Tips on Using Herbs and Spices in Your Meals
Updated: Jan 7
Written by: Julie Tang, MS, RDN, CNSC
Looking for ideas on how to add flavor to your food without adding too much salt? Spices and herbs can help and many of them provide added health benefits too! For many people, spices and herbs may be initially intimidating if we’re not sure how to use them. Even seeing the numerous little jars and containers of spices and herbs in the grocery aisle could be an overwhelming process when we’re not sure what to look for.
It helps to start off with a few basic, versatile spices: pepper, onion powder, and garlic. It may take trial and error to get the right amount of spices for flavoring, but once you feel more comfortable, you can start experimenting with different flavors. Look for recommendations from friends and family to help build up your own collection of spices and herbs. You’ll soon find that even the most boring recipes become interesting!
What’s the difference between herbs and spices?
Herbs and spices are cultivated from different parts of a plant. Herbs are the leafy parts of the plant. They come either fresh or dried. Spices can come from any part of the plant that is not leafy, anywhere from the root to the flower. There are hundreds of herbs and spices used for cooking and many of them are associated with health-promoting benefits such as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting.
How long do they last?
As a general guideline, dried herbs and spices have a shelf life in closed jar containers of about 1-3 years. Whole spices will stay fresh for about 3 to 4 years, ground spices for about 2 to 3 years, and seasoning blends for about 1 to 2 years.
If you’re working with fresh herbs, they can last about 2-3 weeks, but maybe even longer, with proper care. Always wash fresh herbs with cold, running water and dry them properly before storing to ensure there won’t be extra moisture in contact with them that could lead to decay. Keep in mind, not all fresh herbs are created equal. Determining what kind of herb and storage requirements you need will help keep them fresh.
How to maximize your experience with them:
Whether you’re new to herbs and spices or if you’ve been using them in your cooking.
If you’re just starting to use herbs and spices, I recommend starting off with a few, versatile ones such as pepper, garlic, onion, ginger, cinnamon, basil, and Italian seasoning. Slowly try others and add them to your collection;
Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh herbs so less is needed when cooking. If you have to make a substitution, use 1/3 of dried herbs less than fresh herbs;
Keep in mind, dried herbs do not always provide the same flavor profile as their fresh counterparts. It’s best to check the recipe to see if a substitution can be made;
It's best to store dried herbs and spices in a dry, cool, and dark environment such as a cupboard or pantry;
Mix and match herbs and spices with fresh flavors such as lemon or lime juice, vinegar, garlic or olive oil to incorporate different flavors;
Taste herbs and spices on their own before adding to food. Sprinkle a small amount on a cracker or piece of bread to get an idea of their flavors;
Pre-made seasoning mixes offer convenience but don’t be afraid to have fun and make your own spice mix;
In an untested recipe, add less spice at first, then taste test it. It is always easy to add more if needed;
Crushing, mincing, or finely chopping fresh herbs before use can intensify their flavor. Crumbling dried herbs between fingers can help release fragrant flavor and aroma;
Add herbs during the last hour of dishes that have a long cook time to avoid over-developing their flavors.
Not sure what to try first? Come generate a meal over on the Meta Nutrition platform, we have thousands of options to choose from!