How Well Do You Know Your Herbs and Spices?

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How Well Do You Know Your Herbs and Spices?

April 17, 2013, 12:00AM

herbs and spicesWhen it comes to feeding the family healthy foods (that they’ll actually eat), you can’t go wrong with herbs and spices. For starters, herbs are easy to grow in temperate climates (spices are a little more difficult since they tend to originate in specific climates). You can set up a windowsill or backyard garden and grow a wide variety of the greens. Kids tend to eat what they grow, which increases the odds they’ll be willing to give their food a chance. Second, herbs bring a blast of flavor to healthy foods, thus increasing the taste without having to load on the calories and salt. And, not surprisingly, both kids and adults like to eat what tastes good. Finally, herbs and spices are loaded with nutrients, giving your health a boost, too.

You can mix and match herbs and spices to transform healthy, but bland meals (like grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables) into a cultural masterpiece. For instance, Dr. Mary Saph Tanaka created the following vegetable, herb and spice combinations, which you can use to give a basic meal a cultural flare:

  • Indian: garlic + onion + curry powder + cinnamon
  • Asian: garlic + scallions + sesame + ginger + soy sauce
  • Italian: garlic + basil + parsley + oregano
  • Middle Eastern: garlic + onion + mint + cumin + saffron + lemon
  • Mexican: cumin + onion + oregano + cilantro

So, how well do you know your herbs and spices? See how many you recognize and then learn where each comes from and what they’re used for.

  • Allspice, berry of the evergreen “pimento tree”; commonly used in Jamaican cooking. Tastes like a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, thus the name “allspice.” Uses: chicken, beef, fish (key ingredient in “jerk” dishes), fruit desserts, cakes, cookies, apple cider
  • Basil, aromatic leaf of the bay laurel. Pungently aromatic, sweet, spicy flavor. Uses: essential ingredient in Italian and Thai dishes; main ingredient in pesto
  • Bay leaf, leaf of evergreen laurel. Aromatic, bitter, spicy, pungent flavor. Uses: soups, stews, braises and pâtés; used often in Mediterranean cuisine
  • Caraway seed, fruit of biennial herb of parsley family. Warm, biting, acrid, but pleasant, slightly minty. Uses: rye breads, baked goods; often used in European cuisine
  • Cardamom, seeds from fruit of perennial herb of ginger family; grown mostly in India; very expensive. Sweet and pungent flavor, highly aromatic. Uses: Indian curry dishes, lunch meats
  • Chives, smallest species of the onion family. Onion flavor. Uses: soups, salad dressings, dips
  • Cilantro (coriander), annual flowering herb, can be cultivated for leaves, seeds, flower, and roots. May have “soapy” versus “herby” taste, based on genetics of taster. Uses: often used in Latin American, Indian and Chinese dishes, in salsa and guacamole, stir fry, grilled chicken or fish; best when used fresh
  • Cloves, dried flower buds from evergreen of myrtle family. Warm, spicy, astringent, fruity, slightly bitter flavor. Uses: whole cloves on ham or pork roast; ground cloves to season pear or apple desserts, beets, beans, tomatoes, squash and sweet potatoes
  • Cumin seed, seeds of flowering plant of parsley family. Earthy and warming flavor. Uses: curry powder, chili’s, used throughout world (second most common seasoning after black ground pepper)
  •  Ginger, underground stem of perennial tropical plant. Biting flavor, fragrant. Uses: Asian dishes, marinade for chicken and fish, gingerbread, cookies, processed meats
  • Marjoram, leaves and flowers of perennial of mint family. Sweet pine and citrus flavor. Uses: meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, soups
  • Nutmeg, seed of fruit of evergreen tree. Sweet, warm, pungent, aromatic, bitter flavor. Uses: eggnog, French toast, cooked fruits, sweet potatoes, spinach
  • Oregano, leaves of perennial of the mint family. Related to majoram, but very different flavor. Strong, pungent, aromatic, bitter flavor. Uses: Italian dishes, chili, beef stew, pork and vegetables
  • Parsley, leaves of a biennial herbaceous plant; curly and flat leaf varieties. Grassy, bitter flavor. Uses: widely used throughout world, including in meat, soup, vegetables; often used as garnish
  • Rosemary, woody perennial herb of evergreen shrub of mint family. Sweet, spicy, peppery flavor. Uses: flavoring in stuffing and roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey
  • Saffron, spice derived from flower of iris family; very expensive. Earthy, sweet flavor. Uses: baked goods, rice dishes
  • Sage, medicinal plant of mint family. Slightly peppery flavor. Uses: often used to flavor fatty meals
  • Tarragon, flowering tops and leaves of a perennial herb, often called “dragon herb.” Minty “anise-like” (resembles licorice) flavor. Uses: chicken, fish, egg dishes; one of four “fine herbs” of French cooking
  • Thyme, leaves and flowering tops of a shrub-like perennial of the mint family. Biting, sharp, spicy, herbaceous flavor; blends well with other herbs. Uses: meats, soups and stews
  • Turmeric, stem of plant of tropical perennial herb. Mild, peppery, mustardy, pungent taste. Uses: curry powders, mustards, condiments

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