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Cooking With Herbs and Spices
More Flavor, Better Health

by Marie Spano, MS, RD

Hot peppers, also called chili peppers, are featured in the cuisines of many different countries. (For a list of how other herbs and spices match up with different cuisines, see “Seasonings By Cuisine.”) Fully ripe, they are either red or yellow; before this, they are green (both ripe and unripe peppers are used in cooking). Popular pepper varieties include, from less to more hot, banana, poblano, jalapeño, serrano, and cayenne. Pepper hotness can also vary widely within a variety. For most recipes, hot peppers need to have their seeds and ribs removed (some recipes also require removing the skin). Seeding a pepper involves slicing it in half and using a spoon or sharp knife to scrape off the seeds and ribs. Since the substance in peppers that gives them heat, capsaicin, can be painful if it gets into the eyes or nose, it is a good idea to wear gloves when handling them. Cooking a dish with hot peppers in it for a longer duration increases the hotness of the dish.

Cooking with herbs and spices
In cooked dishes, fresh herbs fare best when they are added toward the end of cooking, though parsley can be added at any time. In dishes that are not cooked, however, such as dips or spreads, fresh herbs may need some time to release their flavors. Dried herbs and spices should be added toward the beginning of cooking.

If substituting fresh herbs for dry, you will need two to four times the amount of fresh herbs to get the same amount of flavor as you would from dried herbs. In other words, if your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of dried basil, use 2–4 teaspoons of fresh basil.

Spice things up
Scientists say that more research is needed to know the quantities of herbs and spices needed for specific health benefits. But more research is typically needed to nail down how food, supplements, and food components (such as antioxidants) work; this does not mean the benefits are not real. One thing is certain: Herbs and spices can enliven a dish tremendously, and incorporating them into dishes tends to lower the amount of sodium, sugar, and fat needed for full flavor. So while scientists continue to examine the health benefits of herbs and spices, start spicing up your dishes now, and enjoy the flavors of your food along with the peace of mind that comes from doing something good for your body. For ideas on how to incorporate more herbs and spices into the foods you prepare, see “Do Try This At Home.”

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Also in this article:
Do Try This at Home
Seasonings by Cuisine



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