Herbs and spices can pack a flavor-filled punch to any dish without adding substantial calories or fat — in fact, many contribute additional health benefits to your meal. While you should of course continue using your rosemary, thyme and oregano — the universal spice cabinet staples — don’t miss out on these incredible herbs and spices that should also have a place in your pantry. (And stay tuned for part 2, coming next week!)
As soon as you start cooking with cumin, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to try it. We use it almost as often as we use rosemary and thyme. Though the full cumin seed is sometimes used in cooking, we recommend purchasing the regular ground kind you’ll find with the rest of the dried herbs and spices in the grocery. It has a musky perfume and earthy taste, and is extremely versatile when it comes to cooking. Use it for stews, soups and chili; season chicken and turkey with it; use it to make a rub for lamb or pork; or simply fry it up with onions. One unexpectedly amazing use for it: It’s a phenomenal seasoning in guacamole.
Health benefits: One tablespoon of cumin contains 6% of the recommended daily intake of magnesium, an essential mineral, and 20% of the recommended daily intake of iron. Though more research needs to be done, some studies have shown cumin’s potential in helping diabetics with hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and other have linked it to healthier digestion.
Add some Indian flare to a dish with this Indian staple whose name translates to “warm spice mix.” Garam masala is typically a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, mace, peppercorns, coriander and cumin, and is common in North Indian and South Asian cuisines. While it’s definitely a necessity if you’re cooking up a curry, garam masala can be used for a variety of foods, including soups, stews and kebobs. We find that it beautifully complements squash — try this butternut squash coconut curry soup from Food 52! — and it’s surprisingly tasty on baked apple dishes and, believe it or not, popcorn.
Health benefits: Garam masala contains cinnamon, which some studies suggest has anti-diabetic properties and other research has linked to anti-inflammatory effects. It also contains coriander, or cilantro, which has been associated with blood sugar control, lowered cholesterol and healthy digestion.
Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes of French cooking and is known as the “king of herbs” in France. It’s best used on chicken, pork, fish and shellfish, and egg dishes. It’s also the key flavor ingredient in Bearnaise sauce and is surprisingly delicious as a seasoning on potatoes and corn.
Health benefits: Tarragon is sometimes used as a homeopathic remedy for toothaches, and research has also shown it has potential as an appetite stimulant and digestion aid.
Often confused with its cousin oregano, marjoram is slightly milder and is a great addition to pizza, tomato dishes, soups, stews and sauces. Use it for spice rubs and marinades and Thanksgiving stuffing, and try adding some to your next grilled cheese sandwich or omelet.
Health benefits: While we’re not sure how its effects translate into the dried form of the herb, its fresh leaves are associated with a myriad of health benefits, including aiding digestion, alleviating menopause symptoms, anti-diabetic effects and treating headaches.
People sometimes brew the leaves with tea to loosen phlegm when they have a cold, and it contains chemical compounds known to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Turmeric is that bright yellowy-orange spice commonly used in Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. Known as Indian saffron, it’s typically added to curry dishes, but there are plenty of other ways you can cook with it. Add it to egg salad, chicken salad or tuna salad, and tomato-based sauces. It’s also a wonderful seasoning for certain vegetables — e.g., this awesome Bobby Flay recipe for oven-roasted cauliflower with turmeric and ginger. It’s also an easy way to spice up roasted potatoes and brown rice.
Health benefits: Turmeric’s medicinal uses were discovered at least 4,000 years ago, and today, turmeric supplements actually exist for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and joint pain. The spice has antioxidant properties and phytochemicals that are currently being researched for their potential effects on cancer, arthritis, diabetes and other medical conditions. Researchers are also investigating its role in brain health and age-related cognitive decline. Some studies show that turmeric can help with dyspepsia, or upset stomach.