Long gone are the days of only relying on salt or pepper to flavor our foods. Herbs, spices and even some vegetables (garlic, leek, onion and shallot, to name a few) can be used to provide a breadth of flavor to meals. Yes, it may have started with a desire to lower sodium intake, but the use of these flavor enhancing ingredients has continued to grow as we uncover the health benefits that also come along with adding them to our foods.
What’s in that smell?
Garlic has been used in many parts of the world not only for its flavor, but also for its medicinal properties. There’s some evidence that points to garlic’s ability to help lower blood pressure and possibly lower LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol linked to heart disease). Stronger evidence shows garlic also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Most of the benefits come from raw garlic but using it in any form will add flavor to any dish. Use caution with garlic supplements, as they can thin blood. Anyone on blood thinners should check with their doctor before beginning this or any supplement.
Oregano is increasingly popular for its mild flavor and Mediterranean roots. The essential oil in oregano contains thymol and carvacrol, both of which have strong anti-microbial properties (different varieties may have different anti-microbial effects). Oregano has also been shown to be a rich antioxidant source that can help prevent the growth of free radicals in the body. Use it fresh or dried for both its flavor and health benefits!
Honey, a highly concentrated sugar (more than twice as sweet as table sugar), is a source of vitamins like niacin and riboflavin, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), potassium and magnesium. Aside from its nutritional content, it also has healing properties as an ointment for wound care and as a cough suppressant (shown to be more effective than some medicines currently on the market, although the studies were short-duration and small population sizes). Honey has antioxidant properties and may help with free radical production and some bacterial infections as well. Honey should not be fed to an infant under 1 year of age, as it can contain bacteria and spores that can be deadly. Diabetics need to use caution as well, to avoid blood sugar spikes if consumed.
Not sure how to use some of these ingredients? Check out these simple recipes for some ways to add a little more spice to your foods!