Herbs and Spices
What is the difference between an herb and a spice? It sounds like a riddle, doesn’t it? But really, most people don’t know the difference! Fifteen years ago, I didn’t know the difference either! An herb is the green leafy part of the plant. A spice can be from the root, stem, seed, fruit, or bark of a plant. In some cases the same plant can produce an herb and a spice, enter the cilantro plant. Many of you are familiar with cilantro as we use it in salsa and lots of other New Mexican dishes, but did you know that ground coriander is from the same plant? Ground coriander comes from the seed of cilantro. You will notice they have a similar, yet complimentary taste. Herbs are often used in larger quantities than spices simply because spices tend to have a stronger flavor.
Benefits of Herbs and Spices
Herbs and Spices have so many wonderful health benefits and they are super tasty! ALL of them contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that help protect our bodies from all kinds of disease like cancer, heart disease, inflammation, and many more. Some of them have more specific medicinal properties also. For example, cinnamon naturally lowers blood glucose. And garlic has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Ginger can help prevent nausea and chamomile, and turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. There are many more benefits to using herbs and spices in your everyday life and cooking, these are just a few examples.
Cautions in Using Supplements
Many of these herbs and spices you can find in supplement or capsule form. Be careful if you decide to try this kind of supplement. Supplements are not well regulated, and there is the potential that what you think you are purchasing is not actually what it in the capsule. Another caution is that many of these herbs and spices are naturally blood thinners. For most people, this is a benefit, but make sure you use caution if you are on a blood thinner medication, and please discuss the use of any supplements with your doctor. Lastly, I really do believe it is always better to eat and chew it than to swallow it. That simply means, it is best to add these herbs and spices to foods!
How to Use Herbs and Spices in Your Cooking
It was very helpful to me when I first stared to cook on my own to know how each herb and spice tasted apart from what I was going to cook it with. If you are new to this, try some of your herbs and spices all by themselves! You may also find it helpful to know which spices work well together and are used in different parts of the world. My two favorite categories are Mexican spices and Italian spices.
Some common Mexican spices include all sorts of chiles and chili powders! We all love that being from New Mexico! Mexican spices also include a lot of cumin, oregano, paprika, garlic, onion, cilantro, and black pepper. For sweet foods and fruits cloves, anise, and cinnamon are a frequent choice. These greatly enhance the sweetness naturally.
Some common Italian spices include basil, oregano, fennel, garlic, onion, bay leaves, and cayenne pepper. Rosemary, sage, and thyme are also used more sporadically in Italian dishes.
Start adding some of these spices to common dishes you make. One of my favorites is simply adding the Italian spices to lean ground beef after you brown the beef. Then simply add your favorite pasta sauce and serve it over spaghetti squash! You can also try coming up with your own taco seasoning from the Mexican spices listed above. For those of you that are terrified by the idea of making up your own, I have included a recipe to try below. Happy eating!
Recipe Card and Link
Home made fajita seasoning was a must for us when we lived over-seas as we couldn’t find any of our typical spice mixes. So early on after moving, I tried this one. The whole family LOVES it! Use it with chicken or beef to make delicious fajitas– perfect to grill on the hot summer days!
Homemade Fajita Seasoning
An easy way to flavor fajitas without all the “fake” ingredients
1 Tbsp paprika
3/4 Tbsp salt
1/2 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 Tbsp onion powder
1/2 tsp cumin
Mix all ingredients together. Use about 1 Tablespoon plus 1 tsp for each batch of about 1 pound of chicken. If you like more flavor, you can use 2 Tablespoons.
Tip: Store spices together for up to 6 months in a cool dry place.