, there are a few tricks you need to know to exact all the flavor and health benefits you can from your herbs and spices. First, both herbs and spices are apt to degrade in flavor and nutrients over time. So, when you purchase them, be sure you do so by the best-by date. Or, purchase them in their fresh forms and ground them yourself. Then, store your herbs and spices in air-tight containers away from moisture, heat, direct sunlight or extreme cold. Lastly, only purchase what you will use in the near-future.
Herbs and spices are a great way to enhance the savory flavors of your dishes and, they have the added benefit of being affordable and aren’t apt to add to your waistline. So, for best results, find simple ways of incorporating even small amounts of these and other herbs and spices into your diet and that of your family. Your family will thank you! We wish you happy cooking and good health!