As I open my computer to prepare for my monthly column, I sometimes find myself struggling to think of a topic that I haven’t already discussed. That’s not to say that repetition is a bad thing…we typically need to say or do things more than once for them to become a habit. With a new vegetable or fruit, we also need repeated exposure and experiences. If we didn’t like the way something was prepared, a different recipe or preparation method might increase the appeal. This month, I’ve decided to focus on how herbs and spices can enhance your mealtime experience.
Though we tend to say herbs and spices in one breath, botanically speaking, herbs are leafy and plant-like, while spices come from the roots, buds, seeds, berries or fruits of plants or trees. Some plants produce both herbs and spices, like dill which produces both dill week and dill seed; and cilantro which produces the herb used in southwest cuisine and the dried seed known as coriander.
While herbs and spices are widely known for their culinary uses, they are also known for their cultural and economic roles in history. Spices in particular were valued for monetary and trade values when European and far eastern travel routes expanded. Both herbs and spices have also been important in healing and cultural rituals for centuries. Recent science has revealed that there indeed are specific health benefits for a great many herbs and spices.
One of the primary health benefits of incorporating more herbs and spices into culinary use comes from reducing excess salt and sodium. Simply replacing some or all of the salt with a complementary herb or spice in food preparation can have positive effects on high blood pressure, a condition affecting almost half of adults in America. Other spices, like ginger and turmeric can help with inflammation that accompanies many chronic health conditions. As with all plants, herbs and spices contribute a variety of phytonutrients that function as antioxidants, which can help prevent diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Spices tend to grow in tropical climates, hence, most of the spices we use are in dried form. Herbs, however, are widely available in both fresh and dried from. Herbs are also simple to grow, both indoors and outdoors. For information on growing your own herbs, MU Extension has a publication available here: http://bit.ly/3l97YKA
One of the biggest questions that people have when starting or expanding their culinary use of herbs and spices is "what flavors go with what foods"? While taste is a very personal thing, our colleagues at Arizona Extension have an excellent publication called Season for Health that gives some excellent suggestions; you can find it here: http://bit.ly/3DzLLvh
If you have eaten Mediterranean style food, you may be familiar with a salad known as Tabbouleh. The recipe below is a favorite at my house. Fresh parsley and mint are used in abundant quantities for flavor as well as bulk.
Bulgur Wheat Salad
(Makes 6 servings)
½ cup bulgur wheat
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon za’atar seasoning*
2 cups flat leaf parsley, chopped
½ cup mint, chopped
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 English cucumber, seeded, and chopped
2 green onions, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Nutrition information: Calories: 120, Total Fat: 7g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 20mg, Carbohydrates: 13g, Fiber: 2g, Protein: 3g
Recipe from North Carolina Extension Med Instead of Meds, analyzed by verywellfit.com
Denise Sullivan is a Nutrition and Health Education Specialist for MU Extension in the Urban West Region, serving Jackson and Platte Counties.