The whole world opens up with only the pinch of a spice. You can be transported to Italy, Mexico, India, and China just with the smell of basil, curry, cumin, saffron, cilantro, and the list goes on. Every year, more spices become available in our local grocery stores. This allows the home cook to experiment and create dishes that ensnare the senses and entice the mind. However, this much freedom is a double edge sword. Many times people will use too many spices creating a muddled flavor. It is like painting a picture. When you mix too many colors it results in a dark and muddy color. You can no longer distinguish between the yellows, reds, blues, and greens. It is the same result with spices.
So, what spices are best suited to what foods?
We have put together a quick list to help you out. If you aren’t sure if you are using too many spices try mixing them together in a bowl and taste testing them. If you can pick out the different flavors and they complement each other then give them a try. If the flavors don’t meld well, are too overpowering, are unpleasant, or are too muddled, toss them and try a different combination.
Here are some of the best seasonings for different foods:
Beef – bay leaf, cayenne, chili, curry, dill, ginger, mustard, paprika, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme
Pork – allspice, basil, cardamom, cloves, curry, ginger, marjoram, mustard, oregano, paprika, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme
Lamb – basil, cardamom, curry, dill, mace, marjoram, mint, oregano, paprika, rosemary, turmeric
Poultry – allspice, anise, bay leaf, cayenne, curry, dill, ginger, marjoram, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
Fish – allspice, anise, basil, bay leaf, cayenne, chives, curry, dill, fennel, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, tarragon, thyme
Fruit – allspice, anise, cinnamon, cloves, curry, ginger, mace, mint, nutmeg, pepper
Green Beans –dill, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano
Beets – allspice, nutmeg Broccoli – mustard, nutmeg, sage
Carrots – dill, nutmeg, parsley, rosemary, thyme
Cucumbers – basil, dill, parsley
Eggplant – oregano, parsley
Mushrooms – garlic, sage
Peas – marjoram, mint
Potatoes – chives, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic, mace, rosemary, tarragon
Squash – cardamom, ginger, nutmeg
Tomato – allspice, basil, cloves, cumin, fennel, marjoram, oregano
Rice – chives, cumin, curry, nutmeg, parsley, saffron, turmeric
If you are looking for seasonings that complement each other well try these:
Bouquet Garnis – basil, bay leaf, oregano, parsley
Herbal – basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme
Hot – chili peppers, cilantro, cumin, garlic
Pungent – celery, chili peppers, cumin, curry, ginger, black pepper
Spicy – cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, star anise
Sweet – allspice, anise, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
Some of the following spices can give you the greatest health benefits.
Cinnamon – Cinnamon can help lower blood sugar, LDL, triglyerides and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes. Ingesting 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon twice a day will help battle against these health issues.
Recipe idea –Mix up 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon with ? cup brown sugar. Dip berries or a banana in low-fat sour cream and then dip it in the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture.
Turmeric – 500 to 800 mg of Turmeric a day can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Recipe idea – Add 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric to water when cooking 1 cup of rice.
Rosemary – Rosemary helps stop the gene mutations that could lead to cancer. It also may help prevent damage to the blood vessels that elevate your heart attack risk.
Recipe idea – For a wonderful chicken rub mix 2 teaspoons of rosemary leaves, 2 teaspoons seasoning salt and 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves.
Garlic – One or two cloves a week helps destroy cancer cells and may disrupt the metabolism of tumor cells. Letting garlic sit for 10-15 minutes after chopping and before cooking lets the protective phytochemicals develop giving you the greatest health benefits.
Recipe idea – Sauté fresh garlic over low heat (careful not to burn the garlic or it gets bitter) and then mix it with pasta, red pepper flakes, and then a grated Parmesan/Asiago cheese mixture.
Paprika – Paprika contains capsaicin. Capsaicin is an active component found in chili peppers and it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which may lower the risk of cancer. Capsaicin is also found in cayenne pepper and red chili peppers. There is no recommended dose but moderation is recommended.
Recipe idea – To kick your popcorn up a notch, combine 1-1/2 teaspoons paprika, 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme and 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper and mix it in with popcorn.
Ginger – Ginger has been shown to decrease motion sickness and nausea in addition to pain and swelling associated with arthritis. It can also hinder blood clotting so if you are about to have surgery make sure you talk to your doctor. Doses recommended range from 500-2000 mg of powdered ginger or a quarter-size piece of fresh root.
Recipe idea – Add 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger to vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots or fresh fruits like peaches.
Oregano – The USDA found that oregano has some of the highest antioxidant activity of any herb.
Recipe idea – If you want to spice up tomato soup, try adding 3/4 teaspoon of oregano to 1 can. For pasta or pizza sauce add 1/2 teaspoon for every 2 cups. 1 teaspoon of dried oregano equals 2 teaspoons of fresh and vice versa.
Sometimes while you are cooking or following a recipe you may decide to deviate from the recipe slightly by switching from fresh spices to dried or vice versus. Here are the approximate amounts of the different form of herbs that are equivalent to one another;
1 tablespoon of finely cut fresh herbs
1 teaspoon dried leafy herbs
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground dried herbs
Spices open up a whole new world for both your taste buds and your health. If you aren’t sure what you like start off slowly and keep a list of what you like and don’t like. Soon you’ll be a spice guru.
Written by Alisa Bashaw