If you want to add some healthy new flavours to your meals, it’s time to move beyond your salt and pepper shakers. There’s an entire world’s worth of healthy herbs and spices out there for you to try, and they’re full of flavour and nutritional benefits. Many of these instantly bring to mind a particular part of the world or type of cuisine, like lemongrass for Thai food or curry powder for Indian, but that doesn’t mean you can only use them one way — let your tastebuds be your tour guide as you experiment with new tastes in the kitchen.
With so many herbs and spices to choose from, how do you get started? Make sure your spice rack is stocked with these six essential — and healthy — ingredients:
Health benefits: It’s a concentrated source of anti-inflammatory properties (curcumin) shown to promote liver function and heart health.
Nutritional benefits: It is rich in iron and manganese, fibre, B6, and potassium, and is the highest known source of beta carotene. The bright yellow pigment of this spice might have a role in halting the development of colon cancer.
How to use it: Add turmeric to salad dressing, mix it into brown rice, put extra into curry for even more flavour, and add it to lentils or Indian-themed dishes.
Health benefits: This soothes the digestive system, improves liver function, helps you absorb nutrients from other foods, and relieves abdominal bloating, gas and colic as well as digestive-related migraines and headaches.
Nutritional benefits: Cumin is a good source of iron and helps to stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes.
How to use it: Add this spice to black pepper and honey to use with vegetables, boil the seeds for a warming tea, add to legumes for spice and flavour, add to brown rice with apricots and almonds, add to sautéed vegetables, and use it in dips, pilafs, and soups.
Health benefits: It contains volatile oils that have been shown to inhibit tumour formation, and has flavonoids that function as antioxidants that prevent oxygen-based damage to cells.
Nutritional benefits: Parsley is loaded with iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium fibre, vitamins E and C, manganese, and tryptophan. This herb is medicinal for the stomach, treats anemia and rheumatism, promotes lactation, and helps contract the uterus.
How to use it: tabbouleh, chopped and sprinkled on top of soup, make pesto.
Health benefits: It blocks inflammation and bacterial growth, as well as helping to regulate blood sugar.
Nutritional benefits:Cinnamon is a source of calcium, manganese, dietary fibre, and iron. It helps to increase digestive fluid secretion and relieve intestinal gas. This spice counteracts congestion and aids blood circulation, and its aroma relieves tension and helps steady the nerves
How to use it: sprinkle on toast with honey, add it to warmed rice milk with honey, add it to quinoa water when cooking, or add it to black beans for burritos or nachos.
Health benefits: This soothes the stomach and reduces nausea, as well as relaxes the intestinal tract and reduces gas. Ginger prevents motion sickness (especially seasickness) as well as reducing the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. It contains anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, which is why people with arthritis may experience reduced pain and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly.
Nutritional benefits: This is a source of magnesium, B6, potassium, manganese, and copper. By increasing circulation, ginger helps you cleanse through the skin, bowels. and kidneys. It’s anti-inflammatory and helps destroy many intestinal parasites.
How to use it: Add ginger to vegetables, make ginger lemonade, add it to rice dishes with sesame seeds and strips of nori, combine it with tamari, sesame oil and garlic to make a salad dressing, add to sautéed vegetables.
Health benefits: The volatile oils in oregano can inhibit the growth of bacteria. The numerous phytonutrients found in this herb are antioxidants that can prevent oxygen-based damage to the cell structures. On a per-gram, fresh-weight basis, oregano has demonstrated 42 times more antioxidant capacity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges, and four times more than blueberries.
Nutritional benefits: Oregano is a source of fibre, iron, manganese, calcium, vitamins C and A, and omega-3 fatty acids
How to use it: Garnish pizza with fresh oregano, add the herb to sautéed mushrooms and onions, add a few fresh sprigs to a container of olive oil to infuse it, add it to omelettes.
Marni Wasserman is a culinary nutritionist in Toronto whose philosophy is stemmed around whole foods. She is dedicated to providing balanced lifestyle choices through natural foods. Using passion and experience, she strives to educate individuals on how everyday eating can be simple and delicious.