I can’t count the number of times someone has told me that they don’t like tofu or kale, when really they just haven’t had a properly seasoned tofu or kale dish. Many foods have naturally subdued tastes, taking on the flavor qualities of whatever herbs and spices you add to them. Having your pantry well stocked with fresh seasonings can make healthy cooking a snap.
In addition to being delicious, many culinary herbs have anti-inflammatory properties, aid in increasing circulation and promoting detoxification, are packed with anti-oxidants, and even have anti-cancer properties. With the exception of salt, you can spice and season to your heart’s content!
Salt – The best kinds of salt for your body are mineral rich sea salts. These have been minimally processed and retain the natural coloration from the mineral content of their particular region of the world. There are many types on the market, ranging from simple and inexpensive to extraordinarily gourmet. Two of my favorites are Himalayan pink sea salt (which can add gorgeous color to spice blends and rubs) and smoked sea salt, which adds a delectable smoky flavor to food. Sodium intake should be limited, so add your other seasonings first, taste your food, and then lightly salt as necessary.
Dried herbs – To get the most flavor out of your dried herbs, it can be beneficial to find a store that sells herbs in bulk jars. Generally at these stores there is good product turnaround to assure you get the freshest herbs. You can often see and smell the difference. More recently dried herbs will have more vibrant color and more fragrant oils than old, stale herbs, and therefore, more flavor. A second perk to buying from a bulk jar is that you may purchase just a little bit, if you are looking to experiment with a new spice. If you like the results, you can always come back and buy a full jar. Sometimes seasonings are available in powdered form or a larger, less processed form. If you find you have the time and drive, you can powder your own seasonings at home with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. This gives you even more flavor in your powdered seasonings.
Fresh herbs – The most flavorful herbs are fresh herbs. This is because of the volatile essential oils that are present in the highest quantity in a fresh herb. These oils are what give the plant its characteristic scent and taste. You can buy many fresh herbs at the supermarket, or your local farmers market, or grow your own. In the early fall, the harvest is particularly great for rosemary, sage and thyme. Fresh herbs can be diced and added to food, or made into a delicious pesto. You can freeze fresh herbs or pestos for use throughout the year. You can also dry your fresh herbs at home.
Pepper – Fresh cracked black peppercorns are infinitely more flavorful than store bought ground black pepper. Investing in a pepper mill will up your flavor potential significantly. Beyond black pepper, there are many types of hot peppers available whole and dried or already ground into a powder. I will frequently use cayenne powder, red chili flakes, and chipotle powder in my cooking. Chipotle powder gives spicy, smoky flavor to whatever you add it to. Try it with beans, meats, or on popcorn.